With the Wolverines coming off of their first tournament appearance in 11 years and returning practically all of their key players plus getting new recruits, it's easy to put Michigan in the Sweet 16 before the season even starts. Before they can do that, the following things have to happen on a regular basis.
1. Improve the defense in the low post.
John Beilein's teams have never been known for being great at rebounding, but even he admits it wouldn't hurt to cut down on the offensive rebounds they give up. He probably would also like to prevent teams from being able to drive to the basket at will or go to the alley-oop like Ohio State did twice last season. He also knows that in order to compete in the Big Ten you have to have good defense in the frontcourt.
Fortunately for Michigan, they have begun addressing such issues by adding two true freshman forwards in Blake McLimans and Jordan Morgan in addition to stalwart seniors Zack Gibson and Deshawn Sims. But the biggest addition (literally and figuritively) will be seven foot redshirt freshman Ben Cronin who sat out last season due to hip surgery. Cronin will be crucial in giving either Sims or Gibson a rest as well as being a deterrent to teams who want to drive to the lane against Michigan, simply because of his size.
2. Establish the three point shot early on and use it to set up the inside offense.
Believe it or not, the reason why Beilein's teams take so many three point attempts isn't because they are trying to bomb their opponents, it's because they use the threat of the triple to set up their inside post offense. When Michigan was at it's best last season that's how it worked too. If the opposing defense committed too much to the three pointer then Manny Harris or Deshawn Sims would be able to drive to the lane successfully.
This year with Zack Novack and Stu Douglass being both sophomores they might be able to be more succesfull in establishing the perimeter, the Wolverines might be able to depend on the three less than they did in the previous two seasons. If that is the case the case then number three will also have to be true.
3. Manny Harris has to live up to the hype consistently.
Junior Manny Harris is the Wolverines best playmaker for a reason his talent and versatility helped the team reach the tournament both as a scorer, rebounder, and to an extent as a decoy. If he is to get Michigan to the next level he will have to be the a scorer first and a decoy second. He will have to be able to make defenses fear his ability to get to the lane and score so much that they will leave a man open for him to pass to either inside or on the perimeter. If he can draw it consistently and they can make the open shots this team could have a very good regular season and go deep into the tournament.
4. Get better at shooting the three pointer.
The Michigan Wolverines under John Beilein have played possession basketball as much as the 35 second shot clock will allow, they use as much time as they can to get a good shot at the basket, which more often then not is from outside the arc. It has been well noted that Beilein's best team at West Virginia had six players returning on that squad who made at least a third of their three point attempts, and that the Wolverines have no such players returning from last year. If Manny Harris, Zack Novack and Stu Douglass can all shoot at that percentage, the execution on the defensive side of the ball might just be able to make up for the lack of alternate shooters and if incoming freshman Matt Vogrich can pan out the way he has been hyped up in recruiting it will give Michigan multiple options.
5. Darius Morris has to establish himself as a playmaker.
Yes, he's a freshman, no, it's not likely that he will be the starting point guard out of the gate. At the same time he needs to show that Michigan is more than Manny Harris, Deshawn Sims, and two white guys from Indiana shooting threes. He will be the player who will ultimately prove whether the Wolverines are a well rounded team that can attack a defense any number of ways.
If he can make that happen, I would put this team in the top 10 in college basketball.