Well hello there, Michigan. Welcome (back) to elite territory.
It seems like it's been so long since the Steve Fisher days in Ann Arbor. The days of National Championship runs, like the one during the 1989 season. The days of the Fab Five. The days of constantly being a legitimate title contender.
But over the past few years, John Beilein has slowly been bring the Michigan Wolverines back to national prominence.
Two years ago, despite never being ranked in the AP, he led them to the third round of the NCAA tournament. Last year, despite an early upset at the hands of Ohio University, Michigan racked up 24 wins and at one point was ranked 10th in the nation.
That momentum will continue in 2012-13.
Not only do Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. give John Beilein arguably the most talented backcourt in the country, but throw in other returning talent along with the 14th-ranked recruiting class in the nation, and it's understandable why the Wolverines are ranked No. 5 to start the year.
Let's take a look at what's in store for Michigan as it continues its long-awaited return to the top of the college basketball world.
SF Glenn Robinson III (Freshman)
PF Mitch McGary (Freshman)
SG Nik Stauskas (Freshman)
PG Spike Albrecht (Freshman)
One of the biggest reasons for high expectations in Ann Arbor is John Beilein's most heralded recruiting class ever.
5-star Glenn Robinson III is the headliner of the class, and he'll undoubtedly step into the starting lineup and contribute right away. Little Dog, as I'm sure he loves to be called, still must improve his jump shot, but he's an incredible athlete who will make a living slashing and dunking over defenders.
Add his size (6'6", 200 pounds) to his gaudy athleticism, and Robinson could easily play the 2, 3 and 4 this season.
McGary, a 6'10", 250-pound power forward out of Brewster Academy in Indiana, will also instantly be a major part of Michigan's rotation. He's an absolute load to handle to inside and will drive opposing teams crazy with his hustle, endless motor, toughness and ferocity in the paint.
Stauskas will come off the bench thanks to Michigan's top-notch backcourt, but his deadly stroke from the outside combined with a decent handle will make him a necessary commodity during Big Ten play.
Finally, Albrecht might not earn a ton of minutes, but he's a true point guard and gives Michigan added depth behind Trey Burke.
G/F Zack Novak (Graduated): 9.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.8 spg, .409 3P%, 33.7 mpg
G Stu Douglass (Graduated): 7.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.3 apg, 0.8 spg, 30.5 mpg
F Evan Smotrycz (Transfer): 7.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 0.8 spg, .435 3P%, 21.1 mpg
The Michigan Wolverines aren't necessarily losing guys who would light up the statsheet in Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, but their worth goes far beyond that.
Novak and Douglass were seniors. They were leaders on and off the court. They brought experience to a young squad, and maybe most importantly, they were elite shooters, which made them incredibly important in John Beilein's three-point reliant system.
With Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Jon Horford, Jordan Morgan and Matt Vogrich, the Wolverines should be able to find someone to replace the leadership and experience.
The three-point shooting, especially when you add in the transfer of dead-eye Evan Smotrycz to Maryland, might not recover quite as well.
These departures could soon signal a change to Michigan's identity on both sides of the ball.
With John Beilein at the helm, don't even bother trying to define this starting lineup with regular positions. More often than not, he's going to play three guards and two forwards. Four perimeter players, one post.
That's why it wasn't surprising to see this starting lineup against Saginaw Valley State in the University of Michigan's most recent exhibition game: Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Matt Vogrich, Glenn Robinson III and Jordan Morgan.
This starting five has a little bit of everything.
Burke is an electric Player of the Year candidate capable of doing it all on offense. Hardaway provides elite size and driving ability from the 2. Vogrich not only brings veteran leadership and experience as a senior, but he can be a terrific outside shooter. Robinson, much like Hardaway, has elite NBA size with an uncanny ability to get to the hoop. Morgan, who is expected to take the next step in his development, is the underneath presence that keeps defenses honest.
However, don't be surprised if Beilein soon finds it too difficult to leave Mitch McGary out of the starting lineup.
Putting the energetic, hard-working freshman in at the 4 in a two-post system while moving Robinson to small forward doesn't make for a typical Michigan lineup, but it gives the Wolverines the most talent possible.
If Stauskas is as advertised from the outside, that would be a nearly unstoppable six-player rotation with Vogrich, Spike Albrecht and Jon Horford providing outstanding depth.
|Point Guard||Trey Burke||Spike Albrecht|
|Shooting Guard||Tim Hardaway Jr.||Nik Stauskas|
|Small Forward||Matt Vogrich||Glenn Robinson III|
|Power Forward||Glenn Robinson III||Mitch McGary/Jon Horford|
|Center||Jordan Morgan||Jon Horford|
That Trey Burke guy is kind of good.
As an under-the-radar true freshman, Burke averaged 14.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 0.9 steals per game. In a seemingly impossible role as Darius Morris' replacement, he was the main reason why the University of Michigan took the next step towards being an elite team.
