The Michigan basketball team's 2013-14 campaign is officially underway. The Wolverines opened the regular season with a 69-42 victory over Division I newcomer UMass-Lowell. There were some promising signs in the first game of the year and some kinks that still need to be ironed out.
That being said, now is the perfect time to make some predictions for each of Michigan's starters. Head coach John Beilein elected to start Derrick Walton Jr., Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson III and Jon Horford last Friday. However, once Mitch McGary is healthy, he will undoubtedly replace one of the five aforementioned players in the starting five.
This article takes that into account and omits LeVert, who is likely to come off the bench when McGary returns.
Prediction: All-Big Ten All-Freshman selection
Expectations are high for Derrick Walton Jr., who has been tasked with replacing All-American point guard Trey Burke. Through a pair of exhibition games and the first regular season contest of the season, it is clear the true freshman has plenty of room for improvement.
The All-Big Ten potential is there. Once Walton becomes a bit more assertive and gets on the same page with all his teammates, the accolades will follow.
Do not expect him to be the scorer Burke was. He is a pass-first point guard, which is exactly what this team needs given the array of shooters on the roster.
One thing that will give Walton a realistic shot at making the league's all-freshman squad is his ability to take care of the basketball. Plus, Yogi Ferrell, last season's selection, only averaged 7.6 points per game on 40 percent shooting and had 4.1 assists per contest. Not exactly huge numbers. Look for Walton's stat line to be similar to Ferrell's and be the conference's top newcomer at the point.
Prediction: Becomes Michigan's closer
The Michigan Wolverines are starting the season without a closer. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. were who the Maize and Blue leaned on in late-game situations in 2012-13. With both now in the NBA, look for Nik Stauskas to take the biggest shots of the year.
Stauskas' ability to knock down three-pointers makes him the prime candidate to fill this role.
He shot 44 percent from beyond the arc as a true freshman. Through Michigan's first three outings of the 2013-14 campaign, the 6'6", 205-pounder is 5-of-10 from three-point range and 13-of-21 overall.
If there is a big shot the Wolverines absolutely have to make late in a game, expect the ball to wind up in Stauskas' hands.
Prediction: Leads Michigan in scoring
Even once Mitch McGary is able to return to the starting lineup, Glenn Robinson III will continue to be the Michigan Wolverines' most dynamic scoring threat. The sophomore has already shown he can handle the increased shooting load that comes with playing small forward.
Robinson scored 15 points on 4-of-8 shooting in the Wolverines' season-opener against UMass-Lowell. In the two exhibition games, he converted 17-of-25 attempts.
The St. John, Ind. native should hit some shots from the perimeter, but he will live inside the three-point line. With the ability to easily shoot over defenders and attack the basket at will, there is no reason for him to fire up too many treys.
Getting to the free-throw line will be a strength for Robinson as well. Thus far, he has sunk 16-of-20 freebies. As long as he continues getting to the charity stripe and is an efficient jump-shooter, Robinson should have no problem being this team's leading scorer.
Prediction: Stays healthy once returning from injury
After months of disappointing news regarding Mitch McGary's "lower back condition," John Beilein revealed an optimistic update.
"For the first time now, he’s done some workouts. He’s added some more repetitions in practice," Beilein said during a press conference on Monday, according to UMHoops. "Over the last ten days, he’s had repetitions. He looks very good, and we’re going to continue increasing his repetitions."
There is no date set for McGary's return, but do not bet on him missing any extra time once he is able to hit the floor. Michigan has been very cautious with this injury, which is absolutely the right move. McGary is a preseason All-American, after all.
The sophomore power forward is going to be a walking double-double once he rejoins the starting lineup. The 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds McGary averaged during last season's NCAA tournament was just the beginning of what he can do for the Wolverines.
Expect this injury to be a thing of the past once Beilein turns him loose.
Prediction: Finishes season as Michigan's second-best rebounder
As long as Jon Horford remains the starting center, his biggest impact will be on the glass. Michigan will giving him plenty of opportunities to score in the post. Unless he improves upon the 2-of-8 performance against UMass-Lowell, though, those chances will diminish.
One thing Horford will be able to do, however, is rebound. None of the Wolverines' first three opponents have held the redshirt junior to less than nine boards.
Providing Michigan with second-chance opportunities will be Horford's most important job. He pulled down five offensive rebounds in the season-opener, which is a positive sign. The veteran big man will have to continue racking up similar numbers to hold off Jordan Morgan and stay in the starting lineup.
If he does, only Mitch McGary will grab more misses than Horford.