"Rodrick Williams Jr.'s 10-month old, 2-foot-long savannah monitor named "Kill" gets the RB some strange looks when they go for walks together."
2013-14 basketball preview
2013-14 Preview Coverage
Media Day Wrap: Beilein transcript + interviews with Horford, Morgan, Walton, GRIII
Position Previews: Bigs, Wings, Point Guards
Preview Podcast: With special guest John Gasaway
A Whole Damn Book: A whole damn book
Tonight's Game Info
What: Michigan vs. UMass-Lowell
Where: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan
When: 7pm, Friday (Banner raising ceremony at 6:40)
Line: Michigan -25 (KenPom)
TV: Big Ten Digital Network (subcription required)/MGoBlueTV (ditto)
Radio: 950 AM (Detroit), 102.9 FM (Ann Arbor), Sirius Channel 92, MGoBlue stream
UMass-Lowell is making their Division I debut after finishing 15-13 (10-12) as a member of the Northeast-10 (Division II) last year. A full-blown game preview is rather unnecessary.
"If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties." — Sir Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning
As Michigan opens its season tonight against UMass-Lowell, I'm certain of two things about this team: they're raising a Final Four banner tonight, and they will be good.
The first is indisputable fact, not to mention a significant reason why it's easy to state the second: John Beilein's squad returns eight players (three starters, four more rotation guys) from a team that came within a half of requiring a bigger, fancier banner. Among those are two players garnering preseason All-American consideration, arguably the best shooter in America, a backup point guard who dropped 17 points in the first half of the title game, two experienced big men, and a sophomore oozing so much potential that he forced his way onto the court last year despite appearing malnourished.
On top of that, Michigan boasts one of the best coaching staffs in the country and bring in two top-flight recruits who will contribute immediately, one of whom (PG Derrick Walton) has already secured a starting role. They will be good, even without Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway.
How good depends on a number of factors, however, and for every certainty there is an equal and opposite uncertainty.
Certainty: Mitch McGary is one of the most skilled, impactful centers in college basketball.
Uncertainty: When will he be able to return from his back "condition", and will it hamper him once he returns? (Also: how much do we weigh his tournament run versus his regular-season output?)
Certainty: Glenn Robinson III is an incredible athlete who had an exceptionally efficient freshman season.
Uncertainty: Can Robinson create his own shot, and can he stay so efficient with a bigger role?
Certainty: Beilein will try to play more two-big lineups this year.
Uncertainty: Will this work, especially with all the practice time McGary has missed? With all the talent on the wings, is it even worth trying?
Certainty: Caris LeVert is getting massive practice hype for the second straight year and looks like a potential breakout star as a shooting guard and part-time point.
Uncertainty: Will his practice/exhibition exploits translate to actual production against real opponents this year?
Certainty: Nik Stauskas is a great shooter; also: Not Just A Shooter.
Uncertainty: Can his lethal efficiency as a three-point shooter and pick-and-roll ballhandler continue when he's the team's first or second scoring option?
Certainty: Michigan is starting an extremely talented freshman point guard.
Uncertainty: Michigan is starting an extremely talented freshman point guard.
The list goes on and on*, and I'm okay with this. The uncertainty surrounding the football team this year has largely stemmed from "can this non-functional unit become functional"-type questions. The uncertainty surrounding the basketball team, on the other hand, is more of the "can this good thing become great" variety.
If the pieces all fall into place, Michigan is a national title contender once again. If they don't, this is still a team capable of winning the Big Ten (so long as Michigan State doesn't go full juggernaut, at least), and barring a rash of injuries they'll be a fun team to watch. None of us have any idea what's going to happen; it's still all but guaranteed to be more rewarding than watching this year's football team. Sit back and enjoy Michigan's status as one of the nation's elite programs, one that reloads instead of rebuilds, and savor that banner. We'll worry about certainties another time.
*Will the team's added functional size and experience on the wings equal better defensive performance, for example.
Previously: Preview MGoPodcast with John Gasaway, Media Day Wrap, Bigs, Wings (Also, BUY HTTV BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE. There's more great preview content in there than I can possibly cover in a sequence of blog posts.)
