Michigan Basketball: Final Grades for Wolverines' 2013-14 Season
No, the Michigan basketball program will not be hanging another Final Four banner from the rafters of the Crisler Center, but it will add a Big Ten Conference championship banner for the second time in three seasons come next winter.
Nevertheless, this group banded together, used the doubters as fuel and overcame almost every obstacle in their path on the way to a wildly successful season.
Now that it has come to a close, report-card grades are the only way to examine the entire body of work for the 2013-14 campaign. The grades are based on production, which is weighted differently based on opponent and timing, and expectations. Everything is relative to expectations—be sure to keep that in mind when looking at these grades.
Derrick Walton Jr., Point Guard
When it comes to true freshmen, even for former 4-star prospects like Derrick Walton Jr., expectations must be tempered a bit. None of Walton's numbers were extraordinary this season, but it was far from a mediocre start to the young point guard's career at Michigan.
Everything has to be put into proper perspective.
Despite the fact he started from day one, it was clear Walton's game would take some time to round into form.
He struggled with turnovers and decision-making during the nonconference portion of the season. During Big Ten play, though, Walton hit his stride and everything started to click. In 18 league games, he averaged 8.4 points, handed out 53 assists and committed just 22 turnovers.
Remember, this was the same point guard who played more than 30 minutes three times in the first 12 games. Down the closing stretch, Walton saw 30-plus minutes in 13 of the Wolverines' final 25 games—a sign he earned the trust of the coaching staff.
The best part of all, though, is the grit and composure he showed down the stretch of some marquee games. Walton's 18 points guided Michigan to a win at Michigan State, while his layup at the buzzer allowed it to escape Nebraska with a road victory.
Overall, 7.9 points on 42.9-percent shooting, 3.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game is a solid foundation for him to build on. Knocking down 41 percent of his triples also makes Walton a valuable commodity in the Wolverines offense.
It certainly was not a perfect year, but it was a good one for an 18-year-old frosh.
Nik Stauskas, Shooting Guard
It is hard to say anyone on the Michigan roster had a better year than Nik Stauskas. The sophomore shooting guard led the Wolverines with 17.5 points and 3.3 assists per game, which are numbers that may not even do his season justice.
Three things that sum up how great Stauskas was for Michigan in 2013-14 are: Big Ten Player of the Year, John R. Wooden All-American and second team Associated Press All-American. He was also the only unanimous selection to the media's and coaches' All-Big Ten teams.
In 15 of Michigan's 37 games, Stauskas scored at least 20 points. Only four teams managed to hold him under 10 points.
There was a bit of a rough patch for Stauskas right in the middle of Big Ten play, mostly due to the fact teams put smaller guards on him to take away his driving lanes. Once he began shooting over those shorter defenders, though, he returned to his old self and lit up the conference.
All of this has Stauskas shooting up NBA draft boards, something that did not seem likely last season.
It is unlikely he returns for a junior campaign in Ann Arbor, but if Sunday's game against Kentucky was indeed his final game in a Maize and Blue uniform, at least he went out in style. A 24-point performance, which nearly carried the Wolverines to their second straight Final Four, is a heck of a way to end a collegiate career.
Without the leaps and bounds Stauskas made in his game, Michigan would not have been able to overcome the loss of Mitch McGary. Thankfully, those improvements resulted in a Big Ten title.
Caris LeVert, Shooting Guard
By far the most improved player in the Big Ten, maybe even the entire country, was Caris LeVert. After scoring just 2.3 points and playing a mere 10.8 minutes per game, mostly as a defensive specialist, as a true freshman, he upped those averages to 12.9 points and 34.0 minutes this season.
LeVert also made his presence felt in other facets of the game. He grabbed 4.3 rebounds and handed out 2.9 assists per game, which made him one of Michigan's top players in those categories.
The Ohioan certainly had his fair share of struggles, though. Playing an extra 24 minutes a night will do that to just about anyone. Thankfully for the Wolverines, those bumps in the road came in nonconference play and the early stages of Big Ten play.
