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February 07, 2012 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2012-02-07

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The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom

Tuesday, February 7, 2012 - 5

The cards will dictate the future

ometimes when I finish
crocheting on icy Wednes-
day evenings, I build
houses of cards.
This pastime helps me reflect
on the day
gone by and
allows me to
contemplate
other issues
- such as the
prospects of
the Michigan
men's basket-e
ball team the NEAL
remainder of ROTHSCHILD
the season.
The Wol-
verines have a certain formula
they use to win games. They
rely on penetration from their
guards to create open shots for
their shooters. But when they
can't find penetration or hit
their shots, they wind up look-
ing much like my cards in my
amateur years of building.
Allow me to let you in on a
few tricks of the card-building
trade. Glue works. I success-
fully build houses every time I
add a dose of Elmer's to my con-
struction. That's not the only
way I can build one, but it sure
does help matters.
In the same way, this team
finds success under specific cir-
cumstances. The most promi-
nent of those conveniently
involves a house, but one not
made of spades and diamonds.
Rather, it's the House that
Cazzie Built.
The Wolverines are unbeaten
at'home and have looked like a
different team than the travel-
ing version of the squad. They
have been PT Cruisin' at the
Crisler Center this season,
where they've put up a 14-0
mark. But in visiting arenas,
they are a rather underwhelm-
ing 1-6.
The Indiana team that Mich-
igan fell to in Bloomington the
first week of the year was the
same one it beat at Crisler by 12
points last week. And the same
Michigan State team that lost to
the Wolverines three weeks ago
had no problem with Michigan
at the Breslin Center on Sunday,
as the Spartans swag-stepped
to a 10-point victory.
No explanation can help
me understand how a team
can play the same exact sport
under the same exact rules, so
much more poorly in a differ-

Merrill provides
calm ing presence

Michigan freshman guard Trey Burke is the ace in the Michigan basketball team's deck. But he alone won't be enough.

ent venue. Yet, I'll agree that
there's something real about
home-court advantage.
Luckily for Michigan, the
meaningful games it plays this
season won't be in opposing
arenas. But unluckily for Michi-
gan, those games also won't be
at home.
So, just like glue isn't allowed
at my quarterly card-building
competitions, the Big Ten Tour-
nament and NCAA Tournament
are held at neutral sites.
For these games, the dark
magic of home-court advan-
tage isn't around to haunt my
dreams. It's at these times that
Michigan will have to win
games on its own merit.
When the time comes, Michi-
gan will have to face the conse-
quences of its lack of depth in
the post.Redshirt sophomore
center Jordan Morgan is the
only person able to defend
elite big men in the post. And
when he tried to do that a week
ago, Ohio State knocked him
around. After picking up four
fouls, Morgan had to spend
much of the second half on the
bench.
With sophomore center Jon
Horford nursing a.foot injury

that looks to keep him side-
lined for the rest of the season,
Michigan's only alternatives
to guard the Meyers Leonards,
and Jared Sullingers remaining
on the regular-season sched-'
ule are slight sophomore Evan
Smotrycz and perimeter-dwell-
ing junior Blake McLimans.
And when the games that
matter come around, Michigan
must deal with the reality that
its most prolific shooter may
also be its worst. Sophomore
forward Tim Hardaway Jr. has
taken 46 more 3-pointers than
senior guard Zack Novak and
he's made two fewer.
. Hardaway continues to play
like his father (circa 2035)
and it's hurting Michigan. His
questionable shot selection and
turbulent emotions (and resem-
blance to Chris Rock) have put
the Wolverines in a funny posi-
tion.
Michigan coach John Beilein
has reiterated his faith in the
sophomore, but that faith has
scarcely been rewarded in Big
Ten play. If Hardaway keeps on
gunning, he might just shoot
the Wolverines out of Big Ten
title contention or postseason
tournament play.

How freshman point guard
Trey Burke performs down the
stretch will also have important
implications. Early in my card-
building days, I would fatigue
when I neared completion of
one of my mansions. My hands
would tremble, and I found it
difficult to place my cards like I
was used to.
Burke may be at risk of some-
thing similar. He has had more
difficulty getting into the lane
in recent games, and though his
numbers haven't been affected
because he's been draining
threes, he does not look as
explosive off the dribble.
The Wolverines may not look
to be in such bad shape now, sit-
ting comfortably at third place
in the conference with a rela-
tively cushy schedule ahead.
Still, their hopes for even
greater glory in March rest on
a few cards - on threes (by
Hardaway), a five (position-
wise) in Morgan and an ace in
Burke.
And if, somehow, the house
hasn't fallen, King Beilein
winds up on top.
- Rothschild can be reached
at nealroth 5umich.edu.

ByZACH HELFAND
Daily Sports Editor
You probably haven't noticed
the Michigan hockey player
wearing the No. 24 sweater, so
here's an introduction: his name
is Jon Merrill, he's a sophomore
defender, and he's pretty decent.
Jokes, jokes. Of course you've
noticed Merrill, Michigan's best
all-around talent and brightest
professional prospect by a lofty
margin. His return from a three-
month-long suspension has coin-
cided with Michigan's current
6-1-1 tear through the CCHA that
has put the Wolverines just three
points behind first-place Ferris
State.
You know Merrill. Just don't
tell him - for his own sake.
"I just try to keep it simple and
try to - try not to get noticed,
really," Merrill said. "As a defen-
seman, you want to go out there,
(and) you don't want anyone to
notice you've been out there."
Mission not quite accom-
plished. Or is it?
Merrill's return made a big
splash because he's one of Michi-
gan's best players, and it's contin-
ued to generate buzz because of
the team's success with him in the
lineup. Yet players such as sopho-
more forward Luke Moffatt said
the 6-foot-3 Merrill makes a big
impact because he's inconspicu-
ous on the ice.
Moffatt had a hard time
articulating what Merrill does
for Michigan. At one point, he
described Merrill as "a presence."
Other times, he said the opposite.
"He's a little more, I wouldn't
say steady, but snore..." Moffatt
said, his voice trailing off. "Pas-
sive? I don't know what the right
word is there."
In measurable terms, Merrill's
contributions are much clearer.
He's big, physical and talented.
He can move the puck to forwards
quickly or fire shots through the
defense.
Merrill and junior defenseman
Lee Moffie have complemented
each other well. Moffie prefers to
fire shots on cage and attack the
goal on rushes. Merrill is content
to stay back.
And both special-teams units
have made giant leaps in pro-

