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Freshmen provide depth, scoring options on offense

Alden Reiss/Daily
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By Colleen Thomas, Daily Sports Writer
Published November 14, 2012

It’s like you just got dealt pocket aces in Texas hold ’em — a powerful pair with options to boot. Do you bet conservatively, or go all-in?

Those are the kind of options Michigan coach John Beilein has this season.

After succeeding in past seasons with mediocre cards by betting smart, Beilein has brought in Michigan’s best recruiting class in over a decade to provide more options offensively to this year’s squad.

Since the beginning of the season, Beilein and the returning Wolverines have expressed plenty of excitement about adding fresh, young talent.

“I’m definitely impressed with the level of athleticism they’ve showed,” Burke said. “Last year we weren’t really as athletic as we are this year. We have Mitch McGary obviously, Nik Stauskas can rebound, Caris (LeVert), he’s surprised me (because he) can rebound and Glenn (Robinson III is) probably the most athletic guy in (that group).”

The five freshmen — McGary, Robinson III, Stauskas, LeVert and Spike Albrecht — will bolster the Wolverines’ lineup, giving Beilein different options other than simply relying sophomore guard Trey Burke and junior guard Tim Hardaway, Jr.

Last season, the Wolverines relied heavily on the duo’s offensive production, as they averaged 14.8 and 14.6 points per game, respectively, while each playing more than 30 minutes a game. Michigan’s other top scorers from last year — Zack Novak, Stu Douglass and Evan Smotrycz — have either graduated or transferred, leaving the Wolverines with few returning scoring options.

But with the addition of McGary, Robinson and Stauskas, specifically — each of whom averaged well above double digits in high school — Michigan has an arsenal of weapons that can take the pressure off Burke and Hardaway on offense.

All five freshmen have seen the court at some point this season, either in an exhibition game or a regular-season game, and have began to make contributions. Robinson is the only rookie starter and has impressed in his all-around game, but Beilein has expressed interest in seeing how McGary and Stauskas develop to consider placing them in a starting role. So far this season, Beilein has been establishing rotations, subbing Stauskas and McGary in early and often.

Stauskas is deadly from beyond the arc, and McGary is a significant post presence, both in scoring and rebounding, but neither of the rookies have seen as much action as they did in high school — yet.

“I like having that shooter come off the bench who has the confidence to come in and shoot right away,” Beilein said. “(McGary and Stauskas), whether we change the starting lineup or not, I know those two will be starters or coming early off the bench.”

Albrecht and LeVert, who committed late, are other valuable addition for the Wolverines. Though LeVert is likely to redshirt, Albrecht is a key to the backcourt that the Wolverines haven’t had in years — another true point guard.

“(Spike) surprises me every day,” Beilein said. “He just plays every day, he makes you smile to watch him play. He just has a presence out there. He certainly doesn’t pass the (eyeball) test, but continues to be productive.”

Though it’s very early, the numbers don’t lie: Michigan’s offensive production has significantly increased. Through the first three games this year, the Wolverines are averaging 89.3 points per game, while last year they averaged 60.7 over the same span. Robinson and Stauskas are averaging double digits, and McGary leads the team with 7.7 rebounds per game — an area in which Beilein wants to see improvement.

It’s obvious that the freshmen will provide numerous options for Michigan’s offense — their significant contributions early on have come from both talent and work ethic in practice, Beilein said.

“What it can tell me is they are receptive to continuing to be coached,” he said. “They really want to learn whatever we can teach them and what their teammates can teach them. When you go out to a practice, there is enough going on with a player when they're receptive to practices and pick things up quickly, that's refreshing.”

Added Burke: “Their eagerness to learn, to listen, they’re very coachable, that’s what I’m most impressed about. The talent’s going to be there, but them wanting to learn the offense and just asking questions is what’s impressed me more than anything.”