Since the season starts, well, tonight, I figured that it's about time to finish off the player previews for this upcoming season. Most of the team has been covered in these two posts, but now it's time for Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, Tim Hardaway Jr, and Matt Vogrich. There won't be a team preview for D-II Ferris State tonight, but look for Michigan to control the glass and put away the Bulldogs in the season opener tonight. Check out UMHoops if you want to see a more in-depth preview.
The biggest reason for this team's hype has to be Tim Hardaway, right? As Tim progressed from a streaky spot-up three point specialist to an all-around offensive weapon, Michigan progressed from a team that looked dead in the water to a legitimate NCAA Tournament team. It's too simplistic to say that the turnaround was all on Hardaway -- Michigan's defense was a primary reason for that -- but there's no doubt that Michigan would not have made it as far as they did without Tim's stellar performances at Penn State, at Iowa, at Minnesota, and against MSU and Illinois. He evolved into a more complete scorer, and if he adds more elements (aggressive rebounding, tough man-to-man defense), to his skill-set he's going to be a surefire First-Team All-Big Ten player. Tim is the star of this team and he needs to play like it.
As for expectations for this year, Tim really needs to be assertive and be the leader on the court. He has the ability to be an elite player; he can carry this team if he needs to; he's got the potential to be even more productive than Manny Harris (and who was the most productive before that, Daniel Horton?) Michigan needs Hardaway at his best every night: even though he gained some consistency over the last few weeks of the season, he was invisible at times in big games. Hardaway's on the preseason National Player of the Year lists for a reason. His ability to knock down shots as a spot-up shooter or in transition, his knack for knocking down mid-range jumpers at the free-throw line, and getting to the rim and transition make his such a good player, but add in some rebounding (he had nine in the exhibition, for what it's worth) and some defense and he'll be great.
It seems like this guy's been around forever. I distinctly remember a home game against Wisconsin way back in Novak's freshman year, and I distinctly remember the guy sitting directly behind me bashing Novak for the majority of the time leading up to the game and for most of the first half. "He's not a Big Ten-level player. His shot's way too ugly. Why do we have this guy on the court?" When the game was finished, Zack finished with 20 points. Overstating the value of Zack Novak is pretty damn near impossible. He's a fairly reliable -- if unspectacular -- scorer, an absolutely great rebounder (for his size) and one of those quintessential "glue guys" that can play pretty much anywhere on the court. He's been underestimated for most of his career, opposing fans seem shocked when they see that Michigan's rolling out a 6'4" power forward against them, and those fans know exactly why he's out there after the game is over.
Novak's not going to be the consistent star that Tim is, but he's the undisputed team leader and one of the most important pieces to this team. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Novak will be the second-leading scorer on the team; his shooting is not only very, very good, but it seems like he's adding a two point game as well. Novak's rebounding will always be one of his biggest strengths, of course, but some new, more complete offensive performances would be a really pleasant development. It seems like Zack's been on campus forever, so it will be pretty sad to see him go after this season. Still, a great senior season (after all, he's consistently improved over the course of his career) looks to be in order for one of my favorite Wolverines of all time.
Like Novak, it seems like Stu's been suiting up for Michigan forever. He's been fairly consistent over the course of his career, but he's nailed some absolutely huge shots over the years. His dagger against MSU in East Lansing might have been the biggest shot of the year, and was definitely the best moment in Douglass's career so far. Throwing down against Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament definitely merits and honorable mention though. Michigan fans often are overly harsh towards Stu -- at this point we know that Douglass is a solid player with physical limitations, even if he has been consistently good throughout his career.
Most of the frustration towards Douglass stems from the fact that he's been often asked (particularly during his sophomore year) to play out of position at the point. Unfortunately, that might be the case this year: Trey Burke has been named the starter but Douglass is the next option if the true freshman struggles. Stu is a pretty good shooter, a really good on-ball defender, but not a great point guard. If he's spending most of his time at the two guard, he'll have a solid senior year. If things don't go according to plan, he might struggle a bit.
Vogrich came in as a Top100 prospect a few years ago and was lauded as one of the best shooters in his class, but so far, returns have been few and far between for his stint in Ann Arbor. Progress is definitely there -- he improved dramatically from freshman to sophomore year -- so it will be interesting to see if he makes the leap from a decent backup to a very good player. He's still stuck behind Hardaway at the three position so he'll have limited opportunity, but I'm a big fan of Vogrich. He looked really, really good in Michigan's open practice and looks like he's the best shooter on the team. If he gets on fire and hits a couple of consecutive threes, Michigan's in great shape. He looked like he added some diversity to his game with his performance in the first half against Tennessee a year ago, hitting shots, getting to the basket, and playing great defense at the top of the 1-3-1. His calling card will always be his shooting though, and if he continues his improvement (and I've heard that he has), he'll be one of the better backups in the Big Ten. If Tim Hardaway wasn't the starter, Vogrich would be a solid starter, but as for now, he'll have to make the most out of his limited opportunities.