duction after Merrill's return.
Against Miami this past week-
end, the penalty kill thwarted all
12 of the RedHawks' power plays,
while Michigan scored twice.
Merrill assisted on both goals.
"He's a top defenseman, and
we knew that coming in when he
got to play again," said Michigan
coach Red Berenson.
Michigan's goals-against aver-
age is more than 1.3 goals better
with Merrill than without. That
can't all be because of one player,
can it?
The short answer: no.
As Berenson noted, the Wol-
verines caught fire during the
Great Lakes Invitational, and
Merrill's return the following
series just added fuel to said fire.
Few players, especially defen-
semen, are worth 1.3 goals per
game. Yet Merrill's name in the
lineup is worth more than its
weight in goals because of the
depth he adds.
Plus there's that on-ice pres-
ence. Moffatt fumbled through
words like "passive" and "steady."
Maybe it's just Merrill's confi-
dence, which shines through in
his statements:
"We don't look it at as some-
thing that's bad, we kind of get
excited when we have to kill a
penalty. We get momentum out
of it."
Or:
"It's unbelievable when you
string a couple wins together,
beat some good teams. The locker
room, the morale is up, everyone's
excited. And going into games,
instead of in November when we
thought we were going to lose
every game, it's now we know
we're going to win every game."
Berenson said Merrill and his
teammates enjoy a symbiotic rela-
tionship, just like any player on a
well-functioning team. Merrill
makes the team better, and the
team also makes Merrill better.
But his impact was visible to
anyone who witnessed the con-
trast in the Wolverines' play this
weekendto when they met Miami
in November.
November's Michigan team
lacked a calming presence in a
fast and physical series in a hos-
tile environment.
It got one back in Merrill.

Wolverines gear up for first season of Division-I lacrosse

By EVAN QUINN tunity for the student-athletes to
For the Daily pioneer a new chapter in Michi-
gan history.
One hundred ninety-five Michigan coach John Paul
years, 138 Olympic medals, -an does not take this opportunity
alumni chapter on the moon lightly. Pointing to head football
and a President of the United coach Brady Hoke's invocation of
States later, making University "Team 132," he views this forma-
of Michigan history can seem tive era for the lacrosse program
like a daunting task. This Sun- as essential to building future
day, the Michigan men's lacrosse success.
team will find themselves doing "We've embraced the whole
just that. Team One attitude here," Paul
The 2012 lacrosse season will said. "We're calling ourselves
mark the first in school history in Team One. I talk to the team
which the Wolverines will com- about being Team One all the
pete at the Division-I level. The time. I thank coach Hoke for
announcement that the team setting that precedent, and as
would make the jump to the var- important as it was for him to
sity level from club status came instill an understanding of tradi-
last May, providing a rare oppor- tion in his program, we need to

understand the opportunity we
have as Team One. There's going
to be a Team 132 in lacrosse one
day, and they're going to look
back and remember the number
of teams that have been through
this."
As a varsity team, the Wolver-
ines will face much stiffer com-
petition.
In light of this, Paul is taking a
long-term approach to coaching
his team.
"We've made it our mis-
sion this year to build an elite
Division-I culture," Paul said.
"And that doesn't necessarily
mean that we're winning every
Division-I game, it means we're
building this culture that's going
to lay the foundation for what

this program is going to become."
Junior Sean Sutton expressed
a similar sentiment about the
turbulent transitional phase.
"We expect the competition to
be a higher level, obviously," he
said. "But we're going to do what
we can control, and that's getting
better each and every day. We
have no expectations of wins and
losses right now.
"We're just trying to work to
get that culture established, and
trying to set the culture that will
bring us to a great program some
day."
Paul will need serious com-
mitment from his players mov-
ing forward if the Wolverines
hope to have success. The switch
to Division I places new demands

on his players.
Most of the players of the
Michigan lacrosse team didn't
sign on to compete at a varsity
level, coming to Michigan with
the expectation of playing club
lacrosse. Suddenly, thrust into
Division I, their upcoming sea-
son includes many more respon-
sibilities than they're used to
handling.
It remains to be seen whether
these new responsibilities will
be fulfilled moving forward. So
far, Paul seems pleased with the
team's development. Last Satur-
day, Michigan participated in an
exhibition match against Divi-
sion-III Denison and came out
with a 12-8 victory.
"We had a lot of young guys

stepping up," Paul said. "We
had guys playing out of position
that had to step up. From the
perspective of guys stepping up
in their roles today, I thought it
went really well."
Regardless of the team's final
record this year, the season will
be a remarkable one due to its
historic nature. For the players,
this represents a dream come
true.
"(Being a Division-I athlete)
is surreal," said fifth-year senior
Trevor Yealy. "I would have
never guessed it. When I started
here, I would have never thought
that I'd have the opportunity
and the privilege to do this. It's a
privilege, it's an honor, it's excit-
ing."

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