Tuesday, April 9

What's next for Michigan basketball

What an incredible season. I don't remember the Fab Five, so this was really the first historic Michigan basketball season I've witnessed. I've loved the Wolverines, from the Tractor Trailor years, to the LaVell Blanchard era, to the Daniel Horton phenomenon, to the Manny Harris show, to the Darius Morris minute, and this current team. Through thick and thin, I've loved this program, and I am thankful to see such an exciting season.

The loss was a dissatisfying ending, but the past is the past and I like to look forward. As of now, there is a lot of speculation about the fate of much of the Michigan roster, so I broke down a few scenarios for the 2013-14 season.

Best Case Scenario:
PG: Derrick Walton
SG: Tim Hardaway Jr.
SF: Glenn Robinson III
PF: Jon Horford
C: Mitch McGary
Key Bench: Nick Stauskas, Spike Albrecht, Jordan Morgan, Zak Irvin, Caris LeVert

Trey Burke is 100% gone. Deal with it. But if for some reason the rest of the crew decides to come back, look out NCAA. Burke will be missed, but incoming freshman Derrick Walton looks like a solid point guard.  All he would really need to do is pass to the plethora of weapons that fill the other four positions  The bench is also extremely deep and experienced. This team would rival Kentucky's incoming class and be a favorite to return to the NCAA final. Prediction: This team wins the Big 10 and NCAA Championship.

Worst Case Scenario:
PG: Derrick Walton
SG: Zak Irvin
SF: Nick Stauskas
PF: Jon Horford
C: Jordan Morgan
Key Bench: Spike Albrecht, Caris LeVert, Mark Donnal, Max Biefeldt

If the chatter is true, then a majority of the key players from the current team will be playing in the NBA. This leaves massive holes in the back court. Zak Irvin, the 2013 Indiana Mr. Basketball, would without a doubt get the start at SG. The starting line up might not be terrible, but it isn't nearly as potent with players who benefited from the attention that defenses had to give Burke, Hardaway and McGary. The bench is very weak, as the loss of players to the NBA and graduation would put a serious toll on the team. If this scenario plays out, Belien will have to go recruit some walk-ons just to fill out a roster. Prediction: Third in the weakened Big Ten, loss in round two of the NCAA tournament.

My most likely lineup:

PG: Derrick Walton
SG: Zak Irvin
PF: Jon Horford
C: Jordan Morgan
Key Bench: Nick Stauskas, Spike Albrecht, Caris LeVert, Mark Donnal, Max Biefeldt

GRIII can play in the NBA, but he stands to gain the most from a return to school. If he returned to this team, he would be the offensive focus, giving him the opportunities he never got as the third/fourth option this year. And of course there are bound to be surprises. No one predicted Stauskas' season and Trey Burke was a three star recruit, proving that unlikely players will step up into bigger roles. This isn't a bad team, but it is very dependent on a freshman backcourt, and we all know what happens when a Belien-coached backcourt struggles...

I really hope the team returns and Michigan keeps moving forward, but I cannot blame any of them for turning down millions and a dream job. Either way, it will be an interesting season. Go Blue.

By Aaron Brandt, Graham Brown fan.

Thursday, April 4

Why brands should use Google Plus

I really like Google Plus. Yes, I'm well aware that it's the butt of a lot of jokes, but Google Plus actually contains a vibrant community of people, brands and content that can be just as interesting as Twitter, and certainly more interesting (and better looking) than Facebook.

Brands have begun to use Google Plus a lot more in the past year. Not only is it good to branch out on several social networks, the SEO benefits of having a Google Plus brand page are also sometimes literally worth more than money can buy. Google Authorship offers companies opportunities to expand their SEO reach even further. The communities section is growing at a rapid pace and offers brands an incredible opportunity to foster discussion and interaction. And Hangouts are a feature found nowhere else on social media. Many companies like CadbrryFordVirgin MobileForbes and Mashable utilize the service to their advantage with distinct plans and execution. And it appears to pay off for them.

However, many brands think one of two ways when it comes to Google Plus. One, that simply having a page is good enough. Maybe they jumped on the bandwagon early and forgot about the service months later. Or maybe they didn't see the growth they wanted and simply gave up.  Either way, brands whose profiles are ghost towns are a great way to make a bad impression on the Internet. It is embarrassing to see a large company's page have one status from September 2011 that says "Trying out this Google Plus thing!" It's not like the world's biggest search engine is directly attached to the service or anything...

Secondly, many brands simply think copying and pasting links of content with no plan, hashtags, mentions or strategy is good enough. There is a difference between an active brand and a smart active brand, and Google Plus' users can discern that difference from a mile away. Brands need to have a clear plan for why and how they post content.

Some signs of this lack of effort include content with hyperlinks still in the post, content without images, content with a single image (like a company logo repeated on every single post) or taking content from other social media platforms and copying it word for word to Google Plus. Each platform operates differently, and requires a different style of content in order to be effective. Posting the same exact content over multiple channels is not only ineffective; it's lazy.

There's a litany of reasons brands should be on Google Plus. But if a brand does decide to start a page, they need to fully commit. Brands cannot half-heartedly maintain a page and expect to see results. The consequences of having a dead Google Plus page can far outweigh the benefits of having a page in the first place. But if used effectively, Google Plus can be a powerful social media and SEO tool, fostering valuable discussions while showing up on that illustrious first page of search results.

By Aaron Brandt, Google+ user. Create a circle titled "Cool People" and add him to it.