With the bigs and wings already covered, that leaves just the point guards to preview. Michigan has two very good options here, plus a third (Caris LeVert) that can be used situationally. Will their powers combined equal that of Trey Burke? Well, no, that's simply unreasonable. Will they still be pretty darn good? This blog says yes.
This looks pleasantly familiar.
Measurables: 6'1", 185
Recruiting Rankings: 247Composite #10 PG, #45 overall
The 2013 Michigan Gatorate Player of the Year winner and Mr. Basketball finalist officially took up the now-hallowed mantle of Michigan Starting Point Guard this week, when John Beilein gave Walton the nod over Spike Albrecht in the exhibition finale against Wayne State. The freshman ranked as high as #30 overall (and no lower than #67) depending on your recruiting site of preference. There were a few common threads in the various scouting reports on him:
- First and foremost, he's a pass-first point guard that keeps everyone involved. Scout hailed him as a "true point guard" whose court vision makes his teammates better. ESPN called him a "true point guard [that] can control the game" in their evaluation. Rivals didn't quite get the memo, calling him "one of 2013's top pure point men," after an AAU tournament last May ($). Whether true or pure, guard or man, Walton is certainly a natural fit at the one, and he'll look to distribute more than his predecessor.
- Walton can score, especially at the perimeter. Scout's report lists three-point range as a positive. ESPN also discusses his outside shooting in a good light and adds that he's got a solid mid-range game. The Rivals article cited above notes his ability to score from the outside or around the basket. When he decides it's time to score, Walton is capable, though it's unfair to compare him to Trey Burke in this regard. (That goes for just about everything, actually.) Early returns here are positive: Walton hit 3 of 7 three-pont attempts in the two exhibition games and looked very confident in his shot; yes, I'll acknowledge that's a tiny sample size.
- At the very least, Walton is going to give plenty of effort on defense, and while Scout lists his size and defensive ability in the "areas for improvement" section, that sentiment isn't echoed elsewhere. ESPN loves his toughness and competitive drive on both ends of the floor. Rivals cites his on-ball defense as a major factor in his lofty ranking. In the two exhibition games, Walton has two Burke-esque halfcourt steals and looks like he's well ahead of where Burke was defensively at this early stage.
There's also his leadership; while most AAU squads are disjointed at best, Walton's Michigan Mustangs won a major tournament in Las Vegas thanks to taking on the identity of their point guard, per Rivals's Eric Bossi ($):
It's only fitting that the Michigan Mustangs took home the 17 and under crown at the Adidas Super 64. ... Taking their cue from tough-as-nails floor general and tournament MVP Derrick Walton, the entire Mustangs team played with toughness, togetherness and a unified purpose. Frankly, there weren't enough teams in Las Vegas -- or any of our other stops between April and July -- that played with the same purpose as the Mustangs so it's good to see their efforts result in a big tournament victory.
Bossi's evaluation of Walton's play in that tournament was glowing, to say the least ($):
Setting the tone for the Mustangs was four-star point guard Derrick Walton. The Michigan bound guard was an absolute stud on both ends of the floor. He went right at defenders' chests on drives, dimed up his teammates with pinpoint passes, defended at a high level and generally played with a level of confidence that allowed him to do whatever he wanted to do.
One strength of Walton's that's become immediately apparent is his ability to push the pace and control the tempo of the game; he's always looking to run when he gets an outlet pass (or a defensive rebound—he had seven combined in the two exhibitions) and that resulted in a lot of easy transition buckets for Michigan. When McGary—and his Unseldian outlets—returns to the court, the fast break could become one of Michigan's primary offensive weapons.
Golden Age Rap Song That Describes His Game/Impact: "For My Dogs" — DMX
And I'm gonna be the one behind just to keep you on your toes
I be your extra eyes and hold you down around your foes
I be your extra gun you need me let me know
For my dogs I be the first to cock it back and let it go
Walton isn't going to be the first option on this team; he's going to let his teammates know he's got their back, however—whether that comes in the form of assists, timely buckets, or giving his all on defense.
The Bottom Line: Walton is a freshman point guard, and that means he's going to make the occasional mistake on both ends of the court. The difference between Walton and other point guards of recent vintage is that there are other options—not only is Spike Albrecht a viable starter on a solid team, Caris LeVert is quickly emerging as a serious drive-and-kick threat playing the point in bigger lineups. Walton is the starter and should be for the duration; on this team, that means he's going to be pretty good, even if he's the fourth or fifth option on the court whose primary job is to distribute—think Yogi Ferrell on last year's Indiana team, except hopefully with a more consistent outside shot.
