Mailbag: Depth, Freshmen, Starters, Neutral Court Games, Back-up Point Guards

ncb_u_mcgary_wm_400[1]Throughout the season we’ll answer your questions that you submit via Twitter, e-mail or Facebook. This week we discuss a number of the freshmen roles, Michigan’s depth situation, a scheduling issue, the back-up point guard position and more.

@Blazefire84: In what game will a particular freshman’s skill set come in extremely handy, and which frosh will that be? For example: Stauskas threes versus a given defense

The first example that comes to mind is Mitch McGary against Pittsburgh. Pitt is one of the true “power” basketball teams that loves to throw the ball up on the rim and then go get it. Jamie Dixon’s team is consistently one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country and despite a down year in the win column, the Panthers ranked third nationally in offensive rebounding last season. Teams like Michigan State and Minnesota have routinely pounded the Wolverines on the glass over the past couple years and this will be the first chance for the “new look” Michigan front line to prove they can compete in a physical game.

Pittsburgh also welcomes a top-10 ranked freshman big man, Steven Adams, so the personal opportunity is there for McGary. It’s worth noting that McGary neutralized Adams in a prep match-up but struggled to score the ball. Observers called that game a wash but it will be interesting to see what the pair can accomplish on the big stage.

Looking ahead to Big Ten play, one match-up that I can’t wait to see is Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas against Glenn Robinson III. Thomas shredded the Wolverines last year to the tune of 59 points (on 22 of 37 shooting) and 24 rebounds in three games. There aren’t many players that can slow down Thomas, one of the elite scorers in the country, but Robinson finally provides Michigan with the sort of athlete that you need to check a dominant combo forward like Thomas.

@Nciohlas: Who’s development over the season do you believe is most important to getting us to the Final Four?

Nik Stauskas. As the roster stands today, finding a true two guard and a peripheral three point threat remains one of my biggest concerns. Whether Tim Hardaway Jr. plays the two or the three, there’s still a need for a consistent shooter on the wing. So many of John Beilein’s offensive principles are rooted in perimeter shooting and Michigan needs a true shooter on this roster. Stauskas has the billings of a shooter but he has to prove that he can do it on the big stage. He has a great opportunity in front of him but will have to continue to develop his entire game, not just shooting but defense, understanding of the offense, ball handling skills and more.

@hooverstreet: Does Michigan’s OOC schedule, with potentially three games in NYC help its national recruiting profile?


It doesn’t hurt, but I’d argue it helps the alumni development team even more. Two of the biggest tools in recruiting are campus visits with a great atmosphere and nationally televised games.

The more big games the better. Whether they are in Hawaii, New York City, Atlanta, an air craft carrier or anywhere in between. High school basketball players watch a lot of basketball and they love to watch big games with ranked teams. Michigan’s games in New York City (at Madison Square Garden for the NIT Tip Off and the Barclays Center against West Virginia) all fit the bill in terms of nationally televised games against fairly high profile teams. I think recruits like to play in these “showcase games” and there’s definitely an additional element of cool at the Barclays Center, given Jay-Z’s backing. Then again, Beilein is never going to top John Calipari’s Jay-Z connections after all.

One overlooked aspect of these neutral court games is that Michigan gains experience playing in professional venues. It’s a different experience and the experience should pay dividends down the line in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.

A marquee home game can also be just as, and probably more, effective of a recruiting tool. A week after its trip to the Garden, Michigan will host North Carolina State as part of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. The Wolfpack are the preseason favorite for the ACC and boast the league’s preseason player (CJ Leslie) and rookie (Rodney Purvis) of the year. That game not only gives Michigan a chance to play on national TV, but also show off Crisler Center both in person with visitors and on TV.

Even watching on TV, it can be a little more impressive to see a packed home arena for a big game than a neutral site. There’s just that extra something special about home court advantage in college basketball. In the end, playing games on the east coast makes a considerable amount of sense for Michigan because of its large alumni base in the region. Michigan can sell tickets, build the base, attract potential donors and continue to improve its east coast presence.

@Vicodin_Tears: which of the four (UM, IU, MSU, OSU) elite big ten teams is most likely to not be in the top 25 by years end, if any?

Indiana was the team that wasn’t quite as good last year, lagging behind the three shared champions. But the Hoosiers’ roster departures are negligible compared to its loaded freshman class and the roster attrition suffered by the league’s other top teams. Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State all lose critical pieces of the puzzle. Jared Sullinger, Draymond Green, Zack Novak, William Buford and Stu Douglass combined to start 259 career Big Ten games and were five of the most important players in the Big Ten last season.

Conventional wisdom has the Hoosiers picked at the top, then Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State in order. I think it would be silly to count out Bo Ryan and Wisconsin from that top group as well. I know the Badgers lose Jordan Taylor but with an All-American freshman forward (Sam Dekker) and a talented returning front court, Ryan should have the Badgers competing in the Big Ten again this year. Don’t forget it was Wisconsin that finished a game out of a share of the championship last season and a game ahead of Indiana. Crazy as it sounds, the last time Wisconsin finished any worse than tied for the fourth in the Big Ten was 2001.

Personally, I’d be surprised if any of the four teams you mentioned weren’t regarded as a six seed, roughly the equivalent of a top-25 ranking, or better come March Madness. Michigan and Ohio State return premiere point guards that are more than capable of achieving big things and should ease the transition to new talent. I’m not ready to pencil Indiana into a conference championship and a Final Four berth but the Hoosier offense will be dominant.

