ROSEMONT, Ill. — What a difference 365 days makes.

About a year ago at Big Ten Media Day, Michigan coach John Beilein sat quietly at a lonely roundtable as reporters swarmed the tables of Ohio State, Michigan State, Illinois and Wisconsin — the big boys of the Big Ten. Co-captains Zack Novak and Stu Douglass did the same, waiting patiently for members of the media to ask them how it felt to be in the basement of the preseason conference standings.

This year was entirely different. At Big Ten Media Day on Thursday morning, the Wolverines were mentioned with the rest of the pack. At points, it was tough to squeeze in at the table for an interview with Beilein. Sophomore wing Tim Hardaway Jr. attracted a crowd to the Michigan tables as well — a byproduct of both his family name and his talent (he was recently named to the Wooden Award Watch List).

Indeed, the added attention mainly comes from winning. Few people, if anyone, expected Michigan to be in the NCAA Tournament last season, let alone cruise to a 30-point victory in the first round. And thus, interesting storylines about the Wolverines’ basketball program abound.

COPING WITH LOSS: Darius Morris’s departure to the NBA this offseason certainly hurts for Michigan, and it was a focal point on Thursday.

The Wolverines’ offense almost entirely ran through Morris last season. His 6.7 assists per game were good for fifth in the nation, and the success of his supporting cast was largely due to his ability to see the whole court from the top of the key.

Though Beilein is holding off on naming his starting point guard for the upcoming season, all signs point toward Ohio’s 2010 Mr. Basketball winner, freshman Trey Burke. The Columbus native is the only “true” point guard on the roster this season, as his competition for the starting job — Douglass and freshman cohort Carlton Brundidge — are combo guards better suited for the two position.

Beilein said that he will complete his final evaluation following the exhibition matchup with Wayne State on Nov. 4, and he’ll make his decision within the week leading up to the season opener against Ferris State.

“There’s a lot that goes on from going from a high school guard to a college guard,” Beilein said Thursday. “So after two weeks of practice, (Burke has) shown a lot of moxie, some great poise. And yesterday, the other day in particular, a lot of toughness.

“Those are three things you’d like to have a freshman have.”

FILLING A NEW ROLE: The departure of Morris certainly affects more than just the point guard position.

This season, Hardaway Jr. is expected to take on more of a leadership role in the Michigan offense. In all likelihood, defenses will key in on him more than anyone else, and some analysts are skeptical that he’ll be able to handle the ball under that type of pressure.

His coach agrees to disagree.

“We had an early answer on that the other day,” Beilein said. “We just had a scrimmage where he was so unselfish he had seven assists and no turnovers. If they’re putting extra men on him or guarding him a certain way, this is a team-first guy now.”

Midway through the 2010-11 conference schedule, after the Wolverines stumbled to a 1-6 start in Big Ten play, Hardaway Jr. was often criticized for his somewhat greedy shot selection on the perimeter. But his coach continued to give him the green light, and his turning point came at Penn State in February, when Hardaway Jr. notched 13 of Michigan’s final 26 points in a crucial comeback victory.

The freshman silenced his critics and went on to average 17.5 points per game in the final 12 contests of the season.

DENY, DENY, DENY: Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was present at Media Day, and he wound up fielding far more questions about the possibility of Big Ten expansion (specifically, the potential of bringing in Notre Dame) than about the upcoming basketball season.

Delany vehemently denied any notion of expansion, repeatedly claiming he is very happy with the conference as it stands.

“There’s expansion stories all over the country, but we’re not part of any of them,” Delany said. “What I think about Louisville or West Virginia or Notre Dame or BYU is more as a sports fan than as a conference commissioner, because our conference is not involved in these issues.”

The commissioner said that he has not had any recent contact with Notre Dame on the issue of expansion.

“I had a discussion with (Notre Dame Athletic Director) Jack (Swarbrick) on hockey probably about three months ago. … The issue of expansion — no, not for years, really.”

When asked if the conference would be willing to expand within the next few years, Delany said he would “never say never,” but he couldn’t firmly answer hypotheticals.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.