Michigan Basketball: 5 Bold Predictions for the B1G Season
The No. 2 Michigan Wolverines will tip off Big Ten Conference play on Thursday night against the Northwestern Wildcats in search of a 14th straight victory to start the 2012-13 season, and expectations are high for this year's team in Ann Arbor.
Will Caris LeVert play a role in Michigan's Big Ten title defense? How many games will the Wolverines be able to win on the road in league play?
Those questions are answered and other bold predictions are made for Michigan's upcoming 18-game conference slate. Click ahead to find out what they are!
Nik Stauskas Will Be the Big Ten Freshman of the Year
For the second straight season, the Michigan Wolverines will have the Big Ten Conference's freshman of the year on their roster. Much like Trey Burke, who shared the award with Cody Zeller of the Indiana Hoosiers in 2011-12, Nik Stauskas is making a name for himself early in his career.
Stauskas is currently ranked No. 5 in the country in three-point field-goal percentage, has not been held under 10 points since Michigan's season opener and only shot worse than 50 percent from behind the arc in three contests.
The 6'6", 190-pounder will remain hot for much of Big Ten play, and he should score enough to keep himself in the hunt to be the league's top freshman.
There are not too many newcomers playing at Stauskas' level right now, but shooting guard Gary Harris of the Michigan State Spartans, Sam Dekker from the Wisconsin Badgers and Mike Gesell of the Iowa Hawkeyes will all make their cases before the end of the 2012-13 campaign.
Glenn Robinson III Will Continue to Be Michigan's Leading Rebounder
Another newcomer that has made an impact on both ends of the floor for the Michigan Wolverines through their first 13 games is small forward Glenn Robinson III, who is currently leading the team in rebounds with an average of 5.9 boards per contest.
Given the fact the Wolverines lack a true center or a forward capable of dominating the glass at this point, Robinson and Tim Hardaway Jr. will continue to play a vital role in Michigan's much-improved rebounding statistics.
The Wolverines check in at No. 95 in the nation with an average of 37.4 rebounds per contest. If they hope to win the battle on the boards, Robinson will need to lead the way, or have Mitch McGary or Jordan Morgan increase their production inside.
Look for Robinson to be Michigan's leading rebounder come season's end.
Caris LeVert Will Deliver Some Big Shots in Close Games
One of the least heralded prospects in the Michigan Wolverines' stellar 2012 recruiting class, freshman guard Caris LeVert, seemed like a prime candidate to redshirt this season, but the Pickerington, Ohio product has worked his way into the Maize and Blue's rotation.
The Wolverines already have a deep rotation of guards. LeVert's minutes will likely take a hit once Hardaway returns to the lineup, though, he will still give head coach John Beilein a great asset to come off of the bench if Michigan is in need of a boost.
Expect to see LeVert on the floor for the Wolverines in at least a couple of tight games this season and for him to knock down some big shots when he gets the chance to take them.
Michigan Will Win More Than Half of Its Road Games
The Big Ten Conference looks deeper than ever this season, which means none of the Michigan Wolverines' nine remaining games away from the Crisler Center are going to be easy victories.
However, the Wolverines will be able to win at least five of those contests in unfriendly territory.
Michigan's league opener against the Northwestern Wildcats should end with the Wolverines on top. Road contests against the struggling Purdue Boilermakers and Penn State Nittany Lions should not be overlooked, but a loss in either of those games looks unlikely.
The Wolverines have struggled against the Wisconsin Badgers at the Kohl Center, though this Michigan team finally looks like it has the pieces to steal one on the road from head coach Bo Ryan.
If Michigan is able to hold serve in those four games, it will only need one victory in five tilts with ranked opponents to finish above .500 on the road.
Trips to Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Value City Arena in Columbus and the Breslin Center in East Lansing seem to be the least likely places for the Wolverines to come away with wins, but Michigan should be able to steal games from the Illinois Fighting Illini and Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Michigan has beaten Minnesota seven of the last eight times the two teams have met, and the Wolverines proved they could go to Champaign and top the Fighting Illini a year ago.
Every game in Big Ten play is a must-win. Defending home court is also a necessity—though the team with the most road victories could decide who takes home the league crown in 2012-13.
Trey Burke Will Be the Big Ten Player of the Year
The Big Ten Player of the Year race will be quite a battle this season, and there is no question that sophomore point guard Trey Burke is one of the headlining candidates for the award.
Burke is third in the conference in scoring (17.8 points per game) and first in assists (7.4), which is being matched only by sophomore power forward Cody Zeller at this point.
Zeller is averaging 16.8 points per game, which puts him fourth in the Big Ten, and the Indiana Hoosiers star leads the conference in rebounds (8.1).
Other players who will contend for the postseason honor are DeShaun Thomas of the Ohio State Buckeyes, Brandon Paul from the Illinois Fighting Illini and Keith Appling of the Michigan State Spartans.
There is no doubt Burke is going to be Michigan's leader throughout Big Ten play. Last season the Columbus, Ohio product only scored less than 10 points in two of the Wolverines' conference games, so do not expect anything less from the 6'0", 190-pounder than we saw a year ago.
In the end, Burke will likely have to lead the Wolverines to a second straight conference championship in order to win the award.