Michigan Basketball: 7 Biggest Summer Question Marks for Coach John Beilein

Thad NovakCorrespondent IAugust 27, 2012

Michigan Basketball: 7 Biggest Summer Question Marks for Coach John Beilein

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    With a first-class backcourt returning and two of the nation’s most heralded recruits up front, the Michigan Wolverines have good reason to be excited for 2012-13. Even with all the talent in his lineup, though, coach John Beilein also has plenty to be concerned about before the season gets underway.

    One major question facing Beilein is the ability of his squad to maintain last year’s strong defensive performance. Several key members of the 2011-12 supporting cast are gone, putting extra pressure on Jordan Morgan and Tim Hardaway Jr. to get the job done on the defensive end.

    Read on for more on the rebuilt defense and six more key areas of uncertainty for next season’s Wolverines.

7. How Many Conference Losses Can Michigan Afford?

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    Last year’s edition of the Big Ten landed a No.1, No. 2 and three No. 4 seeds in the NCAA tournament, and the 2012-13 version gives every indication of being even stronger.

    With that level of competition, Michigan is guaranteed to take some lumps in conference play, but minimizing the damage will be crucial.

    Michigan has the talent to be a Final Four team, but if an extra loss or two in Big Ten play drops them to a third or fourth seed, that becomes a much tougher task.

    Even if the Wolverines can’t defend their shared conference title, they need to stay in the top three in the Big Ten standings if they want to avoid an uphill battle in the Big Dance.

6. Will the Freshmen Hold Up for a Full Season?

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    A perennial issue for college basketball’s top freshman is the possibility of “hitting the wall” late in the year.

    The longer regular season at the college level, plus the increased caliber of athletes they’re facing on a nightly basis, means that some freshman inevitably start to wear down just when their teams need them most.

    That’s an especially big problem for Michigan, not only because they’re depending so much on Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III, but also because the Big Ten is such an enormously physical league.

    It’s entirely possible that both McGary and Robinson will be able to push through the fatigue and keep playing at their best, but until they’re tested by the rigors of the Big Ten schedule, John Beilein has no way to be sure how they’ll respond.

5. Are There Enough Offensive Touches to Go Around?

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    John Beilein’s offense is designed to spread out the shooting opportunities, but it’s never gotten a challenge quite like the one it’s facing next year.

    Highly-touted, high-scoring freshmen Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III are joining a lineup that already brings back two first-class offensive weapons.

    Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. combined for 29.5 points per game last year, and they’ll be hungry for even more in 2012-13.

    Burke’s ability to spread the ball around and keep everyone happy is going to be vital, but all of these NBA-caliber talents are still going to need to check their egos at the door if Michigan is going to succeed. 

4. How Can the Wolverines Handle Indiana?

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    For all the soaring expectations in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines take a backseat in the preseason hype department to the early national-title favorites from Indiana.

    The deep, scoring-rich Hoosiers are the team to beat in next year’s Big Ten, and the matchup between the two squads doesn’t provide a lot of reason for optimism for John Beilein.

    IU star Cody Zeller is bigger (6’11”, 230 lbs), stronger and more experienced than Mitch McGary, and sidekick Christian Watford has the shooting ability to pull Jordan Morgan away from the basket.

    Michigan’s best chance will be for Trey Burke to dominate his matchup with Hoosier freshman Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell, but if Ferrell is remotely as good as his reputation, that won’t be an easy task.

3. Will the Defense Survive the Roster Turnover?

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    Although they weren’t at the exalted levels of Wisconsin or Michigan State, the Wolverines turned in a strong defensive showing in 2011-12.

    After holding opponents to 61.5 points per game, though, Michigan loses a lot of the veteran supporting cast that keyed that defense.

    Offense-oriented freshmen Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III have athleticism, but they’re hardly optimal defensive replacements for such veterans as Zack Novak and Stu Douglass.

    The leadership ability of rising juniors Jordan Morgan and Tim Hardaway Jr. will get its toughest test as they try to ensure that the Wolverine D keeps pace with what’s certain to be a prolific offense.

2. Is Trey Burke Ready to Lead a Final Four Contender?

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    There’s no question that Trey Burke had a wonderful freshman year, both individually (14.8 points and 4.6 assists per game) and as the floor leader of a surprising Big Ten co-champion squad.

    However, his season also ended in strikingly disastrous fashion: a 1-of-11 shooting night in a Big Ten tournament loss to Ohio State, followed by a massive NCAA tournament upset at the hands of an Ohio team carried by Burke’s opposite number, D.J. Cooper.

    No matter how well Burke plays in the 2012-13 regular season, there are going to be questions about how he’ll hold up in the games that count the most.

    John Beilein has to hope that last year’s postseason flame-out was the exception rather than the rule, because if Burke comes up short in March, so will the Wolverines.

1. Who Will Step Up off the Bench?

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    Losing three seniors and as many transfers has thinned the Wolverine ranks considerably.

    The presumptive starting five—Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan, Glenn Robinson III, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke—is a sensational one, but there’s not a whole lot behind that group.

    The reserves with the best chance to make an impact are yet another freshman (Nik Stauskas) and a little-used rising junior coming off a season-ending foot injury (Jon Horford).

    Both have big-time potential, but they’ll have to turn it into performance to keep the Wolverines from being run into the ground by opposing teams with more depth.