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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Tuesday, April 3, 2012 - 7

The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom Tuesday, April 3, 2012 - 7

Big Ten preview:
Can 'M' rise in'12?

A look back at Wolverine hoops

Daily Sports Writer
2011 was rough for Big Ten
baseball. Other than Illinois' auto-
matic conference bid to the NCAA
tournament, the conference failed
for the second year in a row to
qualify any other teams. One of
the nation's most prestigious con-
ferences continued to sink into the
depths of the college baseballhier-
archy, succumbing to the beasts of
the SEC and ACC.
But that was 2011. Things have
changed, and the future of base-
ball in the Big Ten is a favorable
one. The question now ishowlong
will we have to wait for this new
era to reveal itself?
There's a different feeling to
this season. A mild winter has let
the grass grow a little greener,
the sun shine a little brighter and
the aura of change to feel a little
stronger. Purdue is as strong as
ever, Michigan State has the talent
to take home another conference
title and Nebraska is looking to
make its mark on the Big Ten. But
will it all be enough? The ques-
tions still remain. Who will capi-
talize on the opportunity in 2012?
Will Nebraska prove it's the new
sheriff in town? Can Michigan
prove its finish at the bottom of
the standings last year was merely
a fluke?
We will answer these questions
and more as we highlight this
year's contenders and pretenders
in our Big Ten preview.
In their first year as a member
of the Big Ten, the Cornhuskers
are well aware of their percep-
tion in the conference. They're the
new kids on the block and haven't
made the time to formally intro-
duce themselves to their suburbia
neighbors. Rather than bringing
by some baked goods as a courte-
ous gesture, Nebraska will try to
prove it's here to stay by taking
home the Big Ten championship
in 2012.
Former Husker and ex-major
leaguer Darin Erstad takes over as
the new commander-in-chief for
Nebraska, replacing veteran Mike
Anderson after last year's embar-
rassing3-8 May record.With eight
returning starters, Erstad will rely
on an experienced Cornhusker
squad to improve on last season's
.270 team batting average. Junior
outfielder Chad Christensen
should emerge as one of the team's
top offensive threats, backed up by
the big bat of sophomore outfield-
er Michael Pritchard. Sophomore
left-handed pitcher Zach Hirsch
will be an ace on the mound, while
sophomore right-hander Brandon
Pierce will be one of the confer-
ence's top closers.
Michigan State will be back
with a vengeance in 2012 after
being snubbed of an at-large bid
for last season's NCAA Tourna-
ment. After tallying its second-
consecutive 30-win season, the
Spartans split the 2011 Big Ten
title with Illinois. The confer-
ence's best-hitting team will have
to maintain its momentum late
into the season, though, as a late
collapse cost the team an opportu-
nity to win the title outright.
Though the majority of Michi-
gan State's roster will return, the

Spartans must recover from a few
key losses on the mound and at the
plate. Big Ten batting champion
Brandon Eckerle and the reign-

