What is left of the offseason cannot go by fast enough for Michigan basketball fans. The Wolverines are coming off their deepest run in the NCAA tournament since 1993 and despite losing All-American point guard Trey Burke, they will be reloading, not rebuilding in 2013-14.
There are, however, some tough personnel decisions head coach John Beilein will have to make this season. These choices are difficult for a very good reason, though.
Michigan simply has too much talent at certain positions and must find a way to maximize its efficiency at both ends of the floor. Striking a balance may prove difficult, but Beilein is one of the best minds in all of college basketball.
Do not believe for a second he will not figure out how to play the loaded hand he has been dealt.
Returning stars Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III are firmly entrenched in the starting lineup. No matter what direction Beilein chooses to go, those two will be leading the way.
McGary has been the talk of the offseason thus far following a 15.3-point, 10.7-rebound per game performance in the NCAA tournament. The rising sophomore is a USA Today preseason All-American and will battle Adreian Payne for the right to be named the best big man in the Big Ten Conference.
Meanwhile, the hype surrounding McGary has caused some to overlook the impact Robinson's return has on the Wolverines' lineup. The 6'6", 220-pounder averaged 11 points and 5.4 rebounds at the 4 last season. This time around, Robinson will play small forward, his natural position.
A big year could be in store for the potential NBA lottery pick.
The rest of the starting five will likely be determined based on what kind of team the Wolverines are facing. Beilein told Joe Stapleton of UMHoops:
I think it’ll be as flexible as we’ve always been and play what’s best. I said on the radio this morning: we played 28 teams last year, and 18 of them played small. 18 of them, and these are approximate numbers, had a stretch four that you have to chase around the perimeter, whether it’s Adreian Payne or the young man from South Dakota State...You don’t go into a season saying we’re going to play big, we’re going to play small. You have to wait and see what people can do.
Good thing Beilein's team has plenty of depth and players capable of contributing at multiple positions. Three lineup decisions will be of particular interest for the entire campaign, though.
Naming a Starting Point Guard
No one really knows who will be Michigan's starting point guard come Nov. 8. If Beilein does, he is not tipping his hand at all.
Derrick Walton appears to be the best fit to replace Burke. The 4-star prospect is an excellent distributor and can create opportunities for others to score. This is what the Wolverines will need from the position more than anything. There are a lot more weapons for Walton to take advantage of than Burke or Darius Morris ever had during their time at the point.
McGary and Robinson will be the top scorers, while Nik Stauskas should be able to consistently score in double figures once again. Incoming freshman Zak Irvin could be one of the best sixth men in the country, unless he manages to win a starting job. Either way, the 5-star shooting guard has the potential to score in bunches for Michigan.
Another one of those offensive threats is competing with Walton to start at the 1.
The unheralded Indianian burst onto the scene with a 17-point effort in the national title game. Albrecht quietly went 18-of-33 (54.5 percent) from beyond the arc as a true freshman, so he is a valuable asset at the 2 as well.
There is little doubt Albrecht could be an effective point guard for the Wolverines. He showed this last season against Louisville with Burke on the bench and in some key moments against Ohio State and Virginia Commonwealth.
Walton just appears to be a bit more athletic and could maximize all the potential Michigan's offense has.
Even if Albrecht has to back up Walton, he will still be an important cog in the Wolverines' rotation. Freshmen inevitably go through some growing pains and there will likely be a few games where Albrecht may have to relieve a struggling Walton.
Which Will Shooting Guards Log the Most Minutes?
Shooting guard is by far the most crowded position on the Michigan roster. Stauskas started 33 games and averaged 11 points per game as a true freshman. Irvin will push for a starting job, Albrecht may be too good of a shooter to keep off the floor and even Caris LeVert could see some time there.
The problem is, unless the Wolverines go small, only one of those guards will be on the floor.
Stauskas' defensive woes could cost him minutes with a viable backup (Irvin) on the bench now. It is just the opposite for LeVert. The lanky sophomore shot just 31.5 percent (28-of-89) from the field last season, but was mostly used as a defensive specialist.
As mentioned earlier, this is not exactly a bad problem to have. Beilein will likely look to ride the hot hand whenever possible, but the minutes for all of the aforementioned players will come down to who the Wolverines are playing.
Smaller opponents will give Michigan the chance to use more of its shooters. Once the Maize and Blue get into the meat of Big Ten play, however, it could be a different story.
Who Plays Center When Michigan Uses its Big Lineup?
Beilein will have quite the dilemma when it comes to choosing the center for the Wolverines' two-big lineup.
So long as McGary can handle the defensive responsibilities of power forward, he will play the 4 along side either Jordan Morgan or Jon Horford.
Prior to an ankle injury on Jan. 27, Morgan was a major cog in the Michigan rotation. The fifth-year senior was an effective defender despite being undersized, and formed a dangerous duo with Burke on high pick-and-rolls.
On the other hand, Horford has battled injuries and proved he could contribute as McGary's immediate backup toward the end of the year. The Grand Ledge, Mich. product averaged eight points and 2.5 boards in a pair of Big Ten Tournament contests.
If Morgan manages to return to form, he is the man to beat at the 5. Horford has come a long way in a relatively short time, but consistency is the key and Morgan provides that.
The Maize and Blue faithful should definitely be keeping an eye on who Beilein opts to go with at center against bigger teams, though.
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