On Monday morning, the Michigan men’s basketball program found good fortune for the first time in weeks.
Just five days after the Wolverines fell to Ohio in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in mid-March, three players announced their plans to transfer from the program. Sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz, who was a key contributor over his first two seasons in Ann Arbor, decided that he wasn’t happy at Michigan.
On April 4, sources reported that freshman point guard Trey Burke was expected to forgo his sophomore season at Michigan and enter the NBA Draft. Some reports seemed credible, but Michigan coach John Beilein wrote in a blog post Thursday that the speculation was premature.
He did not deny that Burke was leaning toward the NBA, though. With no capable point guard left on the roster, fans began to brace themselves for a 2012-13 season without a true floor general. Beilein and his staff reached out to unranked, unheralded recruit Spike Albrecht last week and earned his commitment over the weekend.
Then, on Monday morning, Burke announced that he will return for a sophomore season, despite the recent rumors that said otherwise. In that moment, the Wolverines jumped from a potential bubble team to preseason Top 10.
“In time, we’ll say what was the best decision for him,” Beilein said. “I think it was a great decision for Michigan basketball.”
Now that the roster for next season appears to be finalized, barring any more commitments or surprise transfers, speculation regarding the 2012-13 lineup abounds. Who will Burke distribute the ball to next season?
At this point, it seems that just Burke and sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. have their starting jobs locked up for next season. They are the two returning stars with NBA potential, so expect them to both start and average well over 30 minutes per game.
The rest of the lineup is where it becomes interesting.
Replacing senior Stu Douglass at shooting guard won’t be particularly easy, but Beilein has a couple of options. If Hardaway Jr. is comfortable handling the ball at the two-guard position, Beilein may be willing to slide him over from the wing to fill the hole. Incoming freshman Nick Stauskas, widely known for his impressive perimeter shooting, is another solid option in the backcourt.
But what Beilein does with the backcourt could depend largely on how he makes room in the frontcourt. Next season, Michigan’s roster will be loaded with size — redshirt sophomore forward Jordan Morgan is returning, redshirt freshman Jon Horford is coming back from a foot injury, and incoming freshman Mitch McGary will compete for a starting role.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Beilein starts Morgan at center and McGary at forward for next season’s tipoff. McGary, known for his physical play under the basket, may have less range than the typical Beilein four-man, but I could see Beilein adapting to the talent he has on his roster. McGary could also fit into the four-position better than either Morgan or Horford could.
“(Playing alongside McGary is) definitely a possibility,” Morgan said. “One of the things you want to focus on going forward is the versatility of our team. There’s no reason, when you have a lot of talented players, that you should restrict your team to one of them. We want to open this team up to being able to play more styles of basketball.”
If Beilein does start both Morgan and McGary along with Burke and Hardaway Jr., that would leave one open position at the guard/wing position. Expect incoming freshman Glenn Robinson III to beat out his cohort, Nick Stauskas, for that starting role.
Robinson III has lit up recruiting services throughout his senior season in high school and was recently rewarded with a No. 18 ranking and five-star rating on ESPNU’s top-100 recruits for the class of 2012. The kid can attack the basket with ease, shoot from long range, and he’ll immediately be one of the most athletic guys on Beilein’s roster.
But it appears that the starting lineup may be a bit devoid of vocal leadership. Burke tends to be quiet, leading by example, and Hardaway Jr. all too often lets his emotions get the best of him on the court.
In replacing the senior leadership of co-captains Douglass and Zack Novak, Beilein may turn to his bench.
“That’s what I want to be — a leader and captain of this team,” said junior guard Josh Bartelstein, who has played a cumulative 46 minutes over his career. “I just try to help everyone. I’ve already talked to the freshmen that are coming in just to make sure they know that we’re not taking any steps back, whether it’s with or without Trey.”
Not surprisingly, Beilein declined to comment on how exactly he’d fill his leadership void, noting that he has all offseason to let players prove themselves and make up his mind.
But until then, we’ll all do what we do best — keep speculating.
— Pasch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @lucaspasch.