Midnight Madness is over, and with it went the smoke machines, dunk contests and laser shows that kick off the season. College basketball begins now, and while the excitement still remains it’s time to peel the hype back and see who the nation’s best truly are. That’s why Dime has you covered with individual previews of the nation’s top 15 teams and a few others just outside, all over the course of the next few weeks. Today, Michigan.
Not since the Fab Five has the bar been set quite this high for Michigan Wolverines men’s basketball. Indeed, after a disappointing loss to Ohio in the first round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament, most preseason predictions have the Wolverines finishing somewhere in the top 10 in the nation this season. High scorers Trey Burke, who considered entering last summer’s NBA Draft, and Tim Hardaway Jr. have both returned to Ann Arbor to cement the Wolverines’ backcourt as one of the nation’s best. In addition, the Wolverines are welcoming six freshman to the team, including highly-touted prospects Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, and Nick Stauskas.
Michigan is an exceptionally athletic team at every position. A quick review: Burke is a truly dynamic playmaker running the point; on the wing, Hardaway Jr. and freshmen Robinson and Stauskas are three versatile players who can create their own shot inside and out; and up front, head coach John Beilein can rotate a combination of physically gifted big men such as Jordan Morgan, John Horford, and the new recruit McGary. The Wolverines should excel in this department.
Given the sheer number of young guys on the roster, Michigan’s most polished players are probably Burke and Hardaway Jr. Burke put up huge numbers in an award-winning campaign as a freshman (per 40 minutes he averaged 16.4 points, 5.1 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1 steal with a 50 percent true shooting percentage), and seems poised for a great second season. Meanwhile, Hardaway has the skill-set to become one of the best shooting guards in the nation, but for whatever reason, has struggled to find consistency in his collegiate career. His woes are particularly apparent with his stroke, as he shot 41 percent (13.8 attempts per 40) from the field, and an even worse 28 percent (6.4 attempts per 40) from three in 2011-12. Hardaway apparently spent the summer retooling at pro camps with Burke, and is expected to move to his natural position of shooting guard this season, so we’ll see if there’s any carryover between the two players.
The Wolverines will miss elder statesmen Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, both of whom graduated last year. The pair provided much-needed guidance on and off the floor for the maize and blue. Absent this veteran presence, the leadership burden will fall on a cast comprised primarily of sophomores and juniors; who will step up come tournament time is an open question at this point.
Youthfulness doesn’t necessarily mean that Michigan won’t succeed — plenty of young teams have done so in the recent past, of course — but if there’s to be any cause for concern in Ann Arbor, this is probably it.