Michigan Basketball: 10 Reasons the Wolverines Could Win the Big Ten This Year
The Michigan Wolverines are ready for another successful basketball season under coach John Beilein.
Ohio State and Wisconsin have looked dominant thus far, but the Michigan Wolverines are a dark-horse team in the Big Ten for 2012. They are 6-2, with their only two losses coming against No. 5 Duke and against a stingy, soon-to-be-ranked Virginia squad. Michigan looks confident, and should make a strong run at the 2012 Big Ten title.
Here are 10 reasons why the Michigan Wolverines could win the Big Ten this season.
1. Tim Hardaway Jr.
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Tim Hardaway Jr. is no doubt the star of this young Wolverines basketball team. He had an impressive freshman season, posting 14 points, 2.2 threes, 4 rebounds, and a steal per game. Coach John Beilein has been working tirelessly with Hardaway Jr. to make him a more complete player. He has now become much more deadly off the dribble and attacks the basket with ferocity.
Hardaway Jr. needs to continue to work on moving without the ball and becoming a shut-down defender; however the sky is the limit in terms of his potential.
Hardaway Jr. has become a more efficient scorer in his sophomore season, as his field-goal percentage his increased (from 42 percent to 47 percent) while his average has risen to 16 points per game.
Hardaway Jr. will continue to be the No.1 scoring option for the Wolverines. He has emerged as one of the biggest scoring threats in the Big Ten, and should be a First-Team All-Big Ten selection. With him at SG, the Wolverines will be a dangerous team.
2. Trey Burke
Trey Burke was a highly touted recruit from Ohio (he played on the same team as Jared Sullinger). The biggest question for the Wolverines coming into the 2011-2012 season was at point guard. With Darius Morris leaving for the NBA, would anyone be able to step in and fill the void? Burke has answered that question with an exclamation point.
Burke has been impressive through his first eight starts. He is averaging 11.3 points, four assists, three rebounds, and one steal per game. He must improve his offensive efficiency though, as he is only shooting 42 percent from the field and 29 percent from beyond the arc.
Burke has been a pleasant surprise for the Wolverines. His potential was well-known, but no one knew his game would translate so quickly to the NCAA.
Burke fits well in Coach Beilein’s up-tempo style offense. He has great court presence and seems to have a good command of the game. He will only improve with time, and looks poised to lead the Wolverines towards a Big Ten Championship.
3. Coach Beilein
John Beilein has done an outstanding job at Michigan since he was hired in 2007. He transformed a program that had been struggling since the Ed Martin scandal, into a contender in just a few years. His recruiting has been exceptional, especially grabbing the No.2 recruit for 2012 in Mitch McGary.
Beilein knows how to get the most out of his players. He teaches them to value their offensive possessions. The past two seasons, Michigan has been amongst the nations best in turnovers per game. He has a great formula to win, and has been steadily acquiring the pieces he needs to fit his system.
Beilein is widely considered to be one of the best coaches in the country, and for good reason. As long as he is at the helm of Michigan, they will be contenders in the Big Ten and his players will play the game the right way.
4. Adaptive Defense
John Beilein loves to switch his defense throughout the game. The Wolverines can adapt mid-game depending on the situation between man-to-man and a hectic one-three-one zone. This switch usually happens quickly, and can catch the other team off-guard. The one-three-one defense has been a staple of Beilein’s coaching career and it has proven to be an effective weapon when used correctly.
5. Zack Novak
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I would be willing to argue that no one hustles more in college basketball than Zack Novak. Due to the lineups that Coach Beilein likes to use (sometimes he plays four guards to optimize his three-point attack), Novak sometimes finds himself guarding the other team's power forward. At 6’4”, it does not take a genius to figure out that this is a major mis-match. However, Novak is as tough as they come. He hustles for every rebound, takes charges, and does all of the intangibles. Not to mention, he is a deadly three-point shooter.
Novak is having his best season yet as a senior. He is averaging 10 points, five rebounds, and a steal per game. He is also shooting 51 percent from the field, 88 percent from the charity stripe, and almost two three’s a game.
Novak leads by example and is a fantastic captain. He will keep this team focused throughout the season, and will play a major factor during their Big Ten run.
6. Perimeter Shooting
The cornerstone of a Beilein offense is their ability to shoot the three-ball. Over the years, Beilein has amalgamated a solid core of shooters. Tim Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke, Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, Evan Smotrycz, Eso Akunne, and Matt Vogrich can all hit three pointers from anywhere on the court. In ’11-’12 thus far, the Wolverines have yet to hit their stride from beyond the arc, but when they do, they can pour it on as well as any team.
7. Growth of Jordan Morgan
Jordan Morgan was impressive in his freshman year. This season, he has put on some noticeable muscle, which should help him defend the big men in the Big Ten (aka Jared Sullinger). Through eight games in 2012, his field goal percentage is an incredible 77 percent; however, he must improve his rebounding (averaging four per game).
Jordan Morgan has made significant strides during his first year and a half. As long as he continues to hone his game, Michigan will be able to compete with any team in the Big Ten.
8. Ability to Limit Turnovers
The Michigan Wolverines know how important each possession is, and they do a great job taking care of the ball. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that fewer turnovers mean more possessions, which in turn leads to more opportunities to score. Last season, the Wolverines averaged only 10 turnovers per game. This year, the average is slightly higher at 12, however this can be attributed to a freshman point guard being at the helm. One can reasonably assume that this number will decrease as Burke gets more accustomed playing at a higher level.
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Coach Beilein has his players play with a tremendous amount of poise, and this is an aspect of the game that should not be overlooked. Rarely will you see the Wolverines commit a stupid foul, turn the ball over at an inopportune time, or lose their composure. The Wolverines compete with a high basketball IQ, a characteristic that is imperative for any team that wants to win. Beilein trusts his players immensely, and they tend to not let him down.
Attitude is a huge part of the game, and the Wolverines certainly have the right mindset.
10. Schedule Remaining
The Michigan Wolverines have winnable games before Big Ten play starts. Their next four games are against Oakland, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Alabama A&M, and Bradley respectively. The only ranked teams they play for the rest of the season (as of today) are No. 22 Illinois, No. 16 Wisconsin, and No. 3 Ohio State. Indiana and Northwestern have been playing well, but the jury is still out on these teams.
Michigan has all of the tools to compete with these elite Big Ten teams. The key is for the Wolverines to beat Ohio State in one of their two regular season match-ups. If Michigan can win a game against the Buckeyes, they should be in a prime position to take the Big Ten.