Michigan Basketball: How Worried Should Wolverines Be About Slow Start?

Zach DirlamSenior Analyst IIDecember 16, 2013

Should Michigan fans be concerned with a 6-4 start?
Should Michigan fans be concerned with a 6-4 start?Leon Halip/Getty Images

Last season, Michigan basketball fans were spoiled by a team that, with the exception of Mitch McGary, was essentially a finished product from day one of the regular season. This year, a 6-4 start without a victory over a marquee opponent in nonconference play has some members of the Maize and Blue faithful reaching out to hit the panic button.

For those who are, step back and take a deep breath.

The Wolverines have shown signs of improvement and will be a significantly better team come February and March than it is right now.

A 6-4 overall record is not pretty. It is also a great way to fall out of the polls entirely after starting the season as a Top 10 team. If we are being honest, though, those rankings mean absolutely nothing. Pollsters do not determine who is selected to the NCAA tournament or how high teams are seeded. 

Is it true Michigan was overrated to start the year? Without a doubt.

Does it mean Michigan is not a Top 25 team? For now, yes, but there are plenty of opportunities in Big Ten Conference play for the Wolverines to rebound and climb the national rankings.

Losing Trey Burke has taken a huge toll on Michigan early on this season.
Losing Trey Burke has taken a huge toll on Michigan early on this season.Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

This slow start for head coach John Beilein's club has to be put into proper perspective. Michigan lost the best player in college basketball, a first-team All-Big Ten shooting guard, have one of the youngest rosters in the country and have several players adjusting to new roles.

Long story short, this team is the polar opposite of the 2012-13 crew. It started the year with enough talented parts to be a contender for the Big Ten and national titles. Now, it is a matter of allowing all those pieces to come together.

"The only way to get better is by doing it and learning from it," Beilein told Brendan F. Quinn of MLive. "(Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford) have significant experience but they’re playing one position and playing about 15 minutes (combined) together. The rest of it is all first- and second-year players and it’s really hard."

Outside of falling to Charlotte in the championship game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, none of Michigan's four losses are going to hurt it come tournament time. There is no shame in dropping road contests against No. 13 Iowa State and No. 8 Duke, or losing to No. 1 Arizona.

Keep in mind, Glenn Robinson III left the Charlotte game after just nine minutes due to a back injury.

In fact, there were plenty of positives that came out of the Wolverines' upset bid against the Wildcats last Saturday.

Glenn Robinson III finally looked like a top 20 NBA prospect.
Glenn Robinson III finally looked like a top 20 NBA prospect.Leon Halip/Getty Images

Robinson finally looked like the player NBA scouts have been drooling over. He was aggressive, created scoring chances for himself and knocked down shots from the perimeter and beyond the arc. His 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting were the main reason Michigan became the first team to score more than 66 points against Arizona this season.

While Caris LeVert is still not as efficient as he needs to be, he continues to score at the rim and is a threat on the perimeter. Sophomore point guard Spike Albrecht drained a trio of three-pointers and is earning more minutes, despite being a liability at the defensive end of the floor.

McGary is still rounding back into shape after being kept out of practices until mid-November with a "lower back condition," via Mark Snyder of USA Today. With only a pair of games in the next two weeks, he should be in dominant form by the start of Big Ten play.

"I told the guys if this was two weeks ago and this was Duke here or somebody else, we don’t play to a last-possession game. We weren’t ready for that at that time," Beilein said after Saturday's loss, according to Joe Stapleton of UMHoops. "We’re getting better, but we’re certainly going to have to play a perfect game against Arizona."

Are there some concerns? Absolutely. 

Michigan needs more assists out of its point guards. It has to get find a way to keep bigger teams, like Arizona, Wisconsin and Michigan State, from dominating the glass, especially when it comes to offensive rebounds. Ditto for the interior defense, which impressed until the second half against the Wildcats.

Playing the same kind of offense as they did against Arizona, though, will allow the Wolverines to cover up some of their deficiencies.

If Michigan loses any of its next six games, none of which appear to be overly daunting, then it will be time to worry about whether or not it is a legitimate contender. For the time being, however, this slow start is nothing worth panicking over. 


Want to talk more Michigan basketball? Follow me on Twitter @Zach_Dirlam.