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December 08, 2011 - Image 7

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2011-12-08

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Thursday, December 8, 2011 - 7A

En ign
r9 ,
The most notable addi-
tion to the Maize Rage
this season is obvious -
Smotrycz's Lobstryczs. In honor
of the sophomore forward, sev-
eral students have attended every
game in Crisler Arena wearing
full lobster costumes, with maize
T-shirts thrown over top.
Evan Smotrycz is a natural
target to be honored like that,
with his casual demeanor, sense
of humor and
goofy gait.
But Michigan
coach John
Beilein prob-
ably doesn't
care at all
that one of
his starting BEN
forwards is
now the toast ESTES
of the student
section -
he's more worried about getting
Smotrycz to start playing more
It's been a bit maddening at
times to watch the Reading,
Mass. native play this season.
Known as a tall swing/post man
with the ability to hit the 3-point
shot with consistency, Smotrycz
lived up to that billing last season.
But in the early stages of his
sophomore season, with many
expecting Smotrycz to make a
significant leap in his develop-
ment, the forward has frustrated.
He's flashed a multifacted offen-
sive game and has defended sol-
idly inside at times, but at other
times, he has forced shots outside
the flow of the offense and has
lost his man on defense.
Smotrycz is shooting at a
36.8-percent clip from deep,
which is down a little from last
year but not in any significant
way - he still can shoot the three
well. And he's had plenty of posi-
tive moments when he has looked
to be on the verge of a breakout.
But most of those moments
came in the first two games of
the season against weak oppo-
nents. Smotrycz has been unable
to maintain that play since the
levelof competition ramped up.
He shot just 8-for-19 in Michi-
gan's three games at the Maui
Invitational and alternated solid
play with missed 3-pointers and

iatic Evan Smotrycz
y d

Sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz is the top-ranked recruit on the Wolverines asa former four-star forward.

mistakes in Saturday's win over
Iowa State.
That's been the biggest thing -
inconsistency. Because Smotrycz
looks so good at times, showing
the ability to hit long jumpers,
drive the lane and rebound in the
paint, it's that much more frus-
trating when he turns the ball
over or commits a silly foul.
The loss at Virginia was the
best example of this. Beilein
called it one of Smotrycz's "best
games," and for good reason -
he made all six of his shots and
pulled down five rebounds. But
Smotrycz couldn't avoid dumb
fouls and fouled out late in the
game. Smotrycz fouled out just
three times last season but has
done so three times already this
year, and it's probably no coinci-
dence that Michigan's two losses
have come in games when he's
been forced to sit.
"He continues to have issues
with just understanding his body
posture and how he's goingto
guard people when he's forced
to give help," Beilein said. "He
learns from it day by day. ... But
foul trouble remains something
that sneaks up on him one of
every three games."
The reference to body posture
is telling, because Smotrycz may
still be learningto deal with
his new frame after adding 36
pounds in the offseason. The idea

was to allow the wiry freshman
to better handle the rigors of the
college game - especially in the
paint, as Big Ten big men were
too powerful for the forward last
It has undeniably done him
well, with his rebounds up from
2.3 per game last year to 5.3.
But that maybe the problem -
Smotrycz may have an identity
crisis. Beilein's offense has always
thrived when it's had a big man
who was proficient at shooting
threes (think the immortal Kevin
Pittsnogle, or DeShawn Sims).
When Smotrycz came to Michi-
gan, he seemed a perfect fit for
that role.
But then he got a decent
amount of time at center last sea-
son, and the weightgain indicates
that Beilein plans to give him
even more time at the "five" in
the future (though he'll surely be
a "four" most of the time).
The two positions require very
different styles in Beilein's sys-
tem, so itchas to be tough to keep
floating between them. Smotrycz
has proven decent enough at
center, but he'd be better off just
improving and diversifying his
game as a "four."
Nobody's asking himto be a
star - Tim Hardaway Jr. will
always be the team's top threat.
But if Smotrycz could improve
and become consistent enough

that opposing defenses must
account for him at all times, it
would open up even more offense
for Hardaway Jr. Plus, the Wol-
verines wouldn't have to rely on
freshman pointguard Trey Burke
as much, who has enough on his
plate as is.
This isn't to say that Smotrycz
has been some huge disappoint-
ment, either. He played very well
for a freshman last season, and
it still is just his second year -
there's plenty of time for growth.
But you know he has talent -
he's actuallythe highest-rated
Beilein recruit to play for the
Wolverines. And Smotrycz has
shown enough flashes that it
leaves you wanting more.
"When he lets the game come
to him a little bit more, he's a far
more efficient player," Beilein
said. "He knows it. And he's just
got to continue to work at it.
When you're out (in a game), it's a
different thing."
If Smotrycz does that adjusting
more rapidly and can become the
player thathis talent promises
sooner ratherthan later, the ceil-
ing for this Michigan team will
increase dramatically.
And he'll give those Lobstryczs
even more to be proud about.
Estes can be reached at
benestes@umich.edu or on
Twitter @benestes91.

