Last season was a magical one for the Michigan basketball program, as the Wolverines rode their star-studded crew all the way to the national title game before falling just short at the hands of the Louisville Cardinals by a score of 82-76. With superstar Trey Burke winning the Naismith Player of the Year award, freshman Mitch McGary putting up double-doubles nearly all of March, and the epic comeback against Kansas in the Sweet 16, last season will surely be remembered by all Michigan fans for quite some time. As the 2013-14 season approaches, many questions surround the program, from the new crop of young talent to Mitch McGary’s health, to the prospects of a return trip to the Final Four. Here are 5 big questions on most fans’ minds:
How will Michigan compensate for the loss of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.?
Glenn Robinson III is the best candidate to assume the majority of the lost scoring burden. Robinson averaged 11.0 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season, flourishing in transition and on the offensive glass with his exceptional athletic ability. Yet without Burke and Hardaway, Robinson will now be asked to score more in 1-on-1 situations, certainly something he’s capable of with his high basketball IQ and solid all-around skill set. At point guard, freshman Derrick Walton should be given the keys to run Michigan’s offense. Early reports out of practices are very high on Walton, who seems to possess that quiet confidence as a youngster that Trey Burke also displayed in his freshman year. Furthermore, the Wolverines are making an effort to play better collective defense this season, as they plan to play two big men frequently, in order to clear up deficiencies on the defensive glass. This ideally means Michigan will not have to rely as heavily on their offense as they did last season.
Which freshmen will make the biggest impact?
The aforementioned Derrick Walton has a very solid chance to become Michigan’s starting point guard before the season’s end. While understanding Beilein’s offense can be especially difficult for freshman, Walton will be surrounded by offensive playmakers and will not be asked for a significant contribution in the scoring department early on in the season. Fellow freshman Zak Irvin, Indiana’s Mr. Basketball in 2013, brings a very complete set of skills to Ann Arbor. However, playing time at the wing position could be tough to come by for Irvin who will have to compete with Robinson, Nik Stauskas, and Caris LeVert for minutes at the two wing positions in Beilein’s offense. Irvin is a strong shooter and quick defender, essentially the perfect replacement for Tim Hardaway Jr. Power forward Mark Donnal is the ideal Beilein pick-and-pop shooting big man, however, he’ll be behind McGary, Jordan Morgan, and Jon Horford on the depth chart which means significant playing time will be unlikely unless there’s an injury.
How serious is Mitch McGary’s back injury?
Mitch McGary (7.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 59.8 FG% in 2013) missed most of the preseason with what’s being deemed a “lower back condition.” Beilein has emphasized patience with McGary saying, “We’re just being very cautious right now to make sure he can have a complete season. We’re being very patient, probably way over cautious, but this is the time to do that.” The staff hasn’t ruled out McGary missing a few games early in the season if needed. It sounds like this back issue isn’t too serious, but if left unhealed, could linger throughout the season. Therefore, concerns about McGary shouldn’t be too overblown; Michigan will have their double-double machine back to health for the vast majority of 2013-14.
Is this the deepest team ever for John Beilein at U of M?
Last year, Michigan’s rotation ran only 8 to 9 deep, with Spike Albrecht, LeVert, Morgan, and sometimes Horford coming in to give the starters – 4 of whom averaged over 30 minutes per game – a quick breather. This year, Michigan’s depth should be much improved. Albrecht and Walton form a very serviceable duo at the point guard position. Beilein has a diverse set of wings he can utilize with Robinson, Stauskas, LeVert, and Zak Irvin. The Wolverines also have a nice set of big men, with McGary and Morgan as the starters, Horford as the primary big man off the bench with Donnal and Bielfeldt as capable back-ups. This should give the Wolverines at least 10 solid rotation players, depth unseen for quite some time from a Michigan basketball team.
Can Michigan make it back to the Final Four?
Final Four runs require a combination of talent, favorable tournament draws, offensive firepower and most importantly, luck. While last year’s Michigan team was unquestionably talented, had Trey Burke not sunk that 35 foot shot against Kansas to send the game into overtime, the Final Four would have remained a mere dream. This revamped Michigan team certainly has the caliber of talent necessary to make a run. However, it’s still too early to know how explosive the offense will be, how much to expect from the freshmen, what the tournament draw will be, and how the team will be playing in March. Regardless, Michigan has found themselves in a unique position of refueling their program on the fly, with the opportunity to be competitive on a national level yet again despite losing one of the best players to ever dawn a Michigan jersey.
5 games to watch:
12/3 at Duke 9:15pm
The Wolverines travel to Cameron Indoor Stadium, having last faced Duke 3 years ago in the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament, when Darius Morris missed a buzzer-beating floater that would have sent the game into overtime.
12/14 Arizona 12:00pm
The Wildcats, who begin 2013 ranked #6 nationally, are the first Pac-12 team to travel to Ann Arbor since UCLA in 2007.
1/18 at Wisconsin 6:00pm
The return to the scene of the crime, where last season Ben Brust sunk a half-court shot at the end of regulation to force overtime, in which Wisconsin would prevail and where the Wolverines haven’t won since 1999.
2/11 at Ohio State 9:00pm
This is the lone meeting between the two rivals in 2013-14.
3/8 Indiana 6:00pm
Michigan will conclude the regular season again by hosting Indiana, hopefully with a Big Ten title wrapped up beforehand.
5 facts to know:
1. John Beilein signed a contract extension this offseason through 2018-19.
2. The Wolverines only have two upperclassmen on their roster – junior Jon Horford and senior Jordan Morgan.
3. Glenn Robinson III shot 57.2% from the field last season, good for 3rd in the Big Ten, trailing only Victor Oladipo and teammate Mitch McGary.
4. Freshman Zak Irvin played on the same high school team as Michigan State guard Gary Harris, both of whom won Indiana’s Mr. Basketball award in their respective senior seasons.
5. Fab Five era aside, Michigan hasn’t reached back-to-back Final Fours since 1964-65.