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Hoops Preview 2012-13: The Rotation, Part I
Previously: Early Outlook
It may be the middle of football season, but it's already time to gear up for basketball; Michigan tips off the 2012-13 season against Northern Michigan on November 1st, a scant three weeks from yesterday. Leading up to the opener I'll be doing a comprehensive preview, starting with a look at the rotation—guards/wings today, bigs next week—and then moving on to the schedule, a look at the Big Ten competition, and important questions facing the team this season.
Let's take a look at the guards/wings, shall we?
Returners: PG Trey Burke, SG/SF Tim Hardaway Jr., PG Eso Akunne, SG/SF Matt Vogrich, SG Josh Bartlestein, SG Corey Person
Departures: SG Stu Douglass
Newcomers: PG Spike Albrecht, SG Nik Stauskas, SG Caris Levert
Note: Freshman Glenn Robinson III could easily—and probably should be—included in this post with the wings, but since he's expected to see time at the four and there are more guards/wings than bigs on the roster, he'll be featured in next week's post.
#3 TREY BURKE (Soph.)
Ht./Wt.: 6'0", 190 lbs.
2011-12 Key Stats: 34 GP (33 GS), 14.8 points/game, 4.6 assists/game, 49.0 2P%, 34.8 3P%, 28.7% assist rate, 1.7 FC/40
Michigan received a huge scare over the offseason when it appeared that Burke would declare for the NBA Draft, but he's returned for at least one more season in the Maize and Blue after earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors from the media in 2011-12. Despite the presence of Tim Hardaway Jr., it was Burke who became the team's go-to guy down the stretch as the season wore on, notably hitting an improbable floater over Jared Sullinger to seal a win over Ohio State and exploding for 30 points against Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament.
Despite being much smaller than his point guard predecessor, Darius Morris, Burke showed the ability last season to score in a variety of ways, including getting to the basket off the pick-and-roll. While his outside shooting stroke lacked consistency, he still managed to hit nearly 35% of his threes, and Slam Magazine declared that area of his game "improved" after June's Nike Skills Camp. Given his adept passing, if Burke is able to become a ~40% three-point shooter he'll be as lethal a point guard as there is in the country.
If there's one area to improve upon offensively, it's Burke's ability to handle the hard hedge on the pick-and-roll; he struggled with turnovers when teams doubled hard with a big off the screen. That's an area that will improve with experience, though Burke's lack of size means that will still be the way to most effectively limit him.
Defensively, Burke impressed for a freshman; he very rarely fouls (just 1.7 committed per 40 minutes) and is quick enough to stay in front of just about anyone. He hounded Wisconsin standout Jordan Taylor into a 12-point outing on just 5-15 shooting in a victory last January, impressively shutting down the bigger Taylor on multiple post-up attempts; his size belies his strength, and he'll only get stronger after adding ten pounds in the offseason.
Burke is in line to compete for first-team All-America honors this season; he's the proverbial straw that stirs the drink in Beilein's pick-and-roll-heavy offense, and he's no slouch defensively, either.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the guards and wings, including Tim Hardaway Jr. and a trio of talented freshmen.]
#2 SPIKE ALBRECHT (Fr.)
Ht./Wt.: 5'11", 170 lbs.
John Beilein mentioned Albrecht—an AAU teammate of Mitch McGary—on media day as a player he trusts to spell Burke as the primary ballhandler, something Michigan didn't have last season outside of now-departed Stu Douglass; as a result, Burke played just under 90% of the team's available minutes. The hope this year is that Albrecht can give the team a good 5-10 minutes per game at the point, alleviating some of the pressure on Burke to handle the ball for practically the entire game.
As long as Michigan doesn't ask too much from him, Albrecht should be able to handle this. UMHoops caught up with Adam Finklestein of the New England Scouting Report to get some insight on the young point guard in the wake of his commitment:
He’s an old-school style pass first point guard. He’s very cerebral with a high basketball I.Q. His best physical attribute is his endurance – he can play all day – but he isn’t especially explosive. He’s a threat with the three-point line but not a great shooter. He takes care of the ball, makes very good decisions, and knows how to run a team.
