Michigan Basketball: Wolverines' Biggest Concerns for the Postseason

Zach DirlamSenior Analyst IIMarch 7, 2014

Is Derrick Walton Jr. a concern for Michigan?
Is Derrick Walton Jr. a concern for Michigan?RICK DANZL/Associated Press

Coming off of a dominant, championship-clinching victory over the Illinois Fighting Illini on Tuesday, it is hard to say there is reason to worry about the Michigan basketball team. However, there are some legitimate concerns facing the Wolverines with postseason play set to begin next week.

March is where heroes are made, weaknesses are exploited and even the briefest lapses in composure can lead to an early offseason.

Michigan's potential shortcomings needs to be prefaced with all it has done over the past two-plus weeks, though. Since dropping three of their first five games in February, the Wolverines have rattled off four straight wins, including one against arch-rival Michigan State.

During this recent stretch, Nik Stauskas likely locked up Big Ten Conference Player of the Year honors. Over the past four games, the sophomore shooting guard averaged 21.3 points, 3.5 assists and 2.5 rebounds. He also drained a career-high seven three-pointers in Michigan's rout of Illinois, which clinched its first outright Big Ten title since 1986.

Not only has Stauskas been one of the top scorers in the league this year with 17.3 points per game, he also boasts the best shooting percentage (49.0) out of any player ahead of him in scoring average. 

Barring an upset by Nebraska versus Wisconsin this weekend, which would likely get the Cornhuskers into the NCAA tournament, John Beilein should be the favorite to take home Big Ten Coach of the Year. 

Replacing a Wooden Award-winning point guard, first-team All-Big Ten shooting guard and playing nearly the entire season without preseason All-American Mitch McGary would be enough to send most programs into a rebuilding year. Instead, Beilein has led Michigan to a 14-3 record in league play and potentially a No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Developing Caris LeVert into one of the country's top one-on-one players is also something Beilein and his staff deserve plenty of praise for.

I'm seeing a lot of All-B1G teams without Caris LeVert. That's, well, wrong. This can't just be about stats.Carried outright champ at times.

— Joe Rexrode (@joerexrode) March 6, 2014

Not too shabby for a team starting a true freshman point guard, three sophomores and a fifth-year senior.

Still, there are some underlying concerns that could rear their ugly heads once March Madness starts to heat up. Three in particular could lead to the Wolverines' undoing sooner rather than later.


Will Glenn Robinson III Remain Consistent?

Will Glenn Robinson III continue his recent hot streak? Bet on it.
Will Glenn Robinson III continue his recent hot streak? Bet on it.Tony Ding/Associated Press

One of the reasons Michigan is arguably playing its best basketball of the 2013-14 season has to do with Glenn Robinson III's resurgence. 

Reaching double figures in each of the past five games has not been the most impressive thing about the sophomore small forward's revitalization, though. Efficiency is what the Wolverines need from him. Right now, it is exactly what they are getting.

Since Feb. 16, Robinson is shooting 56.9 percent (29-of-51) from the field. Getting more attempts at the rim and jacking up fewer jump shots has led to the sudden stretch of consistency.

The real question, however, is whether or not Robinson will be able to maintain this kind of productivity throughout the postseason.

Given the fact this recent hot streak has more to do with him becoming a finisher once again, as opposed to the creator many thought he could be this season, go ahead and bet on it. 


Can Derrick Walton Jr. Handle the Pressure?

This is another legitimate question no one will know the answer to until Michigan faces some adversity during its postseason run. To this point, freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. has performed well under pressure.

In case anyone forgot, he already has a game-winning basket under his belt.

Handling these kind of moments in January and February are nowhere near the same animal as they are in March, though. When it comes to postseason basketball, one shot, pass or bounce of the rock can mean the difference between going home early or advancing to the Final Four.

As pressurized as the entire Big Ten title run was for the Wolverines, those moments are going to be magnified ten fold in the conference and NCAA tournaments.

Michigan needs Walton to be in sync with everyone on the floor and to take care of the basketball in critical situations. It is a lot to ask of an 18-year-old, but the Wolverines' fate depends on it.


Will the Bench Give Michigan a Lift?

Zak Irvin could be a difference-maker for the Wolverines in the NCAA tournament.
Zak Irvin could be a difference-maker for the Wolverines in the NCAA tournament.Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Beilein has utilized a short rotation all season long, which has not proven to be an issue whatsoever.

Freshman shooting guard Zak Irvin, sophomore point guard Spike Albrecht and junior big man Jon Horford are the three reserves who have the greatest impact on the rotation. None of them needs to be spectacular, but they do have to be ready to rise to the occasion in extraordinary circumstances.

Foul trouble could hit the Wolverines at any moment. Fans found this out in last year's championship game when Trey Burke went to the bench with two personal fouls early in the first half.

Luckily, Albrecht has been there and done all that. The Crown Point, Ind. native scored 17 points in last season's title game and has delivered big shots when called upon this year.

The deeper Michigan gets into the postseason, the greater the chance of Walton hitting a rough patch. When that time comes, Albrecht must seize control and guide the Wolverines the rest of the way. Defensively, he is likely going to be a defensive liability, but he can provide them with an offensive spark.

Horford is never going to be a dynamic big man, but as long as he plays solid post defense and makes things difficult for opposing centers, Michigan should be in great shape.

As for Irvin, he has the potential to win a game for the Wolverines with his three-point shooting. In eight games this season, the former 5-star prospect has drained at least three three-pointers. At Minnesota, his five threes turned out to be the deciding factor in a 63-60 win.

He is undoubtedly this team's X-factor and could be the difference between another trip to the Final Four and heading back to Ann Arbor earlier than expected.