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2012-13 Preview: #5 Michigan Wolverines (#5/#5)

Michigan shared the regular season conference title with Ohio State and Michigan State last year, but they were clearly the third best of the group.

Many have Michigan pegged as one of the best teams in the nation, but we see numerous issues with the lofty expectations that some have.

At a minimum, the fact that this doesn’t look like recent Beilein teams should raise questions. Other issues are debatable, but by the second week of February we believe it’ll be evident that Michigan’s No. 5 in the nation preseason rankings was far too high.

Glass Half Full

Trey Burke is a sophomore

Burke (36.1 mpg, 14.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.6 apg) was great as a freshman and exceeded expectations. While it’s not unreasonable to expect progression as a sophomore, we believe most projections of Burke in 2012-13 are too generous. Nonetheless, a guy who is always on the floor and involved in around 27% of his team’s possessions is nice to have.

Approximately 60% of his shot attempts were inside the three-point stripe and with what is likely to be a different look on offense for Michigan this year, it’ll be interesting to see how his game evolves in year two. Burke was able to convert 49.0% of his 2-point attempts and 34.8% of his tries from behind the arc, both respectable but with room for improvement.

He’s a fearless guy on the court, but needs to make smart decisions as this team figures out their identity, including who is going to be on the court. More than 44% of Michigan’s field goal attempts came from 3-point range in 2011-12, but based on this year’s roster that figure is likely to be significantly lower.

Tim Hardaway

The focus for most is on Burke, but of the returning Michigan players Hardaway probably has the widest range of reasonable performance projections for this season. He averaged 34.2 minutes and 14.6 points last year, but his shooting was down from his freshman year.  Specifically, it was his 3-point shooting that was poor. As a freshman, he hit 36.7% 3FG but that figure dropped to 28.3% as a sophomore.

Hardaway should have a better year from long range and it’s vital that he does.

Jordan Morgan

There’s nothing exciting about Morgan, but other than turning the ball too often, he does his job well. He’s a big man at 6’8”, 250 pounds and uses wide base to do a very good job on the offensive and defensive boards. The offense doesn’t go through him, but when he’s called upon to clean something up, Morgan is efficient (62.3% career FG ).

The excitement over freshman Mitch McGary is understandable. So is the possibility of improvement from other bigs like Blake McLimans and Jon Horford (who we still think can be a nice player for the Wolverines if healthy).

However, Morgan has already been a solid Value Add role player for Michigan and if his minutes are reduced, there’s no promise the next man will do much better. 


Glenn Robinson III (#23 RSCI), Mitch McGary (#26) and Nik Staukas (#78) must produce for the Wolverines to be as good as so many think they’ll be. As they are true freshman and we’re not sold on the idea of any one of the three being year one efficient studs, their performance and early development will be of great interest.

Robinson is an athletic wing (6’6”, 210) that can attack the basket. That’s a nice thing for Michigan to add, but it’s new. Under Beilein, is he going to be able to consistently hit jumpers this year?

McGary is versatile for his size (6’10”, 250) and should be great on the boards. However, his offensive game is limited and the idea of regularly working the ball into the low post to score isn’t typically what you think of when it comes to Michigan basketball.

Nik Stauskas is a 6’6” shooter originally from Canada and looks like more of a typical fit for the Wolverines than the more popular Robinson and McGary. Perhaps Stauskas can replace some of what Evan Smotrycz would have provided as a big shooter, but we would feel much better about an experienced junior instead of a true freshman.

Glass Half Empty

Michigan lost a lot from 2011-12

Zack Novak and Stu Douglass graduated, while Evan Smotrycz transferred.  One of several reasons we believe there is such a difference between how we view Michigan compared to how others do is that the production and value of these three was far more significant than some recognize.

Zack Novak

Novak (33.7 mpg, 9.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 40.9% 3FG) was underappreciated by some. Sure, you’ll hear a lot of praise for his intangibles – “he’s a hard worker, tough kid, leader, etc.” – but even with a possession usage under 15% his offensive Value Add was the best of all Michigan players in 2011-12. Having graduated, Novak’s leadership and production will be greatly missed.

