Last season the Michigan Wolverines went and far beyond what fans and experts expected them to do and surprised mostly everyone by making their way to National Championship Game. While they came up short, no one could deny that Michigan Basketball was back and had earned the right to be respected once again.
Nonetheless, it’s a new season with somewhat of a new team, they lost two talented players to the NBA in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. but they also kept some great talent in Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III and even added some talent with their freshmen class. While there is no doubt that the Wolverines have talent and should be able to get back into the NCAA Tournament there are questions as to whether they can possibly get back to the Final Four.
With the Wolverines it all starts with the point guard position, obviously they lost a true leader and play-maker in Trey Burke, so now they need someone to step up. Now this person doesn’t need to be Burke because no one can be Burke but this person must be able to lead and create for this team. Now there are two point guards who can resume the role of Burke. The first one being sophomore guard Spike Albrecht, with Albrecht there is no doubt that he can shoot but he must be able to create for his teammates. Albrecht is a sophomore so he clearly understands the system but this Michigan team thrives on a point guard that can make his teammates better and get everyone involved. As long as he is able to create, he should be able to run the show. However, I have to admit, I honestly think freshman point guard Derrick Walton could handle taking over at some point. Walton has amazing court vision and is capable of running the team in the half-court or up-tempo. Just like Burke, Walton can score from anywhere on the floor, he isn’t afraid to drive to rim and he can finish against contact and he also has a nice jump shot. Overall, I expect both players to share the point guard duties for now. Albrecht has experience and understanding of the system but as I said before don’t be surprise if Walton takes over at some point this season.
The next factor for this team, is their star power and it doesn’t get any better for them with sophomores Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary. Both these young men had the opportunity to leave and enter the NBA Draft this past off-season but decided against it and I think they were smart to do so. Robinson is an amazing talent, he has great length and athleticism, it’s just time for him to unleash that potential. This season he makes the move to the small forward position and from what I hear he seems to be more aggressive which is great. However, I really look to see Robinson improve his jump shot this season, there is no doubt he can slash and finish at the rim but he needs to be able to hit his jump shot consistently from mid-range and three-point. He will truly be a match-up nightmare if he is able to expand his game to the perimeter and offer an efficient perimeter game. Defensively, I look for him to elevate as well, with his great length and athleticism, there is no reason he shouldn’t be lock-down defender this season.
Then you have Mitch McGary, now unfortunately he starts the season a little banged up but as long as he is able to stay healthy, there is no reason to think he won’t have a phenomenal season. I expect this offense to be run through him especially with his ability to run the floor and his ability to be used in the high post. Then defensively he has good instincts and does a great job of stepping into the passing lanes. The main thing he must do is stay healthy but I really want to see him become that double-double guy I know he is capable of being. With his high motor, ability to finish at the rim, rebound and run up the floor, there is no reason to think he can’t be a walking double-double. Overall, Robinson and McGary are the two stars of this team, it’s time for the them to accept their leadership roles and unleash their potential this season.
I can’t talk about Michigan without bringing up freshman Zak Irvin. Coming out of high school, he was 5-star recruit and I have no doubt he will live up to each expectation during his time with Wolverines. He can score from anywhere on the court and from what I hear, he has been just as aggressive on the defensive side of the ball. He honestly could be used in the starting line-up or he could be used as a potential sixth man, no matter what way he is used, he will be a force to be reckoned with. Just a little side-note, lookout for freshman forward Mark Donnal, at 6’9 and 230 pounds, this is one interesting player. He is fighting for minutes in a tight front-court but he is a versatile option that head coach John Beilein may find a way to use. Why? Because he can shoot, he can shoot from mid-range or three and pretty consistently I might add. So don’t be surprised if he uses Donnal to spread the floor.
Finally when talking about Michigan, you can’t forget about their role players and trust me there are plenty of them talk about. The first being senior Jordan Morgan, he is one of only two upperclassmen on this team, so I really expect him to be a leader for this team. His main job is to lead and play his role, which is basically assist with the rebounding and help to protect the paint. Anything after that is an added bonus. The next two players on my list are sophomores Nik Staukas and Caris LeVert, both are huge x-factors for this season. Staukas is the sharp shooter of the bunch, mainly he needs to do the same thing he did last season which is shoot the ball efficiently but he also needs to make his presence known in other areas this season, such as defense and rebounding. It can’t be just about shooting this year for him, if the Wolverines plan to go far. With LeVert, there is potential for him to make an impact on both sides of the floor. At 6’6 and 185 pounds he is very athletic and he loves to run the floor, while I expect him to be another shooter for this team, I also expect him to rebound the ball but even more so be another potential defender. With his length and quickness, he should be able to check plenty of players, he just needs to work on his frame. Finally, don’t forget about junior forward Jon Horford, while he’s had his injury issues, he’s definitely a work horse who believes in helping his team anyway he can and there is no doubt if healthy, Beilein will find a way to use him.
Overall, I expect Michigan to have a strong season, they will have plenty of trials and tribulations to face with their schedule, they have some intense non-conference games to start off the season, but I think that’s a good thing, because the team will be challenged early and it should help prepare them for Big Ten conference play. While I have no doubt Michigan can back to the tournament, I look to see if the Wolverines can make it back to the Final Four, it won’t be easy but it’s not impossible either.
Written by LBeasley, Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
Listen to LBeasley’s Radio Show, “Sports Talk with L-Beasley” every Mon, Wed & Fri from 6-8pm (ET) on LBeasley.com