Blue sends two
to WJC camp
LIZ VUKELICH when they first arrived.
Daily Sports Writer "You play against the best
20-and-under kids in the world,"
Freshman forward Phil Di Brown said. "You have to elevate
Giuseppe has developed into one your game that much more to
of the Michigan hockey team's compete and keep up. When you
most reliable scorers. His eight play at that tier, you can bringthat
goals this season put him in a tie back here."
for first place on the Wolverines' Di Giuseppe wasn't the only
roster and any teammate will Wolverine to receive an invitation
attest that he's notjust an average - sophomore Jon Merrill was
18-year-old hockey player. named to the USA's preliminary
So it comes as a surprise to see roster for the second consecutive
that Di Giuseppe will be a scratch year. The defenseman only start-
in Saturday's game againstMichi- ed skating with Michigan in the
gan State. last month and a half following a
It has nothing to do with inju- suspension, and he has yet to see
ries - Di Giuseppe will be return- any game action for the Wolver-
ing to his native Canada where ines.
he'll attend a week-long training According to Berenson, Team
camp for the Canadian Junior USA was aware of his suspended
National Team, which announced status before naming him to the
its roster at the end of last month. roster. There is still no concrete
"This summer, (Di Giuseppe) timetable as to when Merrill will
went to the (Canadian junior see game action again for Michi-
team's) camp and had a real good gan, but playing with the WJC
camp," said Michigan coach Red will give him the game experi-
Berenson. "Then when he had a ence he's been missing forthe first
real good start here, it was under- half of the season.
stood that he'd be invited." Brown said that though no
The World Junior Champion- player is a "shoe-in" just because
ship kicks off after Christmas he played the previous year, he
and pits 12 countries from North thinks Merrill has a good chance
America and Europe against each at making the team again - he
other. It's exclusively for 18 to 20 was Team USA's top defenseman
year olds and only involves the last year.
best - the top scorers, skaters, Di Giuseppe was an obvious
defensemen and goalies. pick for the preliminary roster,
On average, Michigan sends but the Canadian coaches will see
two players each year to train- if he is skilled enough for the final
ing camp, and Berenson is happy roster, which will be decided on
to support them - he thinks it's Dec. 14. The final roster for Team
important for the players to have USA will be decided on Dec. 22.
experience at the international Between 30 and 40 players are
level. named to the preliminary lists,
But at the same time, it's tough and by the end of camp, that num-
to lose Di Giuseppe, especially for ber is whittled down to about 20.
a big road game against a rival. The camp is tough - it must
"(Letting Di Giuseppe go) is to be if only the top skaters are
not a pleasant decision," Beren- invited. But Berenson and Brown
son said. "I don't like to lose these are confident about Di Giuseppe
players, but that's the way it is. and Merrill's chances of making
I'm trying to do what's best for the final cut.
the kid." "I think both (Di Giuseppe and
Junior forward Chris Brown Merrill) will make it and do really
won a bronze medal for Team well," Brown said.
USA in last year's tournament and Then he added with a smile:
knowsthat players leave the camp "But I hope the US wins, obvi-
as better hockey nlavers than ouslv."

'M' enters Sweet 16 led by even attack


gram h
gan vo
Alex H
side hi
and ser
ney Fle
high l
son, th
turn fr
In 2
a one-p
of McE
who tie
the tea
In it

