Team Preview: Michigan Wolverines
By: Fraser Lockerbie
2011-12 Record: 24-10, 13-5 in the Big Ten
Coach: John Beilein, 91-77 at Michigan, 642-395 overall
Coach John Beilein has been kicking around the Great Lakes State for a few years now and has brought a Michigan program sanctioned into the stone age in the late 90’s back into the Big Dance conversation. But not much further; though they’ve made the tournament three times in past four years (winning, or rather, sharing a Big Ten title along the way) they’ve won but two games, never making it out of the Round of 32. The problems were numerous: either they were too young or too small, lacked depth or lacked a standout star. But the Wolverines came into 2013 season ranked inside the top ten in over a decade (and behind only Indiana in the Big Ten), and have thus far proved their preseason ranking worthy.
Strongside: Michigan’s greatest strength is in its returning starters: Trey Burke’s decision to forgo the draft and return to the Wolverines saved Coach Beilein the trouble of having to re-tool his offense yet again around another point guard and ensures a certain level of comfort for two juniors (Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jordan Morgan) who need stability in the offensive scheme to up their game.
Burke himself is an exceptional offensive one guard, dangerous in transition and around the rim with a steady enough shot that he commands a defender on him at all times. His 18.0 PPG currently leads the Wolverines but it’s not his tangible contribution that’s his biggest asset: it’s the threat of it.
The attention he draws creates time and space for Hardaway, a 6-1 two guard of obvious pedigree and visible talent who last season simply needed to take better shots (as evidenced by a 28.3 mark in shooting from beyond the arc). But with Burke (and a handful of other guards, including Nik Stauskas, a freshmen pulling down over 30 minutes a night) pulling defenders away on the perimeter, Hardaway is knocking ‘em down in 2013 to the tune of .493/.736/.393 thanks to more time to think translating to better shot selection.
And he’s not the only one: Stauskas is knocking down practically every other shot he attempts (.493/.826/.495, something else considering the minutes he’s receiving) and the three primary forwards (Morgan, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III) are finding space mid-range. Basically, with five players shooting at a .390 clip or better from beyond the arc and four of them averaging double digit points a night, this is an offense to be feared.
Weakside: For now. Though the Wolverines sit 26th in the league in assists per game the bulk of those are coming from Burke; he’s without a doubt the centerpiece through which this offense is run and if he goes down, chaos could ensue. Hardaway could start playing outside his abilities again, Stauskas won’t come anywhere close to the efficiency he’s showing with Burke on the floor, Morgan’s not much of a playmaker, better suited being wide-open and McGary and Robinson are both freshmen, benefitting immensely from veteran leadership at the point. The Wolverines do have depth (they pulled in a top-ranked recruiting class) in senior guards Matt Vogrich and Eso Akunne, but it’s hard to believe they’d be anywhere near as effective as they are with Burke on the floor.
All Told: These are your father’s Wolverines, that mid-sixties and mid-seventies bunch that dominated both the Big Ten and the Big Dance. They play well at both ends of the floor; their .510 field goal percentage ranks 4th in the NCAA and they boast five players pulling down at least 5.0 boards a game. It’s a team that up until last week’s surprise loss to Ohio State was flawless and save a season-ending injury to Burke (or a spiral that could start on February 2nd with a four game stretch against Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State) this is a team poised for more than just breaking back into the Sweet Sixteen.