ing Big Ten Player of the Year first
basemen Jeff Holm, were both
drafted by the Detroit Tigers.
Senior right-hander Tony Bucci-
ferro will be one of the Big Ten's
premier stars, listed as the 34th-
best player in College Baseball
Daily's 2012 Top 100 Player Count-
down. The Spartans won't have
the opportunity to play Nebraska
this year, but their pre-conference
success should be deserving of a
postseason bid.
Some would say Purdue's
37-win season last year may be the
Boilermakers' pinnacle mark. As
the team moves into its new home
at the state-of-the-art Northwest
Complex this spring, Purdue
believes it can keep the fire stoked
in 2012. The only Big Ten team
currently ranked in the nation's
top 25, the Boilermakers are
returning an experienced team
that has arguably the best infield
in the conference. If Purdue can
reproduce last season's .309 bat-
ting average and .967 fielding per-
centage, this may be the team's
year to make a deep postseason
Purdue's only weakness may
be the lack of depth of its pitching
rotation. In addition to losing ace
Matt Morgan to the major leagues,
right-hander Brad Schrieber will
miss the majority of the season
while recovering from Tommy
John surgery. The Boilermak-
ers will rely on their workhorse,
senior right-handed pitcher Lance
Breedlove, who leads the Big Ten
in strikeouts thus far. For offen-
sive production, Purdue will turn
to fifth-year senior infielder Eric
Charles and junior catcher Kevin
Plawecki. Despite a challeng-
ing non-conference schedule, the
Boilermakers currently hold the
best overall record in the Big Ten.
If there's one team in the Big
Ten that has something to prove,
it's Rich Maloney's Michigan
squad. The Wolverines finished
last in the conference a year ago at
7-16. After struggling early in the
season, Michigan's losing streak
seemed to simply snowball before
the team could diagnose its issues.
A year later, the same team that
was battered and bruised at the
bottom of the Big Ten barrel is
looking to "flip it" by capturing a
Big Ten championship this season.
But it will take a lot more than
just words and motivation. The
Wolverines need improvement
in both their lineup and bullpen,
looking to improve on a confer-
ence-worst 5.09 ERA and .245
batting average. Junior outfielder
Patrick Biondi has been exception-
al for Michigan thus far and will
be the rock of this season's lineup.
Look for freshman outfielder Will
Drake to emerge as one of the
Wolverines' top performers, along
with the consistent bat of sopho-
more outfielder Michael O'Neill.
Michigan's bullpen still lacks
reliable relief pitching, an area
the Wolverines must continue to
develop in Big Ten play. The start-
ing rotation, headlined by junior
right-hander Ben Ballantine, has
shown glimpses of dominance
early this year but has struggled
of late with its inability to shut
down opposing lineups. The Wol-
verines have the talent to compete

with the conference's giants, but
they need to execute in big games
if they hope to change the fate of
baseball in Ann Arbor.

Michigan coach John Beilein's fifth season-saw mostly positive results despite an early exit in Michigan's first game in the NCAA Tournament in Nashville, Tenn.

Daily Sports Editor
Tears have dried, and brackets
have been sworn at, crumpled and
thrown into bodies of water. It's
been more than two weeks since
the Michigan men's basketball
team was stunned by Ohio in the
second (really, the first) round of
the NCAA Tournament, and now,
with the tournament over, we can
take a step back.
Norfolk State captured our
hearts,broke them, un-broke them
and re-broke them. So did Wiscon-
sin. So did Gus Johnson, after it
was determined that he wouldn't
be callingthis year's tournament.
Enough of the shock has worn
off, and Michigan fans can take
solace that the Wolverines beat
the only team that beat the nation-
al champions. We've regained our
composure and are now able to get
back on the podium and pass down
judgment for the Wolverines' 2011-
12 campaign.
How did Michigan do this year?
Tough question.
If you were told at the start of
the season that Michigan would
beat Michigan State, Ohio State
and Wisconsin, win all but one
home game and bring home its
first Big Ten Championship in 26
years, it'd be an easy answer. The
Wolverines met, exceeded and
jumped giddily on top of their pre-
season expectations.
But what people cared about
was whether Michigan would
improve upon last season's
third-round NCAA Tournament
appearance. That didn't happen,
so it's easy to say the Wolverines
fell short of their goals.
However, what the team did in
one game against an unfamiliar
opponent in an unfamiliar city
shouldn't negatively color percep-
tions of Michigan's season as a
whole. It was clear that the pro-
gram made big strides in becom-
ing a Big Ten powerhouse, earning
a four-seed in the Big Dance on the

Grade: A-
Best Game
Feb. 18 wasn't just a dreary Sat-
urday a week before my half-birth-
day. It was a day-long Michigan
basketball holiday. The festivities
began at 5 a.m. with Michigan
coach John Beilein passing out
donuts to the Maize Rage, con-
tinued with College Gameday in
Crisler Center in the morning and
lasted deep into the night.
It didn't hurt that the Wolver-
ines also took down then-No. 6
Ohio State, 56-51, behind fresh-
man point guard Trey Burke's 17
points, vaulting Michigan into Big
Ten title contention.
Michigan's big men stood up
to the Buckeyes' dominant front-
court, and the team proved that it
could compete with and actually
beat the top teams in the country.
Worst Game
A week after the win over the
Buckeyes, Michigan took the court
for senior night (on my half-birth-
day), and it couldn't have gone any
worse. No Wolverine topped 12
points, and Michigan put forth its
worst defensive effort of the sea-
son, allowing Purdue to shoot 50
percent and dominate the second
half in a 75-61 blowout loss.
Not only did the game send
seniors Zack Novak and Stu Dou-
glass out of Crisler Center with
a frownie face, but at the time, it
appeared as though Michigan had
squandered its chances at a con-
ference title.
Best Moment
With Michigan huddled around
the 84-inch television screen
in the video room of the Player
Development Center, Ohio State
guard William Buford grabbed
a handoff from Aaron Craft and
took two dribbles toward the top
of the key. As he drifted left and
released a high-arcing jumper
over Michigan State guard Keith
Appling, the Wolverines' hopes
for a conference title were up in
the air. A Buckeye victory would
give the Spartans their fifth con-
ference loss and there would be
a three-way tie for the Big Ten
-e Research Center
rch Theme Semester

