Blogger spotlight: UMHoops breaks down the Big Ten

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Few teams have a more formidable task Wednesday than Michigan basketball — the Wolverines play host to their second-straight unbeaten team in the 16-0 Ohio State Buckeyes.

Perhaps Sunday’s 67-60 overtime loss to Kansas provides some hope, but that’s asking a lot of John Beilein’s young squad. Are better times ahead for his program, and can they compete in the Big Ten?

Those are just some of the questions asked of Dylan Burkhardt, the man behind UMHoops. He’s the focus of the second installment of Blogger Spotlight.

Q: In the last two weeks, Michigan lost by 23 to Purdue and by 16 to Wisconsin. So explain Sunday’s overtime loss to Kansas. Did you see that coming?

A: I wouldn’t say that I saw it coming but Michigan has played some good games this year. For example, they won at Clemson and lost to Syracuse by three points in Atlantic City. Michigan’s primary issue has been consistency, mostly because the Wolverines are the ninth youngest team in Division I and the youngest in any major conference. With three freshmen starters and no seniors on the roster, it’s not surprising that Michigan has been up and down this year.

The 23 point home loss to Purdue was disheartening because Michigan was down just 3 points with 15 minutes to go. Wisconsin was more of the same, as Michigan actually led at the half. So in many ways, taking Kansas to overtime was an example of Michigan finally playing a complete game. Then again, the only ties in that game were at 0-0 and the regulation final of 51-51 so it’s safe to say that Kansas did outplay Michigan by a pretty significant margin.

The hope is that as this team continues to mature it will start winning a few of these close games. 

Q: Combine Sunday with Ohio State’s recent issues – blowing big leads and barely beating Iowa and Minnesota – are you optimistic about the Wolverines’ chances?

A: I wouldn’t go that far.  For my money, Ohio State is the most talented team in the conference by a wide margin. Sullinger is an absolute beast and the experience and talent that Ohio State has on the wings is just unfair. David Lighty has been there forever, Will Buford is a future lottery pick, and then Jon Diebler can knock down threes from anywhere.  Aaron Craft, Dallas Lauderdale, DeShaun Thomas the list of talented players goes on and on.

On the other hand, when Michigan is playing at home I’d like to think they have a chance to beat anyone, or at least be in the game down the stretch. As you mention, Ohio State has not necessarily been perfect throughout early Big Ten play so perhaps they are ripe for an upset.

Q: OK then. Will the Buckeyes dominate the Big Ten? Purdue and Illinois will have something to say about that, not to mention Wisconsin and (possibly!) Michigan State.

A: Purdue has been playing great basketball on both ends and the Illinois offense has been ridiculous [until losing to Penn State Tuesday night], but these teams will have to beat Ohio State before I’m a believer. That being said, I don’t see the Buckeyes winning the conference by more than a couple games because I think they’ll drop a few on the road and one or two at home. 

Q: Rate the Big Ten’s overall depth compared to previous seasons.

A: The Big Ten is deep, but I’m not sure the conference is quite as deep as many expected before the season began. Ohio State, Illinois, Purdue, and Wisconsin are all just about what we expected. Michigan State has disappointed but we’d be foolish to count them out now.  The disappointment is the next tier. Northwestern simply hasn’t proven they are the team that everyone wants to anoint them. Minnesota just hasn’t been as impressive as most expected after early season wins over North Carolina and West Virginia.

Michigan, Penn State, Iowa, and Indiana appear to be in that final tier but Michigan or Penn State could have the potential to climb into the middle fray. 

Q: Pick a Final Four.

A: I don’t have any sort of inspirational and unique Final Four picks but I’ll go with Duke, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, and a sleeper pick with Texas.  I really struggled to come up with a fourth team as it seems pretty wide open but I love the way Texas defends.  

Q: I was one of those who bought into last season’s squad, then watched as Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims played a ton of minutes, jacked up a ton of shots and rarely looked good doing it. Was it one of those seasons where a few close losses compounded problems until the end became a mess?

