Surprising Michigan Departures Raise Questions About Next Season

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 22nd, 2012

For Michigan basketball fans, the NCAA Tournament loss stunk. There’s no getting around that. But the hope for the future was legitimate and tangible, given a strong recruiting class and a returning core group of successful players. Freshman sensation Trey Burke (now wavering?) and sophomore wing Tim Hardaway, Jr., have said they will return to Ann Arbor next year, and while seniors Zach Novak and Stu Douglass will be sorely missed, John Beilein’s rotation was supposed to expand, not shrink, with the addition of three highly-touted freshman and sophomore center Jon Horford returning from a broken foot. However, with yesterday’s announcement that Evan Smotrycz, Colton Christian, and Carlton Brundidge are all leaving the program, the excitement for the 2012-13 era of Michigan basketball has certainly been dampened.

Evan Smotrycz is leaving the Michigan program (photo: Michigan Daily)

Now, I am not saying that these departures are earth-shattering, or that Michigan can’t recover from losing these three players.  To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t unexpected to see a guy like Christian leave, because he was not going to play in the regular rotation.  Brundidge has denied transfer rumors as recently as a couple weeks ago, and many had hoped he would develop into Burke’s backup at the point guard spot next year.  That obviously isn’t going to happen now, and it’s disconcerting for fans to see a highly-touted Detroit-area player (Southfield High School) wash out so quickly from the program.

The most curious transfer is Smotrycz, who played in all 69 games of his Michigan career, and saw improvement in his game from his freshman to his sophomore season.  As a player, Smotrycz seems very much in the Beilein mold for big men, since his best work was done hitting face-up jumpers and drawing larger defenders out to the three-point line.  Smotrycz also had a strong game  in the tourney loss to Ohio (final turnover aside), going 6-7 from the field and finishing with 15 points.  He was going to be an integral part to Michigan’s rotation next season, and averaged 20 MPG this year, so I’m interested in the explanation as to why he decided to leave the program.

With these departures, Michigan is now down a frontcourt player who was expected to spend time at the 4 and 5 spots and be a scorer and three-point threat for probably about 20-25 minutes a game, and a young guard who many had hoped at the very least would provide depth at the back end of the rotation.  John Beilein has done a great job recruiting in the last few years, but with many 2012 players already signed, there isn’t much talent left on the board to bring into the fold on short notice.  A transfer such as Central Michigan’s Trey Zeigler could be an option, but he’d have to sit out a season, or an unsigned point guard prospect would certainly help ease depth concerns.

Michigan hoops fans had high hopes for next year, in which the best case scenario had the team competing not only in the Big Ten, but on a national scale as well.  These departures make that dream a much more difficult proposition, and with the news coming out today that Burke is looking to gather information about his possible NBA draft status, the defense of their shared Big Ten championship will become even tougher next season.

Ryan Terpstra (28 Posts)

Ryan Terpstra is an on-air personality for ESPN 96.1 FM in Grand Rapids, MI. Follow him on Twitter @TerpHimself

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