By Simon Kaufman, Daily Sports Writer
Published November 13, 2013
After showcasing one of its strongest rosters in years last season, Michigan finds itself without Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway and, by committee, must replace 70 minutes and 20 to 25 shots per game.
Here’s what Michigan coach John Beilein has to work with:
The Starting Five
Derrick Walton Jr.
The freshman point guard is supposed to fill Burke’s shoes, but he still has a long way to go before any legitimate comparisons can be made. Walton has many of the same characteristics as Burke — he’s small, aggressive and likes to run the court, but the Harper Woods, Mich. native has said that he plans on playing his own style of basketball. In Michigan’s offense, Walton will have the freedom to run a fast-paced attack and penetrate toward the basket to open up other guys on the court. Perhaps his biggest asset in the early part of the season will be a wealth of talent around him on the court, so he’ll never be without options.
Stauskas could be the best 3-point shooter in the country, and that’s only one part of his game. Last year, more than half of his points came from 3-pointers. While he’ll still shoot the three plenty this year, he’s also shown an increased confidence in his ability to drive and finish. Stauskas put on 16 pounds of muscle over the summer, which makes him a dual threat to shoot or take the ball to the rim. The more he can drive and get to the free-throw line, the more dangerous his game will be. On defense, too, he’s shown improvement and the ability to be an asset on both ends of the floor.
This time last season, LeVert was still a redshirt candidate. After seeing him break out this season, there’s no doubt Beilein would be happy to have him for four years if he were to stay. The sophomore guard is Michigan’s most improved player after staying on campus over the summer to train and work out. He’s bigger, stronger and a sharper shooter. In two regular-season games, LeVert has shown his ability to run the court and be a shooting threat from anywhere. He can knock down 3-pointers with the same grace as when he beats his defender off the dribble and crashes toward the basket. He can also play the role of point guard should Beilein play a bigger lineup. His length and quickness make him one of the team’s best defenders. The stat that will increase the most for him, though, is minutes as Beilein looks for any way to get LeVert on the floor.
Glenn Robinson III
Before the season began, we learned that the Vertec tool that Michigan uses to measures its players’ verticals wasn’t quite tall enough for the sophomore forward. His vertical exceeded the 12-foot-3 limit. He has that are-you-kidding-me freakish athleticism that Michigan saw many times last year. So far this season, Robinson has gotten his playing time at the “4” because of sophomore forward Mitch McGary’s injury. He came into the season expecting to play on the wing, but has proven able to handle a position closer to the basket. On defense, his 6-foot-6 frame may be a disadvantage when he’s forced to guard one of the big men until McGary’s return.
The redshirt junior beat out fifth-year senior forward Jordan Morgan for the starting job. Horford is a bigger asset on the boards than Morgan, and though neither are big offensive weapons, Horford has proven more consistent at knocking down mid-range shots. However Horford’s weakness is that he doesn’t run the court well, and that could be a problem in Michigan’s fast-paced offense — especially as the grind of the season takes its toll on him. Like Robinson, Horford is eager for McGary’s return so that he’s not carrying as much of the big-man burden by himself.
McGary has looked good in Michigan’s first two games — perhaps handsome is the better word. The 6-foot-10 big man who had his coming-out party during the NCAA tournament last season, is injured and has been forced to watch the beginning of the season from the bench attired in suit and tie. No definitive timetable has been given on his return date, but Beilein recently said that he has started taking part in full-speed workouts. At Big Ten Media Day in Chicago on Oct. 31, McGary indicated he plans on being in a uniform on Dec. 3 against Duke, but otherwise, both the extent of his injury and his return date are uncertain.
The other three players that will see meaningful minutes on the court are sophomore guard Spike Albrecht, freshman guard Zak Irvin and Morgan. Despite gaining glory from his 17-point first half in the National Championship last year, Albrecht is not Michigan’s best option in the backcourt. Though he’s comfortable driving, he doesn’t finish with the same consistency as Walton. He’ll mostly be used to give Walton a chance to catch his breath.
Aside from Walton, the only other freshman that will get meaningful minutes is Irvin. Irvin was the Rivals 24th-ranked recruit and Michigan’s most anticipated prospect. He has the body of a forward and capability to get points in the paint, as well as the ability to knock down threes. Beilein could play him in a big-man lineup alongside LeVert, Stauskas and Robinson to give him four guys at 6-foot-6 on the floor.
Morgan will play a similar role as Albrecht’s except that he’ll relieve Horford. Morgan is a bigger asset in Michigan’s fast offense with his ability to get up the court. On the opposite end, he was a member of the All-Big Ten defensive team last season. His biggest contributions though, will likely come off the court in his role as captain and Michigan’s oldest player.