I’d probably go with Michigan State as a “most likely underachiever” simply because the Spartans don’t have a true point guard and lose the guy that not only facilitated the offense last season but led the team and dominated the glass.

@PrepHoopsTV: Who’s your projected starting lineup?

Gun to my head and to start the season, I’ll go with Trey Burke, Matt Vogrich, Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III and Jordan Morgan. I expect that this year will be much different than last, where Michigan essentially used one of two lineups throughout the season, and we’ll see plenty of lineup tinkering throughout the season.

Good column today on 2 posts but a missing perspective in the column was how weak our depth at wing is. In order to not play two posts, we will have put three of the following onto the court:

  • Vogrich,
  • Hardaway
  • Robinson
  • Stauskas
  • LeVert

I assume LeVert isn’t a rotation player, at least in Big 10 season.  So, if you assume 10 minutes of 2 post/game, that means those four wings are going to have to play 27.5 minutes a game (120 minutes across the 2-3-4, minus 10 minutes of two posts equals 110.  Divided by four equals 27.5).

That seems pretty unlikely to me.  Assume Hardaway at 33 minute/game, Robinson is an instant star at 30 min/game, and Stauskas and Vogrich play something like 40 minutes/game between the two of them, that’s a total of 103 minutes of ‘small ball’.  Which means we’re playing two posts for a full half each game.

Two post ain’t gonna be a novelty. Being able to play it productively will determine if we are a 2 seed or a 5 seed.  Huge pressure on McGary/Horford to be able to play as a ‘4’.


You make plenty of strong points about Michigan’s wing depth but things might not be quite as dire as you lay out. Assuming that the “wing” is equivalent to the 2-3-4, (making arguments about whether Hardaway plays the two or not moot) lets look at how the minutes could break out.

Let’s start with last season where John Beilein really only trusted three players at the three wing positions. Here are the Big Ten minutes per game numbers:

Beilein isn’t scared to play a tight rotation, especially in the Big Ten. Now if small ball works that’s probably direction Beilein would go, it’s not crazy to see something similar transpiring. Peg Hardaway for big minutes at the three, split Douglass’s minutes between an improved Vogrich and an impressive Stauskas and then peg Robinson for 30 per game at the four.

If the two post system works, obviously minutes will be distributed much differently. I’m not arguing against that approach, but figure a balanced approach is probably most likely and most effective – especially to open the season. However, I don’t think it’s safe to say that Michigan’s backcourt and wing depth is so debilitating that the Wolverines couldn’t adequately play small ball.

Finally, counting out Caris LeVert for playing time at this point might be a mistake. LeVert has game and even though he’s skinny, make no mistake about the fact that he has impressed since arriving in Ann Arbor. He could just as easily use the somewhat shaky backcourt depth as an opportunity to play himself into minutes as a freshman.

@umhoops did @MitchMcGary4 face Cody Zeller in high school at all and how did he do?

They never faced off in high school. Remember McGary left Chesterton in the Fall of 2010 to attend Brewster for the 2010-11, and 2011-12 seasons and despite their difference in class years, McGary is actually four months older than Zeller. During the 2009-10 season, McGary was a junior at Chesterton and a member of the class of 2011 but he never faced off against Zeller’s Washington team (which went 23-3 en route to a state title). The most likely time the duo would have gone head-to-head was in the summer of 2010 on the AAU circuit when Zeller was playing with Indiana Elite and McGary was with the SYF Players.

McGary’s SYF team also featured current Michigan State Spartans Branden Dawson and Travis and was fairly successful and won a number of tournaments throughout that summer, even some that included Indiana Elite as well, but I’m unable to find any recap or mention of SYF playing against Zeller’s Indiana Elite group.

The match-up should be fun this season. Zeller is a eizard of efficiency and fundamentals, scoring easily with a refined game while McGary is almost the polar opposite, relying on sheer power, energy and aggression to fuel his game.

@phunkymarco Who’s first to sub for Trey Burke and how many minutes will they play for Trey…thanks!!
Matthew Huizinga on Facebook: Who plays the one  when Burke needs a rest?

I would say there are three primary candidates: Spike Albecht, Eso Akunne and Nik Stauskas. Beilein stressed at Media Day that he wants to get Burke rest and thinks Albrecht might be an option.

“Last year there was really no one that really felt comfortable in that situation, so it was I know Trey is tired but let’s call a timeout and get them some rest and make sure they are going to bed on time,” Beilein explained. “We have a lot of confidence in those two that we can use those 40 minutes more productively than we have in the past, where we don’t have to use a timeout, even if it is a couple minutes rest. We love what we are seeing from Spike (Albrecht), we do”

Early on in the season, I suspect they’ll all get an opportunity or two in game situations. Albrecht is a natural point guard, but is going to be a liability defensively. Akunne has game experience but might be a low ceiling option. Finally, it might be a stretch for Stauskas to spend time learning the two and the three while also trying to play spot minutes at the point guard.

I’m not sure Michigan has a great option, and certainly not a strong enough option to dramatically reduce Trey Burke’s playing time. Last year Burke was on the floor 89.2% of Michigan’s minutes and an even more dramatic 92.6% in Big Ten games. Only John Shurna, Tim Frazier and Jordan Taylor played more minutes in league games.

I’m taking a wait and see approach. Sure, Beilein will give everyone a try but in a close game can you really justify taking Burke off the court? Perhaps the better option will be to hope his 15 pounds of added muscle come with some extra endurance.

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