Trey Burke returns to lead team with Final Four potential
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The first practices of college basketball season begin in mid-October, and Athlon Sports 2012-13 preview annuals have arrived on newsstands all over the country.
To prepare for the start of college basketball season, we will preview one team each weekday, counting down to the first official day of basketball practice on Oct. 15, or for some teams on Oct. 12.
We continue our countdown with a preview of No. 6 Michigan.
Don’t try to convince John Beilein, an eternal optimist, that last year’s NCAA Tournament thud against Ohio was a bad thing for his program. To the sixth-year Michigan coach, the loss was a case of not playing “well in one particular game” and not an indication that the team’s share of the Big Ten championship was sullied.
Since a program’s ultimate success is measured in terms of NCAA wins, it’s time for Michigan to make a move into the Tournament’s second weekend. The good news is for the first time in Beilein’s tenure, the Wolverines may be in a good position to do that. A highly regarded recruiting class, the decision by guard Trey Burke to return for his sophomore season and a level of depth Michigan hasn’t enjoyed in a long time should combine to make Michigan quite dangerous — both during the regular season and postseason.
“The Block M has never been stronger across the board,” Beilein says. “We have momentum.”
Beilein teams haven’t exactly been known for their rough-and-tumble front lines, but this year’s Wolverines have plenty of options in the paint. If they want to play big and nasty, redshirt freshman Max Bielfeldt (6-7, 240), sophomore Jon Horford (6-10, 250) and junior Jordan Morgan (6-8, 250) can bring the beef. Bielfeldt and Horford were both sidelined with injuries last season.
If they want to play a little more of a finesse game, then 6-10 freshman Mitch McGary, a fine passer and shooter from the high and low post, can team with fellow newcomer Glenn Robinson III to form a dynamic offensive combination. A pair of high-level recruits who have helped lift Michigan’s national profile, Robinson and McGary give the Wolverines potential star power. Robinson was relatively highly regarded when he signed last fall, but his stock soared even greater since. He could be one of the nation’s top scoring freshmen. McGary is the kind of skilled big man Beilein craves. Some have compared McGary to former West Virginia star Kevin Pittsnogle, who thrived under Beilein.
“Some big men have a natural ability to pass, while others have to learn it,” Beilein says. “Mitch sees the floor well from the high post and low post positions.”
Last summer, the Wolverines lost Darius Morris to an ill-advised jump to the NBA Draft. This year, Burke stuck around after his great debut (14.8 ppg, 4.6 apg), giving the Michigan attack a high-energy floor leader who will be extremely productive and able to help the rest of the team deliver, too.
“Trey gets it, and that’s what’s going to help him become a better player,” Beilein says. “He understands he will get a lot of attention, and if the young men around him can shoot and score, his assists will go up, and his turnovers will go down. He saw a lot of minutes last year, and he can be better this year with more people around him.”
One person who will help Burke is freshman point guard Spike Albrecht, a 6-1 dynamo whom Beilein believes will be an instant fan favorite and who should allow Burke to rest some after he averaged 36.1 minutes per game last year.
The other big backcourt holdover is junior Tim Hardaway Jr., who has great skill but must learn to moderate his approach. He shot just 28.3 from 3-point range last year and didn’t always play great defense. Hardaway has plenty of talent, and the addition of Robinson, McGary and Albrecht mean he doesn’t have to do as much.
“He has gained trust with his teammates, and he should have enough people around him so that he can shoot less and score more points,” Beilein says.
Two other freshmen, tough shooter Nik Stauskas and athletic wing Caris LeVert, will also vie for time.
Michigan isn’t ready for a run at the Final Four, but the Wolverines should be an improved team that can certainly reach the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend. And, if everybody comes back for ’13-14, some real fun can be had.
Burke has great potential, and Hardaway can be a big factor if he plays within himself. The freshman class is talented, and Michigan should be deeper all over the floor. The loss to Ohio was tough, but the future is bright.
Athlon College Basketball Countdown So Far:
19. Notre Dame
15. San Diego State
14. North Carolina
11. NC State
10. Michigan State
8. Ohio State