January 19, 2013

Mailbag: A slam-dunk effort

This week's Mailbag, understandably, comes in heavy on the basketball side of the ledger. We'll lead off in bringing-down-the-house mode.

For me, the image that comes to mind when I think about the greatest dunks by a Wolverine is Robert "Tractor" Traylor shattering a backboard. Was last night's Glen Robinson III's legit 360-slam better? What is the best in-game dunk you've ever witnessed by a Michigan basketball player?

Well, you just named it. You never forget when glass rains down on a big man, mid-game, and that's exactly what happened to Traylor against Ball State back in 1996.

Traylor loped downcourt and hammered home the dunk, using his substantial size and strength to exert such force on the rim that it broke right away from the backboard. The glass cascaded off him in a torrent.

Traylor waited for it to pour off of him, then turned and jogged back up the court. That set the standard, and it hasn't been matched.

With U-M's win over Minnesota, what is a realistic expectation for this team over the next 13 league contests? And is that good enough to win the Big Ten?

I said at the start of the Big Ten season Michigan would lose three Big Ten games, and that would be good enough to at least share the conference title. Many thought that was far too optimistic a prediction for the Wolverines - or any other Big Ten team, for that matter.

I'm not ready to move off that, especially the way U-M's younger players shook off the shocker at Columbus and got after it in Minnesota. Michigan will have its hands full in places like Bloomington, Ind., and Madison, Wis. They could drop a home game as well, like they did against Purdue last year.

But they also have the ability to play at a very high level, like they did against the Gophers. Three losses might indeed be unrealistic … but let's wait and see.

Keeping in mind that March Madness is so unpredictable, what is the expectation for the Maize and Blue during the NCAA Tournament? Final Four or bust? Do you think they could win it all?

Could they win it all? Yes. They're among an elite group of teams, including ones like Duke, Louisville, and Indiana, that seem to feature all of the elements of a squad that could make a long tournament run.

That said, when was the last time you absolutely nailed a bracket? So much goes into that time of year - match-ups, injuries, and the bounce of the ball on any given day.

It would be a huge disappointment if this collection of Wolverines does not at least make the Sweet 16. After that, it's a roll of the March dice.

Denard Robinson led Michigan in rushing each of the past three years. Considering there is no proven tailback returning next season - with Fitz Toussaint battled back from a bad injury - what do you think the chances are that Devin Gardner takes the reins from Robinson and does the exact same thing?

Slim to none. The offensive is changing sooner, rather than later. There will be more emphasis on tailbacks running the football, and quarterbacks staying with the throws rather than bolting away. That doesn't mean Gardner won't run - anyone who has watched him knows better.

But number one, he's not likely to burst away for the 40-, 60-, and 80-yard runs that greatly bolstered Robinson's totals. Nor is he going to have a high number of designed runs.

Look for a tailback or two emerging next fall to post more rushing yardage than the man behind center.

There is talk the Big Ten will have an announcement shortly on what it plans to do with the addition of Rutgers and Maryland. If you had your druthers, would you just add one team each to the Legends and Leaders divisions or would you start from scratch?

I'm not sure it matters all that much what they do in the short term, because it's pretty clear they're not stopping with those two. It might be a good time to give further thought, though, to putting Michigan and Ohio State in the same division, for a final regular-season showdown, and eliminating the "doubleheader" prospect that few want to see develop.

Failing that dramatic change, split them and move on, until further additions demand greater reconfiguration.

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