What will the biggest goals be for Michigan's starters this season?
Temperatures are dropping and the days are getting shorter, which means the 2013-14 college basketball season is just around the corner for the Michigan Wolverines. It is a little less than two months from the Nov. 8 opener, and recent preseason rankings have Ann Arbor buzzing with excitement for the upcoming campaign.
Seven of Michigan's top nine scorers are returning, and a talented crop of incoming freshmen have the potential to make an immediate impact. Make no mistake, the Wolverines' run to the Final Four was not an aberration. It is simply the start of a bright future under head coach John Beilein.
For success to be sustained, though, each starter has one major goal to accomplish this season. Failing to meet these goals could result in an underwhelming campaign for the Wolverines.
Jordan Morgan simply needs to be an effective defender for the Wolverines.
Goal: Return to form defensively
The only thing fifth-year senior Jordan Morgan needs to focus on, aside from being a leader in the locker room, is his effort at the defensive end of the floor. Prior to injuring his ankle on Jan. 27, Morgan was a key cog in the Michigan Wolverines' starting rotation.
"I don’t think we’ll ever be able to really put a number on what that cost him, that injury," head coach John Beilein told Dylan Burkhardt of UMHoops. "That sprain was nagging and threw off his timing, it threw off his confidence. It will really be big for him to come back the way he had played at several times over his career here. There were times he was the best big man on the court – on either team."
The Detroit native may not have been a big-time scorer (4.6 points per game), but he was effective setting high ball screens and as a defender. Morgan is a bit undersized at 6'8", though he makes up for it by establishing good position inside and forcing opponents to shoot over him.
For those who want to discount what Morgan gives the Wolverines, just remember he started in 53 straight games. There are not a whole lot of players in college basketball who can say that.
If Morgan can be the same player he was before his demotion last season, it will give the Wolverines one of the best frontcourts in the Big Ten Conference. Beilein believes the gritty veteran can do just that.
"There’s a really positive development with his shooting, his attitude, everything," Beilein said. "He’s healthy. His legs are healthy."
Mitch McGary is ready to become one of college basketball's biggest stars.
Goal: Average a double-double
Rising sophomore Mitch McGary finally lived up to the potential all of the scouts saw back in 2012. It took until the NCAA tournament for him to blossom, but once he did, only the Louisville Cardinals managed to slow him down.
McGary averaged 10.7 rebounds and 14.3 points in six NCAA tournament contests. The former 4-star prospect's most notable performances came against Kansas and Syracuse. He managed to grab 14 boards and drop 25 points on 12-of-16 shooting when facing Jeff Withey and the Jayhawks. In the Elite Eight versus the Orange, McGary recorded a double-double and dished out six assists.
There is reason to believe the 6'10", 250-pounder will be even better come 2013-14.
Throughout the offseason, McGary has taken significant steps toward being one of the most dangerous big men in the nation. He has been polishing up a mid-range jumper and even impressed an NBA executive by flashing a three-point shot. These tools paired with his ability to rack up steals and dominate the glass will make life difficult for whomever is asked to guard McGary.
In order for Michigan to be successful this year, McGary must duplicate his postseason dominance over the course of an entire campaign.
Glenn Robinson III will be moving back to his natural position in 2013-14.
Goal: Create more offense individually
Glenn Robinson III spent much of the 2012-13 season finishing plays rather than creating them. Moving from the 4 to small forward will change Robinson's role in the Michigan Wolverines' offense significantly.
In order to thrive at the 3, he must be able to score off the dribble and become a more consistent jump-shooter, particularly from beyond the arc.
Last season, 73 percent of Robinson's points came from field goals at the rim, and 65 percent of those baskets were assisted. Those numbers have to come down quite a bit this year.
There will be plenty of opportunities for Robinson to drive the lane and throw down some monster dunks. It would be disappointing if he didn't considering how much natural athleticism he possesses. However, his dynamic vertical jump will enable him to shoot over just about anyone in the country. Robinson will be practically unstoppable if he can raise both his field-goal and three-point percentages from 43 and 33 percent, respectively.
Look for a much different version of Glenn Robinson III in 2013-14.
Nik Stauskas needs to make some big three-pointers for Michigan in 2013-14.
Goal: Knock down more three-pointers in big games
Nik Stauskas' statistics from beyond the arc last season are impressive upon first glance, but a closer look reveals how much he struggled in big games. The Canadian shooting guard went just 18-of-54 (33 percent) in contests against the top five Big Ten teams and in the NCAA tournament.
All eight of Michigan's losses had something in common as well: Stauskas made less than three triples.
Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., who combined to make 149 three-pointers in 2012-13, are gone. This means the Wolverines need the 6'6", 190-pounder's production from long range more than ever.
For the Maize and Blue to return to the Final Four and capture a Big Ten title, Stauskas has to knock down threes in pivotal matchups. The potential is clearly there, though. After all, the rising sophomore did shoot 46 percent from the field and scored 11.0 points per game. This is why he will be Michigan's biggest X-factor this season.
As long as Stauskas produces when the Wolverines face conference heavyweights and enter the postseason, his year will be considered a success.
Goal: Take care of the basketball
One of the biggest reasons why the Michigan Wolverines were one of the Big Ten's best teams and made a run to the Final Four was because of how well they took care of the basketball. The Maize and Blue led the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.54). This is how Derrick Walton is going to be measured as a true freshman.
With scorers like Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary in the starting lineup, Walton does not have to rack up points for Michigan to win games. He simply needs to create opportunities for others and distribute.
Early indications are that Walton will have no problem accomplishing that.
"[Michigan] add[s] a point guard in Derrick Walton who has shown in open gym the way Trey Burke did when he first arrived," Chris Balas of The Wolverine wrote (subscription required) on August 16. "No, Walton isn't Trey Burke, but he's giving the team an indication the way Burke did that he's the 'real deal,' more in terms of setting teammates up than scoring (though he can do that, too)."
Avoiding turnovers and racking up assists is all Walton has to do for Michigan this season. Any scoring outbursts will be a major bonus for the Wolverines, who are already loaded with shooters.
Michigan will only capture a Big Ten title if its point guards can keep turnovers to a minimum.