[Hit THE JUMP for SPIKE.]
Previously: Preview MGoPodcast with John Gasaway, Media Day Wrap, Bigs (Also, BUY HTTV BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE. There's more great preview content in there than I can possibly cover in a sequence of blog posts.)
Before I get into previewing the shooting guard and small forward types, here's some info on tonight's exhibition against Concordia since there won't be a full-blown game preview for reasons that should be self-evident.
Who: Michigan vs. Concordia
Where: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
When: 7 pm Eastern
TV/Radio: Streaming on MGoBlue (subscription required) and Big Ten Digital Network (game listed as free for now, but may require a subscription). Radio info here.
Alright. On to the wings, where the four players expected to rotate in at the two and three (and some point guard and power forward, too) all have star potential.
Glenn Robinson III
Measurables: 6'6", 220
Base Stats: 33.6 minutes, 11.0 points, 65/32/68 2P/3P/FT%, 5.4 rebounds
Key Advanced Metrics: 15.2% usage, 7.8 OR%, 10.0 TO%, 67% of FGs assisted
As the fourth or fifth offensive option last year (depending on Mitch McGary's ascension point), GRIII ended the season with a very small usage number and absolutely bananas efficiency—his 128.4 offensive rating ranked tenth in the country. The big question—and perhaps the key to Michigan's season—is whether Robinson can continue to be so efficient without the benefit of Trey Burke creating open dunk after open dunk. A full two-thirds of Robinson's field goals last year were assisted, and most of the ones that weren't were putbacks following offensive rebounds; if someone kept track of baskets per dribble ratio, Robinson likely would've led the country in that stat.
For Robinson to become the lead dog that his NBA lottery projections suggest he should be, he'll have to become much more effective and assertive as a creator off the dribble—if he can consistently get himself to the basket, his ridiculous vertical and excellent finishing will lead to plenty of points, especially if he develops his decent—but thus far inconsistent—outside shot. Reports from the summer have been mixed in this regard. Robinson attended several camps and wasn't mentioned as a standout nor as one of the more assertive players. ESPN's Jeff Goodman, however, took a tour of the country's top programs and named GRIII the most impressive player he saw over the likes of Marcus Smart, Andrew Wiggins, and Adreian Payne ($):
Michigan's Glenn Robinson III was the most impressive player of anyone I saw on the trip. GR3 will see more time at his natural position, small forward, this season. The 6-7 Robinson has added weight and become more athletic.
The questions regarding the son of the "Big Dog" were about his perimeter shot and ability to put the ball on the floor. Robinson buried deep jumper after deep jumper and appears far more comfortable at the 3-spot in John Beilein's offense. It's still yet to be determined whether this aspect of his skill set will translate in games, but it's a good sign with Robinson more assertive on the offensive end. If he can gain a consistent jumper to go with his athleticism, he'll almost certainly be a lottery pick.
If Mitch McGary is healthy and Michigan gets that GRIII, all bets are off regarding this team's ceiling. Another data point in favor of "eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee" comes from assistant coach Jeff Meyer, who noted that Robinson has made great strides as a ballhandler and distributor:
“He’s worked very diligently in July — we kind of shifted and allowed the best point guard coach in the country [LaVall Jordan] to work with Glenn, with his ball handling. Vall did a great job of putting him through a series of skill development drills,” Meyer said. “Glenn on his own has really worked hard at improving in that area, which is putting the ball on the floor. I think, in terms of the first 15 practices, his ability to take the ball end-to-end with the bounce has definitely improved, his ability to negotiate ball screens, reading the defense and then playing based on what the defense is giving has improved. Through our first 15 practices, I think he’s at 16 assists to three turnovers, so he’s really improved in that area and I know he’s taken a lot of pride in improving in that area.”
This leads to another major question about Robinson, and that's where he'll play the majority of his minutes this year. With McGary dinged up to start the season and John Beilein's preference to bring along freshmen slowly if possible (see: McGary, Mitch), Robinson should reprise his role as a stretch four, especially early in the season. The coaches are very serious about incorporating more two-post lineups—including the starting lineup—and when McGary is healthy that means Robinson could slide down to the three, a much more natural defensive position for him (in Beilein's offense, the three and the four essentially mirror each other).
