What to watch for: Saginaw Valley State

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Photo: MGoBlue

Michigan takes the court tonight for its second and final exhibition contest of the preseason slate. The Wolverines will host Saginaw Valley State in a final tune up before the season opener on Friday night against Slippery Rock.  Saginaw Valley State is picked to finish 7th in the GLIAC North, one spot ahead of the Northern Michigan team that the Wolverines beat last Thursday.

Senior guard Chris Webb is the name to note, the Saginaw Arthur Hill graduate is a preseason first team All-GLIAC North selection and led the Cardinals with 14.2 points per game last season. Michigan should expect to handle Saginaw Valley State with relative ease before moving onto the season opener at the end of the week.

The full lineup debuts

Michigan breezed past Northern Michigan despite lacking its starting point guard and preseason All-American Trey Burke. In the second exhibition of the season, the Wolverines will have a chance to trot out their full line-up with Burke back in the backcourt.

Burke is expected to play and start and his presence will give fans a first chance to see this Michigan team with its full repertoire of tools. Michigan’s offense was still efficient (scoring 1.31 points per possession) with Spike Albrecht (16 points and six assists) filling in admirably for Burke, but should be able to reach another level with its star and backcourt leader back in the mix.

With Burke on the floor, look for his chemistry with Michigan’s big men in pick-and-roll scenarios along with his connection with Tim Hardaway Jr. in the backcourt. It will also be interesting to see if Michigan finds more opportunities to run with Burke at the helm.

Early rotation emerging

It’s still early, but the start of a rotation might be slowly emerging. Judging off of the first exhibition game, the top nine spots on the depth chart could look something like this:

  • 1: Burke/Albrecht
  • 2: Hardway
  • 3: Vogrich/Stauskas
  • 4: Robinson
  • 5: Morgan/McGary/(Horford)

Will John Beilein do any major tinkering with the rotation in exhibition game number two or will he ride with this group of nine? A nine man rotation that Beilein trusts would be a far cry from the seven man group that he relied on last season, when Michigan ranked 337th nationally in bench minutes played.

Experimenting with backcourt positions

The last several weeks of preseason have been filled with discussion over John Beilein experimenting with his new look roster, especially with who will play the off guard this upcoming season. The answer in the first game was clear: Tim Hardaway Jr.

Hardaway played almost exclusively at the two-guard in the Wolverines’ preseason opener after playing at the three for the first two years of his career. Hardaway had a solid performance, tallying 13 points, eight rebounds and five assists with zero turnovers in 29 minutes. Nik Stauskas and Matt Vogrich split time at the three position. After the game, Beilein explained that there’s flexibility between who can play the two and the three.

“Nik [Stauskas] now knows both the two and the three, as we experiment with things.” Beilein explained. “I think you can see he sees the floor very well; I want him to take the ball and make some plays.”

Look for Beilein to further tinker with the wing rotation in the second exhibition, as it would be nice to see what Stauskas can do at the two and Hardaway can do at his native three position after an off season of improvement.

Will we see Jon Horford (or a true two post offense)?

Jon Horford missed Michigan’s first exhibition game with an injured knee and John Beilein wasn’t sure when he’d be back. Reports have been that Horford has showed off an improved all around game this fall in practice and it would be great for the Wolverine big man to find some health and get some preseason exhibition run.

His absence is likely one of the primary reasons that Michigan didn’t experiment with much true two post offense in Thursday’s opening exhibition. Glenn Robinson III started at the four and played 23 minutes while Max Bielfeldt and Blake McLimans accounted for the rest of the game at the four.

We didn’t see Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary on the floor at the same time except for the very end of the game. If Horford is healthy, perhaps that gives Beilein the option to finally go with two of Morgan, McGary and Horford on the court at the same time. If Horford isn’t healthy, expect to see healthy doses of Robinson at the four for the time being.

Final auditions?

Tonight’s game will provide a huge opportunity for Caris LeVert, Blake McLimans and Max Bielfeldt as it might be their final opportunity to impress the Michigan coaches in a game format before being worked out of the rotation.

LeVert is a redshirt candidate, given his 6-foot-5, 170 pound frame, while McLimans and Bielfeldt seem destined for spot minutes due to Michigan’s new frontcourt depth. LeVert appears to be a candidate for the 3rd point guard slot while McLimans and Bielfeldt are both battling over back-up minutes at the four position.

The trio played between 8 and 11 minutes each in the first game but with Burke back in the mix, expect a crunch on minutes across the board.

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