A: Something just wasn’t right. Things got off on the wrong foot with a 1-2 trip to the Old Spice Classic and Michigan was pressing to live up to preseason expectations and never was able to get back on the right track. Harris and Sims had their moments of brilliance but were never quite as consistent and efficient as they were when Michigan made the NCAA tournament the year before. Almost all of Michigan’s complementary players and shooters had a down year and, as you say, the struggles compounded. 

Q: It’s Year Four of the John Beilein era. Rate his progress.

A: Year one was a mulligan due to the coaching transition but in year two Michigan managed to not only make the NCAA tournament but advance to the second round. In year three, expectations were as high as they’ve been in over a decade for a Michigan basketball team. Rather than rise to the challenge, Michigan collapsed and took a giant step back. Now Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims are gone and we are left with one of the youngest teams in the country for Beilein’s fourth season. Expectations were low going into this season and it seems like Michigan could have an NIT-type season which is about all you could reasonably ask for this year.

It’s all going to come down to next year for Beilein. The Big Ten loses a lot of talent and Michigan returns their entire team while adding a couple skilled guards. Next year’s team has to compete in the upper half of the conference and should earn an NCAA tournament bid.

Q: Is he farther along than Tommy Amaker was at this point? Or is the comparison unfair because of the mess Amaker inherited?

A: Similar to the expectations question, this one is tough. Amaker was never able to reach the NCAA tournament at Michigan and Beilein accomplished that feat in year 2. The other side of this argument  is that Amaker was 108-84 in his six years at Michigan while Beilein is just 57-58 to this point. I guess it all comes down to the criteria that you want to use to judge the two coaches. Amaker inherited a program that was in worse shape than Beilein but was just never able to get over that hump. Beilein has gotten over the hump but has also had his fair share of disappointing seasons. I don’t have an answer.

Q: Ever wish Michigan would shoot slightly less often from beyond the arc?

A: As a fan I just want to see Michigan win. Honestly, I don’t really care how they win. I’m a believer that all styles of play have their strengths and weaknesses but you can win with anything, whether it’s 40 minutes of full-court press or a low-turnover, high-three perimeter oriented scheme. I’m fine with whatever.  Beilein was an overtime away from the Final Four running the exact same system at West Virginia so it’s fair to say that the system can work. On the other hand, I’d like it if Michigan could knock down threes at a bit higher rate.

Q: How much do you love your freshman class? They exceeding or matching your expectations?

A: The freshman class is strong with Jordan Morgan (RS), Tim Hardaway Jr., and Evan Smotrycz all in the starting lineup and Jon Horford and Blake McLimans (RS) also playing a role. Morgan is playing about as well as you could expect from a relatively unheralded freshman big man. On the other hand, Hardaway has played well but you can tell the 6-foot-6 wing is just scratching the surface of his potential. Smotrycz is a 6-foot-9 kid that can shoot but has been up and down this year. 

Q: Do you ever think Darius Morris is trying to do too much? Or is that by necessity?

A: Yes and yes. Morris has improved by leaps and bounds this season, averaging 15 points and 7 assists per game, but he still does a bit too much at times. Sometimes Michigan’s offense will break down and it seems like he dribbles the air out of the ball. Those possessions typically end one of two ways: Morris shooting some sort of circus shot in the lane or the opposing defense collapsing on Morris and leaving someone open for an assist.

Morris has the will to lead, which you love to see, but he has to learn when to do it all and when to play within the offense.

Q: Zack Novak, Stu Douglass. Role players who’ve been thrust into important roles or guys crucial to the development of a young team. (Or both?)

A: They are role players to a degree but Michigan needs them to continue to play a bigger role. Douglass is shooting just under 40 percent from three this year but he has been in a slump the last couple games. Michigan needs him to consistently hit perimeter shots to give them some scoring production off the bench.

