Michigan Basketball: Ranking John Beilein's Biggest Worries This Season

Zach Dirlam@Zach_DirlamSenior Analyst IIJanuary 22, 2013

Michigan Basketball: Ranking John Beilein's Biggest Worries This Season

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    After a 17-1 start to the 2012-13 season and four wins in five Big Ten conference games, there does not appear to be a lot bothering John Beilein, head coach of the No. 2 Michigan Wolverines.

    Michigan is arguably the nation's top team at this stage of the regular season, but unforeseen bumps in the road are always lurking, and the Wolverines have an upcoming stretch of games that will play a critical role in determining this year's Big Ten champion.

    Believe it or not, there are still five things Beilein and his assistants should be worried about for the remainder of the season.

    Click ahead to find out what they are.


    Note: These worries are ranked based on the probability of them actually occurring and how much of a direct impact they would have on Michigan's ability to win the Big Ten.

5. Injuries

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    Injuries to their players troubles all head coaches.

    John Beilein is no exception, though he, like most coaches, will acknowledge that losing players to physical setbacks is something that he's never going to be able to totally control.

    Junior shooting guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. has already missed one game this season with an injured right ankle. He also had a concussion scare on Nov. 23 and was shaken up by a blow to the head last week in Michigan's 83-75 victory over the No. 12 Minnesota Golden Gophers.

    Thankfully for the Wolverines, Hardaway has come back strong from those minor injuries. The 6'6", 205-pounder has averaged 17.6 points per game and shot 51.7 percent from the field since sitting out on Dec. 29th.

    Given the fact Michigan has been relatively unaffected by injuries over the past few seasons, though this is not something Beilein should be losing any sleep over right now. 

4. Shooting Slumps

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    As with injuries, shooting slumps are something out of John Beilein's control.

    Still, they are a common occurrence in basketball and some key players on the Wolverines' current roster have struggled from the field over the course of their careers.

    Sophomore point guard Trey Burke has failed to make more than 38 percent of his field goal attempts in Michigan's last three games, though the Columbus, Ohio native has still averaged 17 points during that stretch.

    Meanwhile, freshmen Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas have cooled off a bit, with each twice held below 38 percent shooting since the Wolverines opened up Big Ten conference play. Last season, Tim Hardaway, Jr. failed to reach the 40 percent mark in 16 of Michigan's 34 games in 2011-12.

    Hardaway turned in his best performance of the year by knocking down seven-of-eight shots against Golden Gophers last week. During the 11-game stretch prior to that, though, Hardaway shot 38 percent or better only four times.

    Despite all that, the Wolverines are still No. 4 in the nation, shooting 51 percent from the field, and they are No. 10 in scoring average (79.3).

    Such numbers mean that Beilein and his staff are not exactly close to reaching for the panic button.

3. The Lack of a Dominant Big Man

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    One of the matchup issues waiting to be exposed by the Indiana Hoosiers and Michigan State Spartans is the Wolverines lack of a dominant big man to accompany their outstanding backcourt play.

    Redshirt junior power forward Jordan Morgan is a serviceable defender and rebounder, but he is going to have his hands full going up against Michigan State's duo of Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix and then Indiana's preseason All-American Cody Zeller.

    The most promising sign for the Wolverines going forward is the development of freshman big man Mitch McGary, who put together one of his best all-around performances in Michigan's win over the Minnesota.

    McGary scored eight points on 4-of-5 shooting, pulled down two offensive rebounds, dished out an assist, blocked a shot and notched three steals. 

    In the game prior to the Minnesota performance, the 6'10", 250-pounder made all three of his field goal attempts, grabbed three boards, had one assist and recorded two blocks against the No. 14 Ohio State Buckeyes.

    Overall, Michigan's bigs have helped the Maize and Blue become the Big Ten's best defensive rebounding team, but the frontcourt will be overmatched in some of their most important games of the season.

2. Youth

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    Three of the Michigan Wolverines' top four scorers are underclassmen, and their two leading rebounders are true freshmen, but at this stage of the season nobody knows for sure whether their young rotation will hold up under the pressure of a Big Ten Conference title run.

    Last season, Trey Burke scored at least 11 points in all of Michigan's games after Jan. 29th, so expect him to respond as Big Ten play heats up.

    The unknowns at this point are true freshmen Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary, Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert.

    The Wolverines are going to need their young players to string together several strong outings as the Big Ten title race tightens in the closing weeks.

    The good news for John Beilein is that his young group dug itself out of a 21-point hole to draw even with the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Wolverines only loss of the year, which was also their first road game against a nationally ranked opponent.

    A strong outing on the road against the Golden Gophers (following the loss in Columbus) also eased some anxiety Beilein may have had about whether or not his team could close out quality opponents away from the Crisler Center.

1. The Depth of the Big Ten Conference

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    The Big Ten Conference is without question the deepest and strongest league in all of college basketball this season, which means John Beilein is going to have some long nights studying the Wolverines opponents.

    Michigan needs to take advantage of the upcoming stretch of games it has against the unranked Purdue Boilermakers, Illinois Fighting Illini and Northwestern Wildcats before the Wolverines run through the most difficult portion of their schedule.

    Following the aforementioned three league tilts, Michigan will face No. 7 Indiana at Assembly Hall, No. 14 Ohio State at home, the Wisconsin Badgers in Madison and No. 13 Michigan State at the Breslin Center.

    Illinois is as dangerous as any team when Brandon Paul is at his best, Wisconsin has already beaten Indiana on the road this season, Purdue upset the Fighting Illini in West Lafayette and even the Penn State Nittany Lions have given a couple of the conference's top squads some fits.

    Come March, eight teams should be getting serious consideration for the NCAA tournament, so there will not be many easy wins for the Wolverines in Big Ten play.

    The schedule is by far the most concerning thing for Beilein and his staff for the remainder of the 2012-13 campaign.