A move down to the three could greatly benefit GRIII defensively, where he struggled as a freshman last year, especially when trying to defend larger players. A lot of that was due to the usual freshman issues: Robinson got caught ball-watching regularly and often looked unsure of his assignment. A year of experience will help, as will the 10-15 pounds of muscle he added during the offseason—when he does play the four, that'll really come into play.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]
Before I post a partial transcript of John Beilein's press conference, a few player interviews, and photo galleries from both Eric and Bryan, here are my main takeaways from yesterday's basketball media day:
- First and foremost, John Beilein is serious about playing two bigs and having a lot of lineup versatility—this sentiment echoed from Beilein himself down through the players, almost all of whom discussed playing multiple roles in some capacity. Everything from Walton/Spike/Stauskas/GRIII/McGary to LeVert/Stauskas/GRIII/McGary/Morgan is on the table; this team can play small or go very, very big—both Stauskas and LeVert are capable of running the point.
- Mitch McGary's health is a major question mark. Beilein isn't sure if he'll be ready for the first exhibition game—it certainly didn't seem like it—and would only say he's "day-to-day" when asked about a timetable. When asked about the nature of the injury, McGary responded that it wasn't an injury, but a "lower back condition" that the team is being cautious about right now. That's obviously a point of concern, even though McGary maintained that he felt good about where he's at right now and the upcoming season. He's definitely missing critical practice time—Beilein noted that he hasn't had a chance to practice his perimeter defense, a crucial area for improvement if McGary is going to be able to play the four.
- The physical development of the sophomores has been rather remarkable. Glenn Robinson III's improved vertical is getting a lot of attention—yes, he touched 12'3", maxing out Michigan's device for measuring vertical leaps—and similar gains have been made by Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert. All three look noticeably more muscular; though LeVert is still very much on the skinny side, he's no longer rail-thin, and Stauskas appears capable of playing the three if need be. GRIII, meanwhile, looks the part of an NBA player.
- When asked about their new break-the-huddle mantra this year, Beilein responded that it's simply "champions"—whether that applies to the Puerto Rico Invitational, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the Big Ten regular- and post-season crowns, or even loftier goals. Last year's team took the expectations to an entirely new level; it's clear this team is comfortable with that.
For direct quotes from Beilein, player interviews with Jon Horford, Jordan Morgan, and Derrick Walton, and photo galleries from media day, hit the jump.
Michigan opens the season on—[checks
watch smartphone]—oh lord, Tuesday, so it's time to get to this previewin' business. Of course, we already have an entire book dedicated to this, and you should probably check that out, as it goes into far more detail than I'm capable of doing here.
I'm dividing up the team like we did in the book for the positional previews: bigs, wings, and point guards. For the purposes of this preview, I'm considering Glenn Robinson III a wing, though he'll get plenty of run as the nominal power forward when Michigan goes to a smaller, more Beilein-friendly lineup. On that note, let's start with the men up front.
Measurables: 6'10", 255
Base Stats: 19.7 minutes, 7.5 points, 59.8 FG%, 44.2 FT%, 6.3 rebounds
Key Advanced Metrics: 16.0 OR% (10th nationally), 22.4 DR% (86th), 3.9 Blk%, 2.4 Stl%
After Jordan Morgan's ankle injury near the end of the 2012-13 regular season, Mitch McGary ascended from highly-touted freshman energy guy to do-everything future All-American with a remarkable run in the NCAA tournament. McGary averaged 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds in the Big Dance, dished out six assists (previous career high: two) to break the vaunted Syracuse 2-3 zone in the national semifinal, recorded eight steals in two games against Kansas and Florida, and generally performed like a guy once considered a top-two prospect in his class.
The tournament performance vaulted McGary onto just about every preseason All-American list, often as the first-team center. That's a lot of hype generated largely by a six-game stretch, though McGary—who started his freshman year slow after an injury hampered his conditioning—displayed flashes of greatness from the get-go, pulling down rebounds and forcing turnovers at a very high rate all season.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the big man breakdown, with some bonus '90s rap nostalgia.]