2011-2012 Basketball Player Recaps: The Bench

Now that the college basketball season is over and the sting of an unfortunate first round upset is wearing off, it's time for that brief period between the end of basketball and the start of the anticipation and hype leading up to football season. To start off our recap of an impressive year that saw Michigan bring home its first Big Ten Title in over two decades, we'll look at how each player did individually this season. Today, here are the players that didn't crack Michigan's primary seven-man rotation.

Jon Horford

Of all of the players who weren't playing meaningful minutes at the end of the year, it was Horford who would have easily made the biggest impact if he were to see some playing time. Unfortunately, a stress fracture in his foot sidelined him for a few months, and eventually he decided to sacrifice the last few games of the season in order to receive a medical redshirt so he could be available as a 5th-year player. His absence throughout the Big Ten season didn't receive much coverage from the mainstream media, but it was a somewhat severe blow to see a contributor at a position of little depth on the bench for Michigan's toughest games. He only played in nine games all season.

Horford actually was pushing Jordan Morgan for the starting job as the five and started off the season playing over ten minutes per game at the five -- he was second on the depth chart behind Morgan and ahead of Evan Smotrycz. When available, Horford provided a unique combination of skills as Michigan's best offensive rebounder and only real shot blocking threat. His season highlight was unquestionably the third-place game in the Maui Invitational against UCLA: Horford tallied 12 points on 5-5 shooting (video via UMHoops), pulled down 7 rebounds including four on offense, and blocked three shots, all in 19 minutes on the floor. That sort of production -- both efficient shooting from the five position, along with the offensive rebounding and shot blocking -- was sorely lacking for the rest of the season, and Michigan should be thrilled to have him as a part of the rotation at the five next year. Even with a returning starter (Morgan) and a blue chip prospect (Mitch McGary) at his position, Horford probably will see an increased role.

***

Eso Akunne

Despite being a walk-on, Akunne managed to get some playing time in the non-conference season -- and he did pretty well in the short periods when Trey Burke was on the bench. Akunne wasn't much of a scoring threat -- although he did knock down the few open looks that he had from three -- but knows the offense well and is a good leader on the floor (I'm not just saying that either: from what I saw in the student section, Akunne was one of the more vocal players on the team and was the unquestioned leader outside of Stu Douglass and Zack Novak when he was on the floor). Ultimately his lack of quickness and athleticism hurt him when teams pressured him the backcourt and his playing time diminished until he ended the season with a left foot injury that required surgery. He brings what an ideal walk-on should bring, those platitudes of "hard work," "leadership," and "toughness" hold true for Akunne.

With the way that things stand right now, Eso Akunne could be in for a marked increase in playing time next year. As of today, if Trey Burke decides to declare for the NBA Draft, Akunne would be the only player in Ann Arbor that could run the point (as Tim Hardaway Jr. and Matt Vogrich probably don't have good enough ball-handling skills). Of course, this is just hypothetical -- Burke is probably going to stay, I hope -- but Akunne would probably compete with a true freshman, possibly Amedeo Della Valle, who Michigan is recruiting heavily now. Basically, if Trey decides to leave, the only point guard we'd have is Eso Akunne who, despite being able to chip a nice few minutes here and there off of the bench, probably can't run Michigan's offense for extended periods of time. TREY PLEASE STAY IN SCHOOL.

Blake McLimans

With Horford out, Blake McLimans saw a bit of playing time as the third option at the four and the five. McLimans only played 4.4 minutes per game over the course of the season and only logged more than ten minutes once in Big Ten play, so it usually took some foul trouble for McLimans to get on the floor. He provides good size and decent three point shooting ability -- certainly better than Morgan and Horford, Michigan's other fives, did -- but seemed rather hesitant to play in the paint on offense and usually fared poorly on the defensive end against bigger opponents. Stretching the floor with a five was rarely part of Michigan's offensive strategy unless Smotrycz or McLimans were on the court, so Blake provided a nice change of pace at the very least. The coaches aren't intending to bring him back for a fifth year (he took a redshirt for his first season on campus), so this will be McLimans's final year as a Wolverine. Unfortunately for him, it might be hard to find minutes with Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, Glenn Robinson, Mitch McGary, and Max Bielfeldt all potentially ahead of him at the four or five.

***

Colton Christian

Christian was primarily a defensive stopper for Michigan, but he only came off the bench when Michigan was in pretty dire foul trouble. (One game stands out in particular -- he played a season-high seven minutes in the game in Champaign against Illinois and played the five, guarding a surefire first-rounder in Meyers Leonard. Christian is 6'6" and Leonard somehow didn't get a touch on every possession. Bruce Weber was fired for a reason.) Despite being a pretty solid defender, he never really was able to develop much of an offensive game and only scored a few baskets during his two years in Ann Arbor. Christian saw his minutes decrease in this, his sophomore season, and faced with the prospects on not seeing much playing time for the remaining two years of his eligibility, decided to transfer. We wish him the best of luck moving forward.

***

Carlton Brundidge

Carlton was actually more highly rated than his fellow incoming freshman, Trey Burke, but didn't manage to make much of an impact while here in Ann Arbor. He didn't play except for garbage time minutes and fought to overcome a couple of illnesses during the season. Even though he was only here for one year, Brundidge decided to transfer. In terms of depth, his departure hurts (especially if Trey leaves), but hopefully he can find more playing time somewhere else.

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