As you can see in the above highlights, Albrecht doesn't wow physically, but he's crafty with the basketball and displays surprising finishing ability around the basket with both hands; while I don't expect him to look to score much this year, he's not incapable of doing so by any stretch.
On the defensive end, size may be an issue, as Albrecht stands at just 5'11" and doesn't have much bulk at this juncture. How well he can hold up on that end will go a long way towards determining how comfortable Beilein is bringing him off the bench when it comes to critical stretches of Big Ten play.
#5 ESO AKUNNE (Sr.)
Ht./Wt.: 6'2", 225 lbs.
Akunne may be asked to be the primary point guard backup early in the season as Albrecht gets acclimated to the college game, but I don't expect him to be a major factor in the rotation come conference play. While Akunna displayed a solid shooting stroke last year, hitting seven of his eight shots (4-5 from three), that's likely a bit of an anomaly, and he turned the ball over four times in just 48 minutes; he struggled to handle the ball when faced with any sort of pressure. Quicker guards give Akunne a lot of trouble on the defensive end, as well. If Albrecht can't handle backup point guard duties, it'll likely fall upon Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Tim Hardaway Jr. to pick up the slack before Akunne is asked to handle major minutes.
#10 TIM HARDAWAY JR. (Jr.)
Ht./Wt.: 6'6", 206 lbs.
2011-12 Key Stats: 34 GP (34 GS), 14.6 points/game, 3.8 reb/game, 53.5 2P%, 28.3 3P%, 14.4% TO rate, 37.8% FT rate
After a freshman season that promised superstardom down the road, Hardaway's up-and-down sophomore campaign could only be called a disappointment despite some solid production. After connecting on 36.7% of his threes as a freshman, Hardaway's outside shooting plummeted to the tune of just 28.3% from beyond the arc, and he often settled for maddening long twos to boot with similarly ineffective results. He was inconsistent defensively, as well, with questions cropping up surrounding his effort on that end of the floor.
It wasn't all bad, however; Hardaway still posed a dangerous threat when he decided to attack inside the arc, posting a solid 53.5% mark on two-point shots. Late-season outbursts against Illinois (25 points on 6-7 FGs, 9-10 FTs) and Minnesota (20 points on 6-14 FGs, 7-8 FTs) in a pair of Michigan victories showed a player regaining confidence in his shot and a better idea of where and when to use it; they also instilled hope that an ugly 4-10 performance from the line against Northwestern was an aberration.
When Hardaway is playing within himself and taking smart shots, he's as dangerous a scorer as there is in the Big Ten, with the athleticism to get to the rack and finish with authority and an outside shot that gives defenders the difficult choice of closing hard or hanging back to prevent the drive. Hardaway worked hard in the offseason to add bulk and improve his ballhandling, which should make him an even tougher matchup, especially at the two.
While Hardaway has all the physical tools to be a strong defender, he didn't always put in the requisite effort last season. He claimed at media day to be rededicated to excelling on that end of the floor; he'll be called upon to play both the two and the three this season, and given the youth on this team he'll often draw an opponent's best scorer. How well that goes is largely up to him.
Hardaway, like Burke, should be in the thick of the race for first-team All-Conference honors and could compete for All-American status if he regains his outside shot.
#11 NIK STAUSKAS (Fr.)
Ht./Wt.: 6'6", 190 lbs.
If you're looking for the freshman who best fits the Beilein mold, it's Nik Stauskas, a lanky swingman with a deadly shot—on YouTube you can find him hitting 95 threes in five minutes (including 38 in a row!) and draining 27 of 32 shots from 28(!) feet. His high school highlights above and numerous camp reports confirm that he's an ideal fit in this offense and perhaps the best shooter to come to Michigan since... um... Louis Bullock? He's also capable of attacking the rim; this camp report from July 2011 echoes the notion that Stauskas is perfectly suited to play for Beilein ($):
Nik Stauskas, SG/SF- Talk about a perfect fit for Michigan, the future Wolverine would appear to be a natural for the Wolverines style of ball. A versatile perimeter performer, he can drain long distance J's or burn right by defenders who don't respect his ability to attack the rim. He's tough, rebounds and appears committed to at least trying on the defensive end.