ikers searching sputtered. In three sets, the Wol-
verines hit just 12.33 kills per set
first multiple- compared to their season average
of 14.15, and their .137 attack per-
win weekend centage was well below their sea-
son average of .240.
nce September "Sitting on the bench during
NCAAs and watching your team
STEVEN BRAID lose and not being able to do any-
DailySports Writer thing about it, that really hurt a
lot," Hunt said earlier this season.
tnce is power. Though Hunt leads the team
just the second time in pro- in kills again this season, she's
history, the No. 22 Michi- receiving increased support from
lleyball team boasts four her teammates. Michigan has
s with at least 300 kills in a shown that it is far more equipped
- senior to handle an injury to its star out-
e hitter NOTEBOOK side hitter.
unt (396), With Hunt missing the major-
more outside hitter Lexi ity of the Nov. 23 match against
(361), redshirt junior out- No. 16 Minnesota with an ankle
tter Claire McElheny (327) sprain, the Wolverines hit for a
nior middle blocker Court- .291 attack percentage en route to
tcher (300). a resounding three-set victory. In
h Hunt playing at her usual Michigan's following match - a
evel for most of the sea- five-set victory against North-
e other hitters and middle western in which Hunt's injury
rs have taken turns pro- forced her to play only in the back
excellent offensive perfor- row - it had five players with
s. double-digit kills for the firsttime
NCAA Sweet 16-bound since October 2008.
rines (8-12 Big Ten, 22-12 "One of the reasons we have
)have become a much more been good this year is because
rte team with increased we haven't had to rely on just
at the net - a 180-degree one player," said Michigan coach
om last season. Mark Rosen. "We have a lot of
010, the team's offense was players who can step up and put
player wrecking machine. up pretty good offensive produc-
t player, Hunt, led the Wol- tion."
' attack with 503 kills, Early in the season, Erwin
twice as many as the duo spearheaded the Wolverines'
Elheny and then-freshman offense. She earned Most Valu-
blocker Jennifer Cross, able Player honors with 48 kills in
ed for second most kills on three gamesduringthe Michigan/
m with 261. Adidas Invitational in September.
when that machine was Recently though, sophomore out-
d late last season due to side hitter Molly Toon and McEl-
the Wolverines struggled heny have emerged as dynamic
ly. offensive weapons.
is matchup against Wash- Though she has just 97 kills so
in the first round of the far this season, Toon has become
Tournament - the only an impact player over the last
Hunt missea all of last couple of weeks, posting double-
- Michigan's offense digit kills in four of her last eight

matches. And with 31 kills and a
.406 attack percentage through
the first two rounds of the NCAA
Tournament, McElheny's superb
play is one of the biggest reasons
Michigan has advanced to the
Sweet 16.
"It gives us a lot of confidence
to know that we have such great
balance up front," McElheny
said. "Our production kind of just
depends on how our opponents
scout us. If they focus on just one
or two of us, we know that the
other players at the net will step
Added Rosen: "I think that's
what has helped Alex this year.
If somebody tries to go after her,
then (McElheny) is going to go
nuts on them, or Fletcher is going
to go nuts on them or Cross is
goingto go nuts on them."
to last weekend, the last 'time
Michigan finished a weekend
with muptiple victories was more
than two months ago, when they
went 3-0 during the Michigan/
Adidas Invitational.
Coincidentally, those three
games were also the last non-con-
ference foes the Wolverines faced
until the NCAA Tournament.
After starting its season with
12-straight non-conference
wins, Michigan entered Big Ten
play with high hopes. But disap-
pointment followed, as the Wol-
verines struggled to maintain
consistencythroughout their con-
ference schedule. They finished
the season with an 8-12 confer-
ence record - their worst Big Ten
mark in five years.
Fortunately for Michigan,
teams from the same confer-
ence are prohibited from playing
against each other in the first two
rounds of the NCAA Tourna-
With victories against Bay-
lor and Stanford in the first two
rounds of the tournament last

weekend, the Wolverines con-
tinued their undefeated record
against non-conference oppo-
"I think everyone was looking
forward to getting out of the con-
ference," Rosen said.
The strength of the Big Ten is
well demonstrated by this year's
NCAA Tournament bracket -the
eight teams selected from the Big
Ten are the most of any confer-
ence. Of the 16 teams still stand-
ing, six are from the Big Ten.
Rosen suggested that the
strength of the Big Ten has had
a positive impact on the Wolver-
ines during the postseason.
"I think our 14-0 (record)
outside the conference speaks
volumes about how good our con-
ference is," Rosen said. "You have
to be on every piece of your game
to be able to be successful in the
Big Ten ... but outside the confer-
ence, you maybe don't have to be
completely on your game because
the teams just aren't quite as
Since taking over the head cach-
ing position 13 years ago, Rosen
has turned Michigan into an elite
volleyball program. Before hir-
ing Rosen, Michigan had only
appeared in- the NCAA Tourna-
ment once in 26 years. But since
1999, Rosen has led the Wolver-
ines to the NCAA Tournament in
all but two seasons.
During the last five years,
Rosen has taken Michigan vol-
leyball to even greater heights.
Friday's matchup against Florida
will mark the program's fourth
Sweet 16 appearance - all in
the past five years. The Wolver-
ines' best postseason finish was
two years ago, when they lost to
Hawaii in the Elite Eight.
Rosen's 261 total victories and
.614 winning percentage rank
him as the winningest coach in
the program's history.


*s uI D1 IHUE

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