Buford's shot found nothing but
net, and Michigan celebrated its
first conference title since 1986.
Worst Moment
In Michigan's second-round
game against 13-seed Ohio in the
NCAA Tournament, the Wolver-
ines found themselves down three
points with a few minutes to go.
The fourth-seeded Wolverines
had been down nearly the whole
game, but in the past few min-
utes, Burke had scored 12 straight
points and reduced a nine-point
Michigan deficit to three.
Burke then missed three
3-point attempts in the final
minutes, but it still wasn't over.
Michigan corralled an offensive
rebound, and sophomore forward
Evan Smotrycz wound up with
the ball, ready to reset the offense
with seven seconds left.
Smotrycz tried a left-to-right
crossover and botched it. The
Bobcats gained possession, made
their free throws and sent Michi-
gan home early. It would also be
Smotrycz's last - and lasting -
play as a Wolverine. The Reading,
Mass. native has left the program
and is seeking a new school.
Biggest Surprise
No surprise here. Actually, big
surprise. No surprise that Burke
was the biggest surprise this sea-
After Darius Morris left Ann
Arbor early for the NBA, it wasn't
clear how Michigan would fill a
void of 15 points, seven assists and
four rebounds per game. Even in
the week leading up to the sea-
son, Beilein was non-committal
about his new floor leader. Burke,
Douglass and freshman Carlton
Brundidge were all offered as pos-
But after the first games, it was
clear that Burke was the guy. He

had better quickness than Morris,
was a better shooter, possessed a
more controlled dribble and was
less goofy-looking. Burke proved
to be the Wolverines' best player
and became the go-to scoring
option in the clutch. He scintillat-
ed fans all season long with crafty
spins, acrobatic layups and assas-
sin-like shots from deep.
He led the team in points (14.8
per game), assists, steals and
even blocks, but questions linger
about his future with the team.
His father, Benji, said that Trey
was considering declaring for the
NBA draft, and Michigan fans will
anxiously await Burke's decision
before the April29 deadline.
Biggest Disappointment
After his breakout freshman
season, Tim Hardaway Jr. looked
to improve his sophomore year
and establish his status as the
team's star.
But questionable shot selection,
emotional outbursts on the court
and an apparent lack of confidence
hampered Hardaway Jr. for much
of the season. Though his scor-
ing average increased from 13.9 to
14.6, all of his shooting averages
fell, his turnovers increased by
nearly 50 percent and his steals fell
by over 100 percent.
Hardaway Jr. did have a few
games where he showed he can
be the dominant swingman that
many thought he could be - which
included two double-doubles and
two 25-plus-point outbursts - but
frustration was the theme of the
season for the sophomore.
Michigan made significant
strides in re-establishing itself as
a brand name in college basketball
this season, but it remains to be
seen whether Beilein can main-
tain success through consecutive
recruiting classes.

for more information call 734/615-6449
the college of literature, science, and the arts
presents the 32nd distinguished senior faculty lecture

Join the Daily sports staff and write
about sports and stuff.
Email sportseditors@michigandaily.com
* for more information

Members of the UM Substance Abuse Research Center
(UMSARC) will address the theme from a local, national and
international perspective.
Carol Boyd, School of Nursing
Melvyn Levitsky, Ford School of Public Policy
Donald Vereen, School of Public Health
Don't miss this last event of the research theme semester!
norneion will follow.

gillian feeley-harnik
kathleen gough collegiate
professor of anthropology
tuesday, april 3, 2012
LSA rackham amphitheater

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