All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.
Last Season: 31-8, 12-6 Big Ten (t-4th); Lost to Louisville in the title game
Head Coach: John Beilein (7th season at Michigan: 122-85 overall, 55-53 Big Ten)
Key Losses: Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr.
Newcomers: Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton, Mark Donnal
– G: Derrick Walton, Fr.
– G: Nik Stauskas, So.
– F: Caris LeVert, So.
– F: Glenn Robinson !!!, So.
– C: Mitch McGary, So.
– Bench: Spike Albrecht, So.; Jordan Morgan, Sr.; Zak Irvin, Fr.; Mark Donnal, Fr.; Jon Horford, Jr.
They’ll be good because …: Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. may be gone, but John Beilein still has a roster with a ton of talent on it, particularly in the sophomore class. We’ll start with the front line, where Mitch McGary made the decision to return to school after a dominating NCAA tournament performance. Glenn Robinson III followed suit, giving Beilein a pair of potential lottery picks on his front line. It will be interesting to see what kind of jump those two will make as sophomores, as both have plenty of room to grow. Robinson is an excellent athlete that too often settled into a role as a jump-shooter last season, while McGary is massive and plays hard but can still improve his back-to-the-basket game.
Nik Stauskas is another sophomore that returns with a chance to prove that he’s a more complete player than the role he played last season. Arguably the best shooter in the country, Stauskas is a better athlete than he gets credit for and can create off the bounce when he has the chance. Caris LeVert was impressive in his limited minutes a season ago and will join five-star recruit Zak Irvin round out Michigan’s perimeter attack.
But they might disappoint because …: The Wolverines lost Trey Burke, and while everyone will remember that Burke won the National Player of the Year award, they may not remember just how important he was to this team. His numbers speak for themselves — 18.8 points, 6.6 assists, and just 2.1 turnovers while posting a 121.2 usage rate while using 29.0% of Michigan’s possessions in the 35.3 minutes he played. Those are monstrous numbers, and it reflects the fact that John Beilein’s offense last season was structured around Burke’s ability to create off the dribble and in pick-and-roll actions. He got McGary his dunks. He created the open looks for Stauskas and Robinson. He broke down defenders one-on-one. His importance cannot be overstated.
And this season, Michigan more-or-less returns the same team, with LeVert and Irvin playing the role of Hardaway, without Burke. In his stead resides Spike Albrecht, the darling of the title game after scoring 17 first half points, and freshman Derrick Walton. So here’s the question: Can those two fill the void left by Burke? Can the rest of the roster increase their production enough that the loss of Burke can be mitigated?
Outlook: Michigan has plenty of talented hoopers on their roster, and at the end of the day, betting on talent is going to earn you more wins than it will losses. But just how good Michigan ends up being this season will depend entirely on two things: the development of their awesome sophomore class — McGary, Robinson, Stauskas, LeVert — and the play of point guard duo Albrecht and Walton.
Frankly, I think that just how much the sophomores are capable of doing on a basketball court was overshadowed by the fact that it was in Michigan’s best interest to have the ball in Burke’s hands. I think Robinson is more than just a stand-still shooter even though that was more-or-less the end of his role a year ago. The same can be said for Stauskas. I think LeVert is going to have a big year now that he is in line to see a bump in minutes, and McGary already thrives in his role as a rebounder and physical presence in the paint. Michigan should compete for a Big Ten title; anything less than a top four finish in the conference and a top four seed in the NCAA tournament will be a disappointment.