Michigan Basketball: 5 Things to Watch During Puerto Rico Tip-Off

Zach DirlamSenior Analyst IINovember 20, 2013

Michigan Basketball: 5 Things to Watch During Puerto Rico Tip-Off

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    Is Jon Horford worth keeping an eye on this week? You bet.
    Is Jon Horford worth keeping an eye on this week? You bet.David Purdy/Getty Images

    The 2013-14 Michigan basketball team was tested for the first time last Sunday at Iowa State. This week, the Wolverines will likely face two more stiff tests and one opponent they should have no trouble disposing of at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

    The Maize and Blue will open up with Long Beach State on Thursday afternoon. Seeing as the 49ers are shooting a dismal 37.7 percent from the field through their first four games, there is no reason for Michigan to stumble. Expect a performance and margin of victory somewhere between its clashes with UMass-Lowell and South Carolina State.

    After the opening round, the competition will take a major step up as either Florida State or VCU await. Georgetown appears to have an easy road to the championship game, which would be another stiff test.

    Plenty of conclusions will be drawn by the end of this weekend. Five things in particular are worth observing more than anything else, though.

Who Handles the Rock for the Wolverines

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    Will Derrick Walton Jr. be Michigan's primary ball-handler?
    Will Derrick Walton Jr. be Michigan's primary ball-handler?Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Assuming Michigan takes care of business against Long Beach State, its ball-handlers will be put to the test against either VCU or Florida State. Both are defensive-minded teams and will pressure the Wolverines guards.

    None of the Seminoles' first three opponents have scored more than 68 points. Florida State held two of the three under 40 percent shooting and the third managed just 41 percent from the field. It has notched 33 steals as well. This is not anything out of the ordinary during head coach Leonard Hamilton's tenure either.

    Four of the last five seasons, the Seminoles have been a top-10 team nationally when it comes to opponent field-goal percentage.

    As for VCU, it will utilize the HAVOC defense. The Rams press opponents for nearly all 40 minutes. They are averaging 14 steals per contest as a result. For a more detailed breakdown of the defense and how to beat it, click here

    Spike Albrecht and Derrick Walton Jr. appear to be Michigan's best ball-handlers this season. Look for those two to carry the load when it comes to breaking the press. Nik Stauskas will be the next-best option for the Wolverines.

    Glenn Robinson III will really be thrown into the fire, if he were forced to bring the ball up. The 6'6", 220-pounder has shown a little bit of improvement in this area. However, the HAVOC defense would be a much more accurate barometer for how far he has really come. 

    Be sure to pay attention to who handles the rock for Michigan against these defensive-minded teams. It will likely be a preview of who the Wolverines turn to late in games to take care of the ball as the season progresses.

Mitch McGary

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    Mitch McGary will be worth monitoring this weekend.
    Mitch McGary will be worth monitoring this weekend.Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

    Mitch McGary's return was overshadowed a bit by Michigan's loss to Iowa State. Make no mistake, though, the preseason All-American is going to be a force this season. He proved this to anyone watching the Wolverines in Ames on Sunday.

    In just 22 minutes, McGary scored nine points on 4-of-7 shooting, grabbed six boards and came up with four steals. Entering his 2013-14 debut, he had only been a full participant in one practice. Imagine what the big man will be able to do in the coming weeks as his conditioning continues to improve.

    The thing to watch in Puerto Rico will be how many minutes he plays. Michigan has to play games on back-to-back days before getting a day off leading into the final contest this Sunday.

    Will his back hold up? Hopefully. No one knows for sure, though.

    Also look and see if McGary posts up any of the smaller bigs the Wolverines will face in the opening two rounds of the tournament. This is a part of his game that could use some developing. If some mid-range jumpers start falling, he will be borderline unstoppable this week.

    Everything and anything related to McGary is worth monitoring.

     

Half-Court Offense

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    John Beilein's team needs to execute better in the half-court when forced to do so.
    John Beilein's team needs to execute better in the half-court when forced to do so.David Purdy/Getty Images

    Down the stretch against Iowa State, Michigan consistently settled for jump shots rather than driving to the basket. Once the Wolverines missed too many of those attempts, they found themselves in too deep of a hole to dig out of.

    Once the Cyclones began to limit Michigan’s transition baskets, it began to jack up three-pointers. This led to an 8-of-29 performance from beyond the arc.

    This cannot happen in San Juan.

    There are a few teams that will undoubtedly aim to take away the Wolverines’ transition scoring and force them to operate out of the half court.

    Florida State will do this. If the tournament goes as ESPN’s Andy Katz and Seth Greenberg expect it to, the Wolverines will see this in the championship game against Georgetown.

    Michigan struggled to execute and win slower-tempo games. There is the potential for it to be out of its comfort zone this week. Watch carefully how the Maize and Blue handle these kind of defensive approaches.

The Sixth Man

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    Spike Albrecht appears to be the Wolverines' top option coming off the bench.
    Spike Albrecht appears to be the Wolverines' top option coming off the bench.Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    Who will be the Michigan Wolverines' sixth-man this season? That remains to be seen. The front-runner right now appears to be Spike Albrecht, but this week's trio of games will give everyone a much better indication of who will fill that role going forward.

    Albrecht has been efficient thus far as a reserve point guard. Also spending some minutes at the 2, he has averaged 4.0 points and 2.3 assists per contest in just 14.7 minutes a night. Shooting is what got him into the lineup last season and knocking down attempts at a 55.6 percent clip will keep him in the rotation.

    If Jon Horford is able to consistently hit shots in the post, he could very well seize the opportunity.

    True freshman guard Zak Irvin has the same chance. The former 5-star prospect came in as a shooter but has only hit 3-of-11 from distance. His efforts, or lack thereof, on the glass are not exactly helping his cause. Both of those things will have to change for Irvin to be the immediate option off the bench.

    Maybe Jordan Morgan will return to his old self.

    One thing is for sure, there will be plenty of opportunities for the reserves to prove themselves as long as Michigan handles Long Beach State.

    "Knowing there is a game coming up in 24 hours (after Thursday), I do not expect a 37-minute guy out there in the first game, unless the game really warrants it," John Beilein said at a weekly press conference, according to UMHoops

    Be sure to look at who comes off the bench earliest for the Wolverines and what they do once on the floor.

Closing Stretches

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    Caris LeVert and Glenn Robinson III could be difference-makers come closing time.
    Caris LeVert and Glenn Robinson III could be difference-makers come closing time.Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    It is no secret Michigan faded during the closing stretch of the loss at Iowa State. Some of it likely had to do with youth and key players adjusting to new roles. Another part of it was the rowdy environment inside Hilton Coliseum.

    In true road games over the past three seasons, the Wolverines are just 11-12. On a more positive note, Michigan is 12-5 in neutral-site contests. 

    This week's crowd will certainly be friendlier than the one Michigan saw in Ames, but it certainly will not be the same as playing at home. How the Wolverines close out games away from the Crisler Center is going to be an indication of how good they can be once the postseason rolls around in March.

    Pay attention to how Michigan, especially its younger players, Glenn Robinson III and Caris LeVert, perform during the final five minutes in each of its three games.