With the college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next few weeks. Today, we wrap up our Big Ten team previews with a look at the Michigan Wolverines.
It’s been brewing in Ann Arbor the last few seasons, and now we can say it with little hesitation: The Wolverines have arrived in the Big Ten elite.
In 2010-11, the emergence of Darius Morris paved the way for an upstart run in the NCAA Tournament, where the Wolverines trounced Tennessee by 30 in the opening round. In the round of 32, they nearly beat Duke, falling by two after a Morris runner in the lane at the buzzer just missed. Morris left for the NBA Draft, but the Wolverines were able to immediately patch the hole he left at point guard with freshman Trey Burke in 2011-12.
Burke excelled in the role, garnering Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors from the media and leading the Wolverines in points (14.8), assists (4.6) and steals (0.9) per game. The team won a share of the Big Ten championship, though they were bounced out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament by John Groce’s Ohio Bobcats, who advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. Groce is now at Illinois. Burke flirted with the NBA Draft after his strong freshman campaign, but he ultimately decided to return to Michigan.
Yet, the Wolverines boast more than just Burke.
Though the team does lose heavy minutes and shooting with the departures of Zack Novak, Stu Douglass and Evan Smotrycz (who transferred to Maryland), Tim Hardaway Jr. returns for his junior season. While Hardaway’s shooting numbers dipped across the board from his freshman to sophomore season, he remains a dangerous scorer on the wing when he’s hot and forms a solid 1-2 punch with Burke. Junior Matt Vogrich will provide depth in the backcourt.
Up front, Jordan Morgan is back for his junior campaign, and he figures to be another serviceable offensive option for the Wolverines. Morgan’s effective field goal percentage in 2011-12 (61.9) was fourth best in the Big Ten. Morgan was also the team’s second best defensive (17.6 DR%) and offensive rebounder (11.9 OR%) a season ago. Though he didn’t see nearly the court time of Morgan, the team’s top rebounder from 2010-11, 6-10 junior Jon Horford (23.1 DR%, 18.2 OR%), also returns after missing most of last season with a stress fracture.
And after walking into Columbus, Ohio and grabbing Burke heading into last season, John Beilein welcomes another class of high talent in 2013. Five-star wing and Indiana product Glenn Robinson III figures to make an immediate impact, as does big man Mitch McGary, whom the Hoosiers once courted. Robinson should be Michigan’s best athlete from day one and McGary has the ability to overpower opponents and can also step out and occupy the high post. Nik Stauskas, a top 100 recruit from Ontario, will also see minutes because of his shooting ability.
Bottom line: Beilein has enough talent at his disposal to challenge for the Big Ten title and make a strong run in the NCAA Tournament. ESPN’s Jay Bilas tweeted the Wolverines as his preseason No. 5 team on Tuesday. While Beilein’s system is known for 3-point shooting, his team now has enough size and talent up front to muscle other teams around. How Beilein gets his returnees and new talent to mesh and grow as the season progresses might ultimately tell the tale on just how far the Wolverines go in 2012-13.
Quotable: “It was very obvious in our (Big Ten Tournament loss) against Ohio State, how the lack of length and size can hurt. Playing with four guards helped us win the league, but we lost two out of three to Ohio State. We’ve got to be able to play big. But, also, there’s teams in our league where we’ll have to go back to the way we played last year with four guard types, four wings, three wings and a point guard — that’ll still be in our package.” — Beilein to MLive late last month