Exhibitions reveal Michigan’s rotation

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Michigan coach John Beilein has more options to call off the bench this year after landing a bluckbuster freshman class. Buy this photo

By Neal Rothschild, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 6, 2012

Shed was the operative word for the No. 5 Michigan basketball team’s preseason.

Mitch McGary shed some pounds to get into playing shape. The Wolverines’ prized freshmen shed their gift wrapping and revealed what they can do at the college level. The team took two Division-II weaklings to the woodshed. And Michigan coach John Beilein shed some light on how his new pieces would figure into this team’s rotation.

After sophomore point guard Trey Burke announced last spring that he would bypass the NBA Draft to return to Ann Arbor, there seemed to be two givens in the starting lineup.

Burke would return at point guard and junior Tim Hardaway Jr. would be on one of the wings. After that, there were questions. Fans wondered whether McGary or oft-injured redshirt sophomore Jon Horford would replace the only other returning starter, Jordan Morgan, in the post.

Or would Beilein get innovative and depart from his one-post offense to accommodate the influx of size?

Many suspected that freshman Glenn Robinson III would be found in the starting five, but who knew? Would experience or expectation triumph in deciding the final starting spot?

Eighty minutes of crisp basketball settled most of the questions, and what remains to be seen is how players react to roles, which will dictate how Beilein will switch things up as the season progresses.

Morgan’s spot in the starting five is secure. He’s a steady presence. Though he isn’t a dynamic scorer, he defends well, has improved his rebounding, shoots for a high percentage and stays within himself.

He’ll see less time on the floor than last season though, assuming McGary and Horford fully recover from their aches and pains. Horford sat out the preseason with an ailing knee, though Beilein expects him to be back for Friday’ opener against Slippery Rock, while McGary missed some practice time with a balky foot.

Beilein did indeed show his intention to implement a 2-post offense, though he later expressed some reluctance, explaining its drawbacks. Morgan and McGary shared the floor for three minutes in both halves during Monday night’s 76-48 exhibition win over Saginaw Valley State.

“When Jordan and Mitch were in there, where we could score 2s, they were hitting 3s,” Beilein lamented. With a bigger lineup, the Wolverines eschew a faster, more versatile five that can get out quickly on perimeter shooters.

As expected, Robinson was given a starting spot and it doesn’t look like he’ll ever lose it. He’s hardly looked like a freshman and scored with ease from the inside and outside, averaging 15 points. He’s shot 71 percent from the floor and 63 percent on 3-pointers in the two exhibition contests.

Beilein opted for experience with the last starting lineup spot by entering senior 3-point specialist Matt Vogrich, but he indicated that though he is happy with the starting five so far, it is still under discussion. Vogrich’s spot in the lineup would seem to be the most in jeopardy if Beilein opted for a switch.

Freshman sharpshooter Nik Stauskas and McGary, if they’re not starting, will see the floor early in games.

“I like having that shooter come off the bench,” Beilein said. “That’s why I used to hold Stu (Douglass) back and I ended up putting him in, having a guy who will go in there and has the confidence to go in and shoot it right away. Those two, whether we change the starting lineup or not, I know those two will be early entries, either as starters or coming off the bench.”

Though freshman point guard Spike Albrecht will be used primarily to give Burke a breather, he may play some minutes as an off-ball guard as he did in Monday’s exhibition. The final freshman, Caris LeVert, may see time sparingly, but given his athleticism and potential, it may be realistic for him to redshirt. With a slight frame that can grow into his talent, LeVert could be best off using his eligibility starting next season.

Of the four senior guards, only Vogrich figures to contribute on the court. Add some young guards to the equation and you could get a team that will run opponents out of the gym.

“We definitely have more pieces this year,” Burke said. “With G-Rob and Nik and Vogrich, we’re more flexible. We’re able to get out more into transition more than we were last year. It’s a little different out there.”