When the Final Four banner is raised to the rafters Friday, it will be the final act of the 2012-2013 basketball season. The chapter will be closed on the team that fought past Kansas and destroyed Florida to reach the pinnacle of the sport, one that Michigan had not come close to in twenty years. The key catalysts are gone, from mainstay Tim Hardaway Jr. to player of the year Trey Burke. The new season brings high hopes and high expectations, and with that comes exploration of the old and new.
• Replacing a stellar point guard: Michigan fans have been through this process already. Many thought John Beilein’s program would crumble after losing Darius Morris to the NBA. Morris was a master of the screen, a 6-4 guard who abused his defenders. Then Trey Burke arrived on the scene. His first year showed fans how talented he was, but it would be his sophomore campaign that would promote his status to Michigan legend. Burke, accomplishing everything he could besides win a national championship, declared for the draft following last season. Michigan fans are less worried this year, as coach LaVall Jordan has shown a proficiency in developing top tier guards. Spike Albrecht is fresh off an incredible effort in the title game, and has been a model of consistency in the preseason. Burke’s heir apparent, Derrick Walton Jr. is a four star recruit out of Detroit who showed off his passing talent against Concordia.
• Struggle on the Boards: This wasn’t an issue against Concordia, as they had no player over 6-5. However, Wayne State was able to sneak past Jon Horford, Max Bielfeldt, and the other bigs for 15 offensive rebounds. The lack of inside toughness and rebounding prowess was a common complaint last year. The solution to this problem sits on the bench with a lower back problem. Mitch McGary showed his ability to rebound in the tournament, but there is no timeline for his return.
• The Leaping Ability of Glenn Robinson III: The most common source of “Ooooohs” from Crisler Center was a Glenn Robinson dunk. From putbacks to alley-oops, GR3 was the best at sending a pulse throughout the Crisler Center. With preseason reports that he outjumped Michigan’s measuring stick, Robinson continued to show off his athleticism with transition dunks against Wayne State and Concordia. It’s yet to be seen if he can top his 360 dunk against Minnesota last year.
• Jordan Morgan: It’s hard to believe J-Mo won’t be back after this season. He has become a face synonymous with Michigan basketball. Morgan has seen 3 NCAA tournament trips and one losing season. He has been a key defender for Michigan, and a fan favorite. Just watch any scenes of the crowd during his charge and dunk sequence during the Syracuse game.
• Not just a Shooter: If you watch any given game on TV this year, odds are you will hear an announcer spout this phrase after a Nik Stauskas drive. The Canadian sharpshooter has added 15 pounds and has taken it to the rim a lot more in the preseason, while improving his ball handling. This isn’t to say he still doesn’t have his smooth stroke, shooting 4-7 from downtown. He’s not just a shooter, that’s all.
• Pass first point guard: Trey Burke became a major offensive threat because of his shooting ability. Defenses couldn’t go under the screener without risking a Burke three pointer. Derrick Walton Jr. has shown more of a pass-first mentality in his first two games as a Wolverine. Once he turns the corner, he is looking for the screener to roll or a wing to come up from the corner. He has shown the ability to get to the lane, but so far he has looked for his shot only as a last resort.
• The Emergence of Caris: Caris LeVert had an up and down year last year. He was scheduled for a redshirt, only he was too good for Beilein to keep him on the bench. The fans heard rumors of his talent, like how he beat Trey Burke in a game of one on one. He showed occasional shooting ability and was praised for his defense (Ben Brust half-court heaves aside.) This year, LeVert came out shooting, crossing people up, and even getting some run at point guard. He averaged 16 points a game in the preseason, and tacked on 10 assists against Concordia for good measure. He still projects to come off the bench, but he could be a supersub in the mold of Jason Terry, the guy who provides offense for the second unit.
• The Reserves: Last year, Michigan’s reserves were all experienced players. Eso Akunne, Matt Vogrich and Blake McLimans all played significant minutes early in their careers, accepting backup roles at the end of the bench. Corey Person and Josh Bartelstein were also great practice players, who gave the starters a run for their money. This year, it is all new faces on the deep bench. Aside from ESPN Top 100 player Mark Donnal, the reserves consist of walk-ons Andrew Dakich, Sean Lonergan and Cole McConnell. These are the players responsible for keeping the starters sharp.
• The Second Coming of Tim Hardaway Jr: Zak Irvin began to show the world why he was such a heavily recruited five star against Wayne State. After some freshman nerves against Concordia, Irvin calmly knocked down three triples after coming in against Wayne State. His ability to shoot the three reminded fans of Hardaway Jr., though Irvin doesn’t wear his emotion on his sleeve like the former Michigan star.
• Two Post Lineup: No one is quite sure how often Beilein will utilize this look, but summer reports had Glenn Robinson III looking to play his natural wing position. Very little of the offense is run from the inside out, so this would really only have impact on the defensive end. Beilein may utilize two of Morgan/Horford/McGary against teams with two traditional post players.
Building on last season’s success is essential for John Beilein, in terms of program prestige and recruiting. The focus is not on last year’s team, but Team 98, who has a very different identity. With development from its five sophomores, leadership from Horford and Morgan, and a lot of new faces; this Michigan team hopes to do what its predecessor couldn’t.
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