Michigan Basketball: 10 Reasons Not to Sleep on Frosh-Heavy Wolverines
In a Big Ten loaded with Final Four contenders, no team will be relying on freshmen as heavily as Michigan. A brilliant recruiting class has the defending Big Ten co-champs thinking repeat, and as inexperienced as they’ll be, the Wolverines are too talented to count out.
One of the biggest reasons that Michigan will be so dangerous is that the freshmen are the real deal. Glenn Robinson III, son of the former Purdue and NBA star, has the offensive punch to challenge for the team lead in scoring despite the return of two 14 point-per-game guards from a season ago.
Read on for more on the elite newcomers in Ann Arbor and the rest of the 10 biggest reasons to take the Big Ten’s youngest contender very, very seriously.
10. The Right Big Men Came Back
Losing Evan Smotrycz to transfer will certainly cost the Wolverines when it comes to depth, but if they only got to keep one of last year’s top low-post options, Jordan Morgan was the one to keep.
Morgan’s physical presence (6’8”, 250 lbs) and team-leading rebounding abilities (5.6 boards a night last season) are just the complement John Beilein needs to a lineup filled with scorers at every other position.
The Wolverines will be even better off on the low block if rising junior Jon Horford (who missed most of last year with a foot injury) finally plays up to his considerable potential.
Regardless, though, of what happens with the 6’10”, 250 lbs. Horford, having Morgan back will give the Wolverines just the kind of bruising big man that Big Ten play demands.
9. Trey Burke Will Be Out for Revenge
All the returning Wolverines will have a little extra motivation after last year’s embarrassing NCAA Tournament loss to 13th-seeded Ohio. Even so, Trey Burke will have a special axe to grind as he enters his sophomore year.
Although Burke played a solid game against the Bobcats (16 points, five assists), he also got torched by Ohio star D.J. Cooper, whose 21-point, five-assist performance carried his team to the upset.
Nobody wants a reputation for getting burned in the postseason, and rising sophomore Burke will be out to prove that last year’s finale was a fluke.
8. Nick Stauskas Will Be a Sixth Man to Be Reckoned With
Although Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary are monopolizing the preseason attention, those two stars aren’t the only reasons that Michigan’s recruiting class is ranked as highly as ninth in the country (by Scout.com).
Swingman Nick Stauskas is a 4-star prospect in his own right, and he’s set to be the linchpin of an otherwise unimpressive Michigan bench.
The losses of veterans Zack Novak and Stu Douglass will leave Michigan thin on the perimeter, but the 6’5” Stauskas has the shooting ability to pick up some of the slack when Glenn Robinson III or Tim Hardaway Jr. need a breather.
He doesn’t have the immediate star potential of his more heralded classmates, but Stauskas could have almost as much to say about Michigan’s success next season as Robinson or McGary.
7. The Freshmen Aren’t Alone
As much as national champion Kentucky relied on one recruiting class of superlative freshmen, John Calipari’s team also had some big-time veterans to throw into the mix.
Just as Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb played vital roles for last year’s Wildcats, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. can provide a steadying influence for next season’s Michigan squad.
Hardaway will be particularly valuable for his postseason experience, as he was a key member of the 2010-11 squad that almost took down Duke in the NCAA Tournament.
With two cool heads in the backcourt—plus blue-collar Jordan Morgan up front—to count on in crunch time, Michigan won’t be as vulnerable to big-game jitters as many freshman-heavy squads.
6. John Beilein’s Offense Is Built for Multiple Scorers
On some teams, adding two high-scoring freshmen to a starting lineup that already features two shot-hungry guards (Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.) would signal impending doom.
In Ann Arbor, though, John Beilein’s motion-filled attack just gets better with more weapons around.
The perimeter-oriented Wolverine offense depends heavily on finding the open shooter, rather than one-on-one play, Burke’s penetration skills notwithstanding.
That means that more scoring options just spread the defense thinner, and with the scoring punch arriving at Michigan, there's no doubt that the Wolverines will easily outpace last year's 66.5 points per game.
5. Glenn Robinson III Could Be the Best Pure Scorer on the Roster
Even with two very dangerous guards returning to spark the Wolverine offense, the scariest sight for opposing defenses might be freshman Glenn Robinson III.
The son of the former Wooden Award winner won’t match his dad’s awe-inspiring junior season (30.3 points per game), but he’ll be as dangerous an offensive weapon as Michigan has next year.
The younger Robinson is a 6’6” SF who combines top-tier athletic ability with bona fide three-point range.
The ability to score both at the rim and beyond the arc sets him apart from the rest of Michigan’s offensive weapons, and he could easily wind up leading the team in points in his first year on campus.
4. Tim Hardaway Jr. Is Too Good to Ignore
Tim Hardaway Jr. looked like he might have been poised for a breakout year in 2011-12, but Trey Burke grabbed the spotlight instead. Even if he’s “only” a complementary player, though, rising junior Hardaway will be a huge asset to next year’s Wolverines.
Not only is Hardaway a terrific scorer (14.6 points per game last season), but he’s a big (6’6”, 200 lbs), athletic guard who can make life very tough for opposing shooters.
He’s also the major remaining link to Michigan’s impressive 2010-11 team that annihilated Tennessee and took Duke to the wire in the NCAA Tournament.
3. Michigan Has Experience Where It Counts Most
As young as the Wolverines will be next year, they won’t be counting on a freshman for the most important job on the floor. The point guard position will be in experienced as well as skilled hands with the return of rising sophomore Trey Burke.
Obviously, Michigan would rather (for many reasons) that Burke had gotten a longer postseason run than the one-game cup of coffee he managed in last March’s upset at the hands of Ohio.
Still, he played brilliantly in the regular season, and his performance in keying a conference co-championship for the Maize and Blue will stand him in good stead in what’s going to be an even tougher Big Ten in 2012-13.
2. Mitch McGary Gives This Team a Completely New Dimension
Since John Beilein’s arrival, Michigan has relied on winning games from the outside in. With Mitch McGary’s arrival, the low post is no longer a weakness to be concealed, but rather a threat to be embraced.
The 6’10” McGary is ranked as high as No. 27 among all recruits in the nation (by ESPNU).
He’s an attacking, physical PF who won’t be intimidated by the big bodies in the Big Ten, and he’s also got enough of a shooting touch to outmaneuver the opponents he doesn’t out-muscle.
1. The Defense Is Better Than You Think
John Beilein has built his coaching reputation on offenses that can rain down three-pointers in a hurry, but he’s done an even more impressive job whipping Michigan’s defense into shape.
The Wolverines allowed just 61.5 points per game last year, meaning that the only Big Ten teams who outplayed them on defense were all ranked in the top 20 nationally (Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State).
Losing the experience of veterans such as Stu Douglass and Evan Smotrycz will be a hurdle for the D to overcome, but newcomers Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III bring a substantial upgrade in sheer athletic ability.
As long as Beilein can harness that potential, the Wolverines will have little trouble foiling opposing offenses again next season.
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