Okay, so that bit at the end suggests there will be an adjustment period on defense, but think of the threes, man.
While Scout stayed put with their junior-year ranking of Stauskas as a three-star recruit, he rose all the way to 83rd overall on ESPN and 79th on Rivals, suggesting that he can make an impact right away. Given his skill set, that's the expectation; his solid ball-handling means he could see time at either backcourt spot, and he's got the rebounding chops to even get some run at the three. He's already wowed in open gym by knocking down 78 of 91 three-pointers in Michigan's "50 in five" drill, and he's legitimately in the debate for most impactful freshman with McGary and Robinson.
While Michigan has had players with the reputation of being outside shooters, they still haven't had a lights-out guy from beyond the arc under Beilein. Stauskas could very well be that player, and he should see significant minutes off the bench this season, possibly sliding right into the sixth-man role. If he lives up to his potential, he adds an offensive weapon that nobody else on the team can provide.
#13 MATT VOGRICH (Sr.)
Ht./Wt.: 6'4", 200 lbs.
Key 2011-12 Stats: 56.5 2P%, 30.2 3P%
After connecting at a 38.9% clip from long range in his first two seasons, Vogrich knocked down just 16-of-53 three-pointers last season. He did, however, show a Novakian ability to sneak in for rebounds and give full effort on defense, finding a way to contribute even when his shot wasn't falling.
Given his prior shooting stats, I'm inclined to believe that Vogrich will return to being the dangerous three-point threat he was as an underclassman. He's got valuable versatility as a player who can contribute anywhere from shooting guard through (undersized, again Novakian) power forward, though he likely won't be asked to do the latter given Michigan's new-found depth up front. Vogrich gives this team experience in the offense, very solid outside shooting, and impressive hustle; he'll be a more-than-adequate eighth man who should find a role in the rotation.
#23 CARIS LEVERT (Fr.)
Ht./Wt.: 6'5", 170 lbs.
Michigan got a certain level of revenge for their NCAA Tournament loss by flipping LeVert from OHIO in May, making him the fifth commitment in the lauded 2012 class. A late bloomer, LeVert didn't even start for his high school team—Pickerington Central, also home to 2013 football commit Taco Charlton—until midway through his junior season; by his senior year he was leading Central to a state title while taking home JJ Huddle Ohio Player of the Year honors (previous five winners: Trey Burke, Jared Sullinger, William Buford, B.J. Mullens, and Jon Diebler).
Stauskas called LeVert a natural scorer at media day, and the evaluations back him up:
Levert (6’4.5) is a silky smooth combo guard. Levert is an absolute killer on the offensive end using a series of dribble drive mid and long range pull ups off his signature deadly crossover. Can score in bunches! Has tremendous length and deceiving strength which allows him to score over almost all high school defenders. He was at his best against the best competition in the state en route to the D1 state title. He is comfortable attacking the basket as well and his athleticism is more than serviceable around the rim. Capable of playing the point if need be. Decent defender as his length makes up for any lack of lateral movement. Kid just has the feel of a late bloomer who could one day be a pro.
Not bad for a late pickup. LeVert could see time at the two or the point in the rotation, though his minutes will largely be determined by how well he can hold up defensively with his rail-thin frame. As a possible ninth man in the rotation, however, LeVert provides a plausible scoring threat and another player who can handle the rock; given his late-bloomer status, there's also the possibility that he far exceeds expectations, though that seems more likely to happen as a sophomore after a year of hitting the weights.
#20 JOSH BARTLESTEIN (Sr.) and #32 COREY PERSON (R-Sr.)
Given Michigan's depth and talent, a pair of human victory cigars, as well as two guys who have been lauded for their leadership in the locker room.