Evan Smotrycz

As a sophomore, the 6’9” shooter was one of the Big Ten’s best defensive rebounders and shot an effective field goal percentage of 58.9%, including 43.5% 3FG. In 21.1 mpg, he averaged 7.7 points and 4.9 rpg.

It’s fair to point out that he struggled in Big Ten play (20.0 mpg, 5.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg and an eFG% of just 47.6%), but Smotrycz had his moments and may have been ready for a big jump in production this year had he not left the program. Minnesota fans will remember his game-tying 3- pointer (his only 3 points of the game) to put the Big Ten tournament contest into overtime.

Stu Douglass

Douglass wasn’t super exciting to watch on the court, but he was a solid, efficient player on offense and a very strong defender. In addition, Stu came through with some improbable game-winning shots during his career and was another good team guy.

Describe Michigan’s style of play

That’s a tough one. In the past, you knew what to expect out of Michigan. Not so this year. We think Beilein may be experimenting with different lineups through the end of the calendar year end and while he may come up with something that works beautifully, it’s not an ideal approach.

The three players just discussed above (Novak, Smotrycz, Douglass) combined for 140/361 3FG (38.8%), while the rest of the team went 136/427 3FG (31.9%). In addition to Burke and Hardaway, Matt Vogrich (16/53 for 30.2%) is a returner that frequently fires from 3-point range, but Michigan’s style of play will almost certainly look noticeably different in 2012-13.

We see Michigan as a third place team from last year that must change its offensive blueprint and is counting on youth and high-usage experience to come together. That doesn’t provide much comfort when projecting their 2012-13 season.

Other Comments

  • Phase II of the renovation project for Crisler Center (formerly known as Crisler Arena) is wrapping up after about 10 months, even though completion for the $52 million project was expected to take almost double the time. While the majority of the work is done, there are still some ongoing work that should be finished by the end of the December. Nonetheless, the pictures and reports from those who have toured the building are spectacular.
  • The William Davidson Player Development Center, a 57,000 square foot basketball facility for both the men’s and women’s programs, was opened next to Crisler Center last year. 
  • 2013 Recruiting: Although Burke and Hardaway are not seniors, there’s a chance they leave school for potential professional opportunities next year. Fortunately for Beilein, he’s set to bring in another impressive class.  Six-foot point guard Derrick Walton, 6’6” wing Zak Irvin and 6’8” big man Mark Donnal have all committed.  The current RSCI rankings (#45, #29, #97) illustrate the fact that they are respected nationally, but Irvin especially looks like a player and had his 3-point shot rolling when we last saw him in Las Vegas in late July. 

A Look Back at 2011-12 Preseason Preview Quote(s)
(Projected #3 in B1G) Senior Zack Novak is the type of hard-nosed kid that opposing fans tend to dislike. He’s not going to wow you with athleticism, size or skill, but with his effort he produces, no matter if he’s called on to play on the perimeter or mix things up inside. Although just 6’4″, Novak was strong on the defensive boards a year ago (17.4 DR%). His two-point shooting was bad (27/71 for 38.0%), but his three-point shooting (65/169 for 38.5%) and care for the ball (10.5 TO rate) made him a very valuable weapon on offense. Played 34.9 mpg and averaged 8.9 ppg to go along with 5.8 rpg in 2010-11. His minutes may go down a bit this year because of team depth, but that could benefit his go-all-out style of play. Novak is a capable leader on and off the court.”

“Things are looking good for Michigan and they should be able to stay in the upper half of the Big Ten for the foreseeable future. Novak and Douglass are seniors and Hardaway could bolt after this season, but they’ve got good talent throughout the freshmen and sophomores on their roster and their 2012 and 2013 recruiting classes are strong. The ever-improving Glenn Robinson (son of Big Dog) will arrive a year from now and 2013 kids Zak Irvin and point guard Derrick Walton have each given their pledge.”

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