What have we learned about Michigan thus far from its first weeks of practice?
Practices are heating up for the Michigan basketball program, and the regular season is less than a month from tipping off. Position battles are being sorted out, while the freshmen are beginning to make a serious impression on the coaching staff.
Expectations are high for the Wolverines, but if they are completely healthy, there has been every indication they will live up to them.
Nothing done in practice will mean much until Michigan manages to validate it with on-court performances, but there have been five things worth noting after the first two weeks.
Mitch McGary's back injury is likely going to hamper him out of the gate.
There have not been any updates about Mitch McGary's "lower back condition," which is not good news for the Michigan Wolverines. Unless head coach John Beilein comes out and says McGary is at full strength within the next week, it is likely the USA Today Preseason All-American gets off to a slow start in 2013-14.
An ankle injury and poor dieting hindered McGary's development last fall. Those issues kept the Chesterton, Ind., native from making an impact until Michigan's run to the national championship game. It is starting to look like the back problem will result in a similar start this season.
Hopefully, McGary can return to form by the time the Wolverines depart for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. If not, Michigan's Big Ten Conference title hopes will take a serious hit.
Beilein and his staff are doing the right thing by being cautious with McGary's injury, as they should be. However, this has put an unexpected damper on what is left of the offseason.
Expectations for incoming freshman Mark Donnal are fairly low. The 4-star power forward lacks the post game required to play on the block consistently and is not a defensive stalwart like Jordan Morgan. The frontcourt is also crowded with veterans Jon Horford and Max Bielfeldt battling for minutes.
There is one thing Donnal may do better than any of them, though: make jump shots.
The 6'8", 225-pounder can knock down jumpers from mid-range and beyond the arc. This makes him a good choice to play in situations where the Michigan Wolverines look to spread the floor and pile up points in a hurry. Donnal is still a bit of a one-trick player at this stage of the game, which will make it easy for opposing defenses to neutralize his potential impact.
Walk-on guard Cole McConnell praised Donnal's leaping abilities as well. In a blog entry for MGoBlue, Cole claims, "Mark can jump the highest out of the entire freshman class."
The only way Donnal plays significant time will be if Mitch McGary's back is still a problem come winter. From the sounds of things, though, Donnal could make an impact in limited action as a frosh and be a pleasant surprise for Michigan.
Glenn Robinson III has been aggressive and dominant in practices.
Mitch McGary may be garnering most of the preseason hype, but rising sophomore Glenn Robinson III is primed and ready to be the figurehead of the Michigan Wolverines offense this season. Robinson's performance in practices thus far have confirmed John Beilein's decision to move him to small forward.
"Glenn Robinson III has impressed with his ability to score and a newfound aggressiveness with the ball," Chris Balas of The Wolverine wrote (subscription required). "He'll need to be better in that area if he wants to play the three (and he does), and it seems he put in the work this summer."
With McGary's status in doubt right now, it is great to know Robinson is ready to pick up the slack early on.
There are still some questions as it pertains to the potential NBA lottery pick's game. Robinson has to prove he can convert jumpers consistently and be a threat from beyond the arc. As long as he shoots closer to 40 percent from distance rather than 30 percent, Robinson will shoot up draft boards.
Opponents had better be ready for a new and improved Glenn Robinson III.
The most heralded recruit of the Michigan Wolverines' 2013 recruiting class, Zak Irvin, has lived up to every expectation thus far. The 5-star shooting guard is drawing praise for his play at both ends of the floor, which could earn him a spot in the starting rotation sometime during the 2013-14 campaign.
"He's more aggressive offensively than some of the other freshmen that have come in here and that is something we can work with," John Beilein told Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press. "Defense is a norm for him. What we've seen so far, he likes to play defense. There's not a lot of people who look at that end of the floor and say I like to play defense."
Cole McConnell added that, "Zak can score however, whenever."
Given all of the potential Irvin has flashed in a relatively short time, it is not out of the question he consistently reaches double figures. This would place him among Michigan's top scorers for the year and would help replace the 34 points per game it is missing without Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.
Look for Irvin to start out as a sixth man, but do not be surprised if he winds up cracking the starting five later on.
Spike Albrecht's hopes of starting just went up.
The Michigan Wolverines are dealing with more than one injury right now. Incoming freshman Derrick Walton, the favorite to replace Trey Burke at point guard, may be losing ground to Spike Albrecht in a crucial position battle.
Fortunately, it has nothing to do with Walton's performance on the court. However, according to Chris Balas of The Wolverine, the Chandler Park Academy alum "has been seen wearing a boot."
The injury has the potential to hinder Walton's development, which means Albrecht would be in line to become the starting point guard. The two were likely going to split minutes early in the campaign already, so this is not exactly devastating news. Besides, Albrecht is more than capable of running the show.
By season's end, though, it would be surprising to see anyone but Walton filling the void left behind by Burke. Walton's athleticism and explosiveness in transition set him apart from Albrecht, who will find other ways to contribute, particularly as a shooter.