Considering Burke's ability to get the hoop, set up teammates and knock down the big shot at the right moment, it was understandable why he reportedly came close to entering the NBA draft.
But he decided to stay at Michigan, and with an extra year under his belt, he should continue to establish himself as one of the best point guards in the nation. Combined with the electric—albeit inconsistent—Tim Hardaway Jr., the Wolverines will have some of the best guard play in the country.
That duo, by itself, is going to win a lot of games.
There's a new king in town, and it's name is athleticism.
In the past, Michigan has relied on slowing the game down, hitting a lot of threes out of the half-court and playing defense. Basically, its been a Big Ten team.
But the personnel this season might call for a change to the style.
We've already talked about Burke and Hardaway, and their NBA athleticism and slashing ability, but newcomer Glenn Robinson III is the exact same way. It's one of the most athletic trios you'll find, and in any lineup containing those three, the Wolverines might be better served pressuring on defense and looking to push the pace.
It's different, but it's so crazy it might just work.
Speaking of a change in style.
Not only do the Michigan Wolverines have more athleticism, but the three-point shooting, which has been such a strength in the past, could be noticeably absent.
Trey Burke knocked down 1.7 treys per game at a 35 percent clip last season, but he might just be the best shooter in the starting lineup.
Tim Hardaway was an atrocious 28 percent shooter from the arc and he still averaged 5.5 attempts per game. The knock of Glenn Robinson coming out of high school has been his shooting, although he did knock down 5-of-8 threes during the two exhibition games.
Matt Vogrich can hit the outside shot, but much like everyone else, he's not consistent like Evan Smotrycz and Zach Novak.
Nik Stauskas, who is a perfect fin in John Beilein's system, should add elite shooting and smart passing off the bench, but it's questionable if it will be enough.
This weakness won't be as much of a factor, especially if Beilein continues to go with his four-perimeter-player lineups, but the Wolverines don't have a ton of depth down low.
Jordan Morgan, Mitch McGary and Jon Horford are the only true big men. Morgan, a redshirt junior, appears to be in line for a big season, but McGary is a true freshman and it's unknown how effective or healthy Horford will be.
It's far from an established group.
Again, it's not a big deal, but it's something worth paying attention to if the Wolverines find themselves in foul trouble or up against a team that finds a way to force them out of the zone defense.
My Dad's Better Than Your Dad
It's not necessarily an uncommon sight to see the son of a former star NBA player following in his dad's footsteps, but it's also not something you see on every team.
For there to be two on the same team is certainly an intriguing storyline.
I wonder if Tim Hardaway often gloats to Glenn Robinson about how his dad was better in the NBA. I'm sure that would be good for team chemistry.
Return to National Prominence
This season will mark the 20th anniversary of the last time the University of Michigan made it to the Final Four. Not only that, but after advancing to the Elite 8 the next season in 1994, the Michigan Wolverines haven't been the same.
In the last 18 seasons, they've made the NCAA tournament just six times and failed to reach the Sweet 16 at all.
For the first time in a long time, expectations are high for the Wolverines to finally reverse all of those trends.
A Final Four appearance.
You've seen time and time again how elite, veteran guard play can absolute carry teams in March. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway might not be the ideal definition of "veteran," but they are certainly elite.
If Burke plays to his potential as one of the best players in the country and Hardaway shakes off the inconstancy and terrible play from last year, teams are going to have trouble slowing down this backcourt.
Throw in the athleticism and potentially elite scoring ability from Glenn Robinson, the stellar, efficient, hard-working post play from Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan and solid, versatile bench options, and the Michigan Wolverines have all the parts necessary for a deep March run.
Unfortunately for the Michigan Wolverines, the floor is nearly as low as the ceiling is high.
There are just so many question marks.
Will Tim Hardaway bounce back from a forgettable, stuck-in-neutral, sophomore season? How effective will the heavily-relied-upon freshman be in their first collegiate action? Most importantly, will the lack of three-point options, which have defined John Beilein's teams in the past, lead to a shaky transition year?
Trey Burke is as much of a leader as he is talented, but he can only take this team so far if this offense becomes stale and defenses get the luxury of collapsing the lane.
If that happens, Michigan isn't a lock to make the NCAA Tournament.
23-7 (13-6 Big Ten), Fourth in Big Ten
I'm somewhere in the middle on the Michigan Wolverines.
I worry that Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., the Wolverines' best offensive weapons, are going to see more defensive attention and crowded keys because of the lack of three-point options.
However, I'm also in agreement with most in thinking that Glenn Robinson Jr. and Mitch McGary—McGary especially, I could watch this kid work all day—are the real deals. In fact, I'm a big fan of Nik Stauskas as well.
This incoming class is legitimately impressive, and should probably be ranked higher.
So, while I don't see this as a Top 5 or even Top 10 team, and I will understand if it struggles in Big Ten play because of a possible change in style, I do firmly believe this team, with its seemingly endless amount of NBA talent, is going to be dangerous come March.