Had everything gone according to plan, senior guards Zack Novak and Stu Douglass and the rest of the Michigan men’s basketball team would be busy prepping for a Sweet 16 matchup with North Carolina.
But after an upset by Ohio sent the Wolverines packing, it’s time for a first look ahead at a 2012-13 campaign that may bring the program’s highest preseason expectations since 1996, when the team opened the year ranked No. 7.
Since he finished an impressive freshman campaign in 2011, there have been talks surrounding the chances of sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. bolting for the NBA this offseason. But after a less-than-stellar shooting performance for much of the year, murmurs of the Miami native leaving have quieted.
And ever since November’s Maui Invitational, when freshman Trey Burke burst onto the scene — prompting ESPN NBA Draft analyst Chad Ford to tell The Michigan Daily he believed Burke would be a first-round pick this summer — rumors have swirled about Burke departing, too.
But in the locker room after the Wolverines’ loss last weekend, both underclassmen pledged to return to Ann Arbor for next season.
With Burke and Hardaway Jr. back, along with the best recruiting class the program has seen in well over a decade, Michigan is expected to open next year ranked near the top 10.
Let’s take a look at what next season’s roster will look like:
Point guard: projected starter — Burke.
Assuming Burke returns, he may be a unanimous selection for All-Big Ten first team, and he should find himself near the top of the preseason list for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the nation’s top point guard. Burke has already demonstrated leadership ability, and Novak — who has been grooming the freshman — indicated that Burke should be a captain next season.
A healthy Burke, along with a more talented surrounding cast, should spell trouble for foes. Expect his 4.6 assists per game to increase with more scorers on the floor, while his already impressive 2.8 turnovers could drop, as his decision-making improves with another year under his belt.
But Burke will be tasked with an even greater burden than this year, when he led the team with 36.1 minutes per game. Douglass was Burke’s backup this year, and his departure leaves a glaring void on the bench behind the Columbus native.
Just two other players on the roster have (albeit limited) point guard experience: freshman Carlton Brundidge and junior Eso Akunne.
In only 44 minutes this season — and just nine in conference play — Brundidge looked overmatched on the floor. His five turnovers in limited action is concerning, and his ball handling and quickness don’t appear to be Big Ten-quality. A sparsely used Akunne, who’s also a below-average ball handler, is a last resort.
Guard/wing: projected starters — Hardaway Jr. and incoming freshman forward Glen Robinson III.
Hardaway Jr. should be hungry to improve upon a disappointing sophomore campaign, when his 3-point shooting took a significant step back. Though his scoring numbers improved slightly, his field-goal percentage dropped slightly and his 3-point mark fell to an abysmal 28.3 percent.
Still, Hardaway Jr. has one of the wing positions locked down. His running mate remains a mystery. Douglass, the starter at two-guard for most of year, played 33 minutes during conference play and was Michigan’s most reliable on-ball defender.
Junior guard Matt Vogrich saw a drop in his minutes this year, and though he should see more time next year, he’s not starter material. Vogrich — a sharpshooter who struggled to find his touch for a long stretch of conference play — possesses some of Novak’s tenacity at chasing down loose balls against more physically gifted athletes, but his shortcomings are too much. Vogrich is too slow to stay with opposing wingmen, and he lacks the first step to create his own shot.
Don’t expect blog-writing junior guard Josh Bartelstein to grow into a formidable option this offseason, which means Michigan coach John Beilein will have to rely on a newcomer, either guard Nik Stauskas or Robinson III.
Stauskas, a 6-foot-5 Canada native is one of the most dangerous 3-point shooters in the nation. Stauskas is more of a true shooting guard than Robinson, but he has the ability to get to the basket and create his own shot, earning him four stars from Rivals.com.
Robinson, the son of former NBA star Glen “Big Dog” Robinson, is a true wing player. He appeared more talented than Stauskas, but will Beilein want a second wing on the floor to accompany Hardaway Jr.? The two players’ style of play closely resemble each other, and since Hardaway Jr. struggles to defend shooting guards, it’d be risky to throw an inexperienced wing on the floor to guard the opposition’s two-guard.
Expect to see Stauskas and Vogrich on the floor at times, but it’ll be Robinson’s name called over the PA system before games.
Post: projected starters — incoming freshman forward Mitch McGary and redshirt sophomore forward Jordan Morgan.
Beilein will again slate a true power forward to play the four position to kick off the season, but unlike this year, don’t expect the plan to be scrapped midseason in favor of a four-guard system.
At 6-foot-10, McGary is taller than Michigan’s starting five-man, Morgan, but is a natural power forward. After spending a year in prep school, his body is college-ready, and he should be able to step right in and collect rebounds among the Big Ten’s best.
While his offense may be a work in progress, McGary has a nice midrange game and can even step outside and shoot the three. The mental aspect to his game needs growth, but he won’t be asked to do a whole lot aside from collecting rebounds and setting screens. The high energy level that he plays the game with should help at both, and if he can average close to 10 points, 10 rebounds and a block-and-a-half per game, Michigan will finally have the big man it has lacked in the Beilein era.
With his height, McGary can easily slide over to the five if Morgan gets into foul trouble. With another offseason, Morgan should improve on a steady sophomore year.
The Detroit native shot an impressive 61.9 percent from the field but had several puzzling point-blank-range misses. His points (7.3) and rebounds (5.6) may not see notable increases, but if he can add strength and stay out of foul trouble — something he improved upon greatly this year — he’ll be a dependable option down low.
Additionally, Beilein should finally have a bench full of low-post options. Despite going cold for most of conference play, sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz still managed to shoot a team-high 43.5 percent from 3-point range.
Last offseason, he returned to Ann Arbor close to 35 pounds heavier, and it showed, as he was able to attack the rim — dangerous for a 6-foot-9 shooter. He’ll be highly motivated to have another superb offseason after his turnover ended Michigan’s season, so expect him to bulk up even more to improve his ability to defend the post.
The biggest improvement Smotrycz needs to make is a mental one. Too often, he picked up fouls away from the ball or basket, limiting his play time. If he can stay out of foul trouble, look for him to be one of the conference’s top sixth men.
Sophomore forward Jon Horford, who played in just nine games before being shelved with a foot injury, should be back at full strength. While he might be squeezed out of ever seeing significant minutes, the 6-foot-10 Horford should prove to be a defensive burst of energy off the bench. In just under 11 minutes per game this season, he notched 3.6 rebounds and a block per game. If he can provide similar results, Michigan can transform from a team with almost no low-post depth to one of the deepest benches in the Big Ten.