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December 10, 2008

Mailbag: What to expect from Michigan?

Got a question? Click here to send it to Skwara's Mailbag

Michigan fans haven't been this excited since the 1990s.

After suffering through a 10-season NCAA tournament drought, their team has provided two big signs of hope that the Wolverines are finally headed back to the field of 65. The Wolverines (6-2) knocked off UCLA in November and followed that with an upset of Duke last week.

With victories over two top-five teams, many are wondering just how much expectations have changed for Michigan. The Wolverines were expected to finish in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten and do no better than an NIT bid. Should we now expect the Wolverines to be an NCAA team? Could they go to the Sweet 16?

We explore those questions and much more in this week's mailbag.

Rising Wolverines

Matt from Ann Arbor, Mich. : With Michigan looking much better than last season, how far do you think they can go?

So much of that answer depends on power forward DeShawn Sims. He had 10 points and four rebounds in Michigan's first meeting with Duke, which resulted in a 71-56 loss. In the rematch, Sims had 28 points and 12 rebounds and the Wolverines came away with an 81-73 upset.

If the latter proves to be more of what's to come and I think that is likely Michigan could finish as high as third in the Big Ten and will earn an NCAA bid. The Wolverines have a go-to scorer to lean on in sophomore guard Manny Harris, who's off to a great start (20.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg), and coach John Beilein is one of the best X's and O's coaches in college basketball. Add a dominating big man to the mix and suddenly the Wolverines look dangerous.

Talking Tyshawn

Tom from Topeka, Kan. : Why is nobody talking about Tyshawn Taylor from Kansas?

Taylor didn't come to college with anywhere near the hype of the elite recruits in the 2008 class he was the No. 77 prospect so he has to make a name for himself. Most casual fans haven't heard of him and probably haven't seen him play yet.

Taylor's stats are going to be viewed with a bit of slant, too, because Kansas lost all five starters. Jayhawks coach Bill Self has no choice but to play a handful of freshmen heavy minutes.

But if Taylor keeps playing the way he has of late, those points will quickly become moot. Taylor is a big reason the Jayhawks are 7-1, with the only loss coming in overtime to Syracuse. He has scored in double figures in six consecutive games, including a 23-point outing against New Mexico State and a 10-point, 11-assist performance against Jackson State.

If Taylor keeps up that kind of production once Big 12 play starts, he'll start getting mentioned among the nation's top freshmen.

Better than UNC?

Sheldon from Norwalk, Conn. : What's going on with Stanley Robinson and Ater Majok at Connecticut, and do you think these additions will make the Huskies better than North Carolina?

Robinson, a 6-9 junior forward, will make his return Monday, when UConn plays host to Stony Brook. Robinson will be a walk-on and will be paying tuition for the rest of the second semester. Robinson has been working out some academic and personal issues.

Majok, a 6-10 freshman center, continues to await word from the NCAA Clearinghouse about his eligibility. There has been speculation he'll get the green light next week.

Robinson, one of the most athletic players in the Big East, will help immediately. The former five-star recruit averaged 10.4 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks last season, when he started 32 games. Put him together with Jeff Adrien (the No. 10 power forward in Rivals.com power rankings) and Hasheem Thabeet (No. 1 center), and you've got the best frontcourt in the nation.

Majok also would help, giving the Huskies another big man to utilize off the bench. He has the skills to provide a scoring punch.

But even with those additions, UConn still isn't on UNC's level. UConn was lucky to escape with a win at Buffalo last week. I can't imagine the Tar Heels struggling to beat any mid-major.

The Tar Heels have far better guards, more speed and more experience than UConn. On a neutral court, I'd still expect them to beat a Huskies team with Robinson and Majok by double digits.

Wondering about the Rebels

Todd from Albuquerque, N.M. : What happened to UNLV? I kept hearing from their fans that this was their year, but so far they've been disappointing.

UNLV star guard Wink Adams has started out in a shooting slump. Adams is shooting 33 percent from the field and 19 percent from 3-point range. Adams was just 5-of-25 (20 percent) in UNLV's losses to California and Cincinnati.

You have to believe those numbers will improve. He has been a respectable shooter in the past, making 40 percent of his field-goal attempts and 35 percent of his 3-pointers.

What's more disconcerting is the lack of an inside presence. There was hope that freshmen centers Beas Hamga (a five-star prospect who redshirted last season) and Brice Massamba would provide that, but Hamga isn't part of the rotation and Massamba has contributed little in his 11 minutes a game.

Unless that changes dramatically, I don't see how UNLV can surpass what it did two seasons ago win 30 games and reach the Sweet 16. With Adams struggling, matching those goals looks tough to attain.

Ready to fall?

Jeff from Hollywood, Ariz. : Will Arizona return to mediocrity with Lute Olson out of the picture? Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill may go pro at the end of the season, and top recruits are looking elsewhere. In my opinion, it might be really difficult to lure a top-level coach away from a solid program.

A lack of talent won't be an issue when it comes to Arizona's coaching search. The Pac-10 school has one of the best fan bases in the nation, an extraordinary amount of tradition their streak of 24 consecutive NCAA tournaments is the second longest ever and a lot of money to offer.

Plenty of coaches, including a number of big-name guys, will look past the negatives and focus on that combination of resources. Tom Crean left a talent-laden team at Marquette this past offseason to take over at Indiana, which was rocked by a recruiting scandal and headed for rebuilding mode.

Arizona remains one of the top 10 jobs in the country. I'd be shocked if drawing the interest of top-level coaches is a problem.

Where is he?

Jason from Baltimore : What's going on with Tyree Evans at Kent State? I thought he enrolled there, but he hasn't played yet.

I contacted an official at Kent State who said the school is expecting the NCAA to declare Evans, a 6-3 guard, eligible after the fall semester, which ends this week.

Kent State can't get him on the court fast enough. The Golden Flashes are riding a five-game losing streak and their last loss came to Western Carolina.

Evans will help immediately as long as he can avoid off-court problems, which have been a huge problem in the past. He was ranked among the top junior college prospects last season and has been talked about as a legitimate NBA prospect.

Andrew Skwara is a national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com. Got a question for Andrew's Mailbag? Click here to drop him a note.



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