January 11, 2013

Mailbag: Kick in the clutch

The mailbag leads with basketball, as well it should the second week of January. But football is never far away, especially on a week in which the Wolverines secure (or re-secure) a first-round draft pick at left tackle.

Is Michigan sophomore point guard the National Player of the Year in your opinion? And has a U-M player ever won the Naismith Award?

It's too early to say, in my opinion. There are many insisting he's the best point guard in the nation right now, but that's different than being the Player of the Year. There's no doubt he's a force, and will get a chance to prove himself.

And that's precisely what he has to do, starting at Ohio State. Burke has to continue doing so in venues like Minnesota's Williams Arena, Michigan State's Breslin Center and Assembly Hall in Indiana. That last game will feature another performer in the running for the Naismith, and how those match-ups go will have a lot to say about the selection process.

It's not a copout to not go all-in at this point for Burke. He's got a shot … but he's got to take it, and make it.

Oh, and Michigan has never featured a Naismith winner. It does have a player on the roster that shares a name with the 1994 winner, however.

Should forward Mitch McGary be starting over Jordan Morgan at this point?

No, and for multiple reasons. First off, Morgan isn't experiencing a bad season at all. He's averaging 6.8 points per game on a team with scorers all over the place, while grabbing 5.4 rebounds per game.

He's been very efficient with his opportunities, making 62.3 percent of his shots. And he knows as well as anyone on the court what John Beilein wants done out there.

McGary is a natural fan favorite, from his gesticulation-engendering energy to his effort and toughness on the boards. But Beilein loves a weapon coming off the bench and McGary fits perfectly into that role for the time being. His 15.5 minutes per game might increase a bit, but not extensively at the expense of Morgan's 21.

Indiana is Indiana, but has Minnesota proven these first few games of conference play that the Gophers are a bigger threat to the Big Ten title than the Hoosiers?

No, not a chance. The Gophers are very good, and rightfully opened some eyes by blowing out Illinois in Champaign. But the Gophers needed to scramble like mad to get past Michigan State at home, and Indiana possesses more overall talent, not to mention a bigger built-in home court advantage.

Minnesota will give plenty of teams fits. But expect the Hoosiers to come into Crisler Arena on the last day of the regular season with a chance to win or tie for the Big Ten title.

How does Taylor Lewan's decision to return for his senior year change your expectations for the Wolverines' offense in 2013, and for the entire team overall?

It's an immense boost. It's almost on par with Jalen Rose deciding to return for his junior year in a Michigan uniform, in terms of season's impact.

Offensive line is so critical, for Brady Hoke and his staff to accomplish what it wants to get done. And everyone knows this year didn't meet the standard in that area, and it showed dramatically in the running game.

The Wolverines were already replacing three starters up front, and Lewan's departure would have made it four. So instead of a rookie in that lineup, you have an All-American and someone who would have gone in the first round of the NFL Draft.

That's number one. He's also around to school those rookies, drive them through offseason workouts, lead this team (no doubt as a captain) and by his mere presence increase the competition for the other job openings.

Lewan's return is one more step - and a big one - towards a season featuring at least 10 wins, a Big Ten title game appearance, and maybe a return to the Rose Bowl. Without him, any of those could have been possible, but Michigan would have been scrambling much more than it will be now.

Denard Robinson has been invited to the Senior Bowl as a wide receiver. Do you expect his future in the NFL to be at that position or at running back, which he played in the bowl game?

That depends entirely on who takes him, but he's not an every-down running back in the NFL. He's a dangerous slot receiver, someone who can run the jet sweeps, bedevil on bubble screens, jump into the backfield on occasion, return punts and kicks, and generally be another Desmond Howard-type player in the NFL.

His explosiveness and speed will always make a place for him on somebody's roster, as long as he stays healthy.

The clock is at 0:01, and Michigan has to drill a 40-yard field goal to win the game. If you could pick any kicker in the last 20 years, who do you have? And if it's not Brendan Gibbons, where does he rank on that list?

That one's easy. It's Remy Hamilton, because he did it, in one of the tougher venues in which to come through. His 42-yarder in 1994 gave Michigan the 26-24 win at Notre Dame, and Hamilton wasn't a one-time wonder.

He's still No. 4 on Michigan's percentage list (77.6) among those with at least 10 tries, just a shade behind Garrett Rivas (78.0) and K.C. Lopata (77.8).

Gibbons stands No. 7 on that list (75.0), and his game-winner in the Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech won't soon be forgotten. Nor will the 38-yarder to beat Michigan State this past season. Those clutch efforts claw him up to No. 2 on the list for your scenario.

But Hamilton's effort, in a true road game, keeps him at the top for now.


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