Eventually, his ups and downs culminated in a 20-point outing at Wisconsin, which led Michigan to one of its best wins of the season. Despite scoring just five points the following game, he put up double figures in 13 of the next 14 contests.
That stretch, in addition to an outstanding year at the defensive end of the floor, led to an All-Big Ten Second Team selection for LeVert.
When it comes to breaking defenders down in one-on-one situations, there are few better than LeVert. Next season, assuming Nik Stauskas does indeed depart for the NBA, should be one in which he wreaks havoc on the conference and contend for Big Ten Player of the Year honors.
As for this year, though, a breakout season is worthy of a high grade.
Glenn Robinson III, Small Forward
This season was a tale of thirds for Glenn Robinson III.
Things started off relatively well for him, in terms of scoring. The efficiency wasn't quite there, but he scored 12-plus points in six of the first seven games.
From then on, there were only flashes of Robinson's brilliance. An 8-of-9, 20-point performance against top-ranked Arizona seemed like a breakthrough. However, the hot streak only lasted until the middle of Big Ten play.
In the six games between January 22 and February 11, Robinson scored more than 10 points just once. He shot 30 percent or worse from the field in half of those contests. That stretch included a two-point dud in Michigan's blowout loss at the hands of Iowa as well.
Much of this had to do with Robinson shifting roles throughout the season.
"At the beginning of the season, things weren’t going right," Robinson explained, according to Dylan Burkhardt of UMHoops. "I was going to play the three and coach decided he wanted me back at the four when Mitch got hurt.
"It was probably not until a fourth of the season [that I accepted it]. And I just kind of let it go and decided to play my basketball. I had a great run actually for quite a few games there. I was like, ‘there’s nothing I can do about Mitch getting hurt, or playing the three’."
Robinson closed the year on fire, though. He reached double figures in all but one of Michigan's final 13 games. Defensively, he is as good as anyone in the country, so long as he isn't in the post against a power forward.
Through it all, he averaged 13.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.
The freakish athleticism is there for Robinson to play at the next level, but he still has trouble creating his own shot and knocking down jumpers consistently. Another year in Ann Arbor may do him some good. Do not be surprised if he elects to turn pro, though.
Jordan Morgan, Center
Prior to Mitch McGary's decision to have back surgery, Jordan Morgan still struggled with the fact he would have to contribute as a reserve instead of being a starter. Eight games later, the light came on for Morgan, who returned to his old self and had an NCAA tournament showing not even his greatest supporters could have predicted.
Through it all, he continuously did the things no one ever sees in the final box score. He spearheaded Michigan's defense, however porous it was. He led with emotion. And above all else, he showed resolve, grit and perseverance as he reclaimed the starting job he lost toward the end of last season.
The Detroit native played 10 minutes or less in six of Michigan's first 10 games of the season. Keep in mind, this was the same guy who, at one point, made 53 consecutive starts.
In McGary's absence and the NCAA tournament, both instances when the Wolverines needed him the most, he was spectacular.
There was his 15-point game at Nebraska, a 12-point, seven-rebound night against Iowa and a 13-point, nine-rebound performance at Purdue. Michigan won all of those games, two of them by single digits. On senior night against Indiana, Morgan went out with a bang. The fifth-year senior posted a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
The NCAA tournament was his best work of all, though. He went up against the likes of Cameron Ridley, Jeronne Maymon, Jarnell Stokes and Dakari Johnson, all of whom were expected to get the better of him. Instead, Morgan averaged 14 points and 7.8 rebounds.
Without his efforts, Michigan would not have won the Big Ten title and very well could have been sent home early in the NCAA tournament.
Morgan will be missed more than Wolverines fans think. It is hard to find someone willing to do some of the little things it takes to win, let alone all of them.
Spike Albrecht, Point Guard
Every team needs a few solid role players. Michigan has a couple of good ones, including Spike Albrecht, who averaged 14.7 minutes and 2.0 assists per game off of the bench this season. Not bad at all, for a backup point guard.
Once Derrick Walton Jr. won the starting job at the point, expectations were lowered for Albrecht.