Novak is in many ways the heart of the team. At 6-foot-4 he plays the rare combination of two guard and power forward. He averages 9 points and 7 rebounds per game and he’s the guy you want shooting a clutch shot, grabbing an important rebound, or fighting for a loose ball.

Q: Fondest Michigan hoops memory?

A: I’m just 22, so my memory bank isn’t quite as expansive as others so I’d have to go with Michigan’s NCAA Tournament selection in 2009 and the subsequent victory in Kansas City. My family first purchased season tickets about 10 years before that and you could argue that I grew up on one of the worst 10 year stretches in Michigan basketball history.

I had been teased by teams before that just weren’t able to get over the NCAA tournament hump so it was rewarding to finally see them make that jump. The drive down to Kansas City, win over Clemson, and upset bid cut short versus Oklahoma made the whole experience even more worthwhile.

Q: You’re on the highway, trying to flag someone down to help you fix your car. But there’s a woman on the other side of the road, who also needs help. She also happens to be wearing a bikini and thus gets all the attention. Hopefully that’s an overstatement when it comes to keeping a blog on Michigan basketball. But given the nonstop football coaching-search stories of late, I doubt it.  

A: Ha! Not to mention the best team specific football blog overshadowing my site. Obviously basketball isn’t of the highest priority for Michigan fans but there are enough people that care to make running the site worthwhile. I’ve been running the site for just over three years now and, quite honestly, it has already grown more than I would have ever expected. The three year stretch that I’ve been running the blog just happens to coincide with one of the worst stretches in Michigan football history – hopefully I’m not part of the problem.

Q: You’ve been doing this since 2007. Have you changed your approach or your emphasis?

A: I’d like to think that I’ve gotten better but that’s for others to judge. Over the past year we’ve continued to expand the site. I’ve added some help in the form of Joe Stapleton who has done a lot for us to expand our recruiting coverage (we covered 8+ AAU tournaments this summer) and handles typical press duties like video interviews from the locker room. At the end of the day those are just perks though and the core of the site continues to be tempo free analysis about Michigan basketball.

Q: Moment of truth – Do the Wolverines make this year’s NCAA tournament?

A: No.  I won’t mention the NCAA tournament until this team can pick up a few quality wins. When your best RPI win is Harvard, you probably aren’t quite there yet. That being said, if Michigan can pick up a couple home upsets the picture could change overnight.

Want more? I’m also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller.

Purdue’s Edey returning to school at NBA draft deadline; Kentucky’s Tshiebwe stays in

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Purdue’s Zach Edey decided it was the right call to go back to school instead of staying in the NBA draft. His predecessor as national player of the year, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, is sticking with his pro pursuit.

And Connecticut’s reign as NCAA champion will begin with multiple starters having left for the NBA draft and one returning after flirting with doing the same.

The 7-foot-4 Edey and UConn guard Tristen Newton were among the notable names to announce that they were withdrawing from the draft, the NCAA’s deadline for players who declared as early entrants to pull out and retain their college eligibility.

Edey’s decision came in social media posts from both the center and the Boilermakers program that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament behind Edey, The Associated Press men’s national player of the year.

But Tshiebwe announced late in the afternoon that he would remain in the draft after a college career that included being named the AP national player of the year in 2022.

For the current champions, Newton (10.1 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds) is returning after being one of four Huskies to declare for the draft after a run to UConn’s fifth national championship in early April. He scored a game-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds in the victory over San Diego State in the title game.

The others were Final Four Most Outstanding Player Adama Sanogo, wing Jordan Hawkins and versatile guard Andre Jackson Jr. Sanogo (17.8 points) and Hawkins (16.3) have made it clear they have closed the door on their college careers, while team spokesman Phil Chardis said that Jackson (6.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists) would remain in the draft.

The Huskies have 247sports’ No. 3-ranked recruiting class for next year to restock the roster, led by McDonald’s All-American point guard Stephon Castle.