There were quite a few games where his impact was not felt. This is typical of someone who has to assume a backup role, though, so it will not have a significant impact on his final grade.
Other times, Albrecht showed up in a big way.
For example, he scored seven points in 18 minutes at Iowa State and a season-high 10 points in 24 minutes against Arizona. Walton struggled to handle the speed and magnitude of those games, which were both in the early stages of the campaign, so without Albrecht's production, Michigan could have been run off of the floor.
The same goes for the Iowa game in mid-January when Walton battled the flu. Albrecht played 35 minutes, handed out seven assists and scored seven points.
Defensively, he continued to be a liability, but given the limited minutes he played, his impact at the offensive end made that irrelevant. Tallying 75 assists and a mere 16 turnovers proves Albrecht did his job.
Michigan has a great duo at the point that it can utilize over the next two years.
Jon Horford, Center
It will be hard for Michigan fans to keep Jon Horford's season in the proper perspective, especially after they watched Marcus Lee come untouched for a handful of tip slams in the Elite Eight loss to Kentucky. Against the Wildcats, Horford was simply out of his depth, in terms of athleticism.
Still, for much of this season, Horford gave the Wolverines what they needed. He filled the time Morgan had to spend on the bench and even caught lightning in a bottle during a few games that came down to the wire.
Without his 14 points and nine rebounds at Minnesota, six points and seven boards at Wisconsin and eight points on 4-of-5 shooting at Ohio State, the Big Ten race may have been a whole lot closer. Instead, Horford showed up at the right time and helped Michigan win the conference by three games.
At 3.8 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, though, it is hard to call his season anything but average.
The highlights certainly balanced out some of the lowlights. However, Horford did not exactly blow anyone away.
Zak Irvin, Shooting Guard
The future certainly looks bright for Zak Irvin. The true freshman shooting guard came off of the bench all season and showed the ability to drain anywhere from three to six three-pointers per game, or come up totally empty. So while his first campaign in Ann Arbor was a good one, the lack of consistency has to be factored into the equation.
His 24-point outing against Coppin State and 14-point performance against Houston Baptist should not be completely overlooked, but do not boost his stock all that much either.
Take away his four three-pointers against Stanford, or the five triples he made with Glenn Robinson III out with an injury at Minnesota, and Michigan would have finished with a couple more losses. His 4-of-9 performance from beyond the arc led the Wolverines to a rout of Nebraska. Nine-point nights against Texas and Tennessee should not be forgotten either.
Overall, Irvin was one of four Wolverines to shoot better than 40 percent from distance this season. He also showed some potential when it came to putting the ball on the deck.
Cutting down on the forced shots and becoming a bit more consistent is the next step for Irvin. His defense could use some work as well. This season, though, he did his job as Michigan's sixth man.
John Beilein did not really need any extra validation after taking Michigan to the Final Four last year, but this season further cemented his place among the nation's elite coaches.
Does he have as many Final Fours as guys like Tom Izzo, John Calipari or Mike Krzyzewski? Nope. However, he has taken undervalued teams deeper than anyone expected and done more with less his entire career. This year was another prime example of that.
The Wolverines lost Trey Burke, last year's Wooden Award recipient, another NBA draft first-rounder in Tim Hardaway Jr. and Mitch McGary, a preseason All-American, to back surgery. Yet, through it all, Beilein led Michigan to its second Big Ten title in the past three seasons and a second consecutive trip to the Elite Eight.
Oh, and his offense was better this season than it was a year ago with all of those parts intact. Michigan finished the year ranked No. 1 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency. Its rating of 124.1 was slightly better than last season's 120.3, which also led the nation.
The Wolverines also became the first team in 10 years to lead the conference in the three major shooting categories.
Beilein rightfully earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors from the media and had a strong case for the national award.
Despite the unhappy ending, it is hard to call this season anything but a success. Winning the Big Ten, which looks like the nation's toughest conference once again, seeing as the Big 12 struggled in the postseason by a whopping three games, is no small feat. It was the largest margin in five years, to be exact.
The future looks brighter than ever in Ann Arbor, and it has everything to do with Beilein.