The NBA’s withdrawal deadline is June 12, but is moot when it comes to college players returning to school due to the NCAA’s earlier timeline to retain playing eligibility.

STAYING IN SCHOOL

TREY ALEXANDER: Creighton gets back a 6-4 guard who averaged 13.6 points and shot 41% from 3-point range in his first full season as a starter.

ADEM BONA: The 6-foot-10 forward and Pac-12 freshman of the year is returning to UCLA after starting 32 games as a rookie and averaging 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks – with coach Mick Cronin praising his toughness for “competing through multiple injuries for as long as he could” in a statement Wednesday.

EDEY: He averaged 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 assists while shooting 60.7% from the field. His presence alone helps Purdue be a factor in the Big Ten race.

JOSIAH-JORDAN JAMES: The 6-6 guard went through the NBA G League Combine and had workouts with multiple teams before opting to return to Tennessee for a fifth season alongside teammate Santiago Vescovi.

JUDAH MINTZ: The 6-3 freshman averaged 16.3 points and 4.6 assists for Syracuse, ranking third among Division I freshmen in scoring behind only Alabama’s Brandon Miller and Lamar’s Nate Calmese.

OWLS’ RETURNEES: Florida Atlantic got good news after its surprise Final Four run with the return leading scorers Johnell Davis (13.8) and Alijah Martin (13.4). ESPN first reported their decisions, while Martin later posted a social media statement.

TERRENCE SHANNON JR.: Illinois got a big boost with Shannon announcing his night in a social media post. The 6-6 guard is returning for a fifth college season after averaging 17.2 points.

SPARTANS’ RETURNEES: Michigan State announced that guards Jaden Akins and A.J. Hoggard have withdrawn from the NBA draft. Standout guard Tyson Walker had previously withdrawn in April, setting up Tom Izzo to have five of his top scorers back.

GOING PRO

KOBE BROWN: Missouri’s 6-8 swingman opted against returning for a fifth college season after being an AP first-team all-Southeastern Conference pick averaging 15.8 points last season.

JAYLEN CLARK: The third-year UCLA guard averaged 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while leading the Pac-12 with 2.6 steals en route to being named Naismith national defensive player of the year. Cronin called him a winner with strong intangibles who made UCLA “a better program because he chose to be a Bruin.”

BRICE SENSABAUGH: The Ohio State freshman averaged 16.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in 31 games before missing his final two in the Big Ten Tournament due to a knee injury. He’s a potential first-round prospect.

TSHIEBWE: The 6-9, 260-pound forward is a tough interior presence who led the country in rebounds for two straight seasons (15.1 in 2022, 13.7 in 2023) while racking up 48 double-doubles. But he faces an uncertain next stop and is projected at best as a second-round prospect.

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love commits to Arizona

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Caleb Love is now headed to Arizona.

The North Carolina transfer tweeted, less than a month after decommitting from Michigan, that he will play next season with the Wildcats.

“Caleb is a tremendously talented guard who has significant experience playing college basketball at a high level,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said in a statement. “We look forward to helping Caleb grow his game at Arizona. And as we near the completion of the roster for the upcoming season, we feel great about how everything has come together. Now it’s time for the real work to start.”

A 6-foot-4 guard, Love averaged 14.6 points and 3.3 assists in three seasons at North Carolina. He averaged 17.6 points in seven NCAA Tournament games, helping lead the Tar Heels to the 2022 national championship game.

Love entered the transfer portal after leading North Carolina with 73 3-pointers as a junior and initially committed to Michigan. He decommitted from the Wolverines earlier this month, reportedly due to an admissions issue involving academic credits.

Love narrowed his transfer targets to three schools before choosing to play at Arizona over Gonzaga and Texas.

Love will likely start on a team that will have dynamic perimeter players, including Pelle Larsson, Kylan Boswell and Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events

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WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

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MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

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Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”