John Beilein hopes to stay flexible with big and small lineup options


Michigan 61, Syracuse 56-9
Dustin Johnston

Last season, as Mitch McGary developed into a solid option at center, John Beilein found himself with some newfound flexibility.

For a long time, Michigan had so few serviceable bigs that the 6-foot-4 Zack Novak four years as a power forward. Even last season, Glenn Robinson III was Michigan’s preferred power forward option at just 6-foot-6, decidedly out of position.

But with McGary at the five and the possibility of Jordan Morgan playing the four, Beilein could either play big or small, instead of play small out of necessity. Alas, the experiment was mostly cut short with Morgan’s ankle injury against Illinois.

This season brings the possibility of continuing the two-big experiment. Michigan would like to play Robinson at the three position — it’s where he’s most comfortable and probably where he can be most productive. While that would necessitate playing two big men, Beilein said on Thursday that he plans on maintaining flexibility with the lineup — in fact any given lineup depends in a large part upon the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing team.

“I think it’ll be as flexible as we’ve always been and play what’s best,” Beilein said. “I said on the radio this morning: we played 28 teams last year, and 18 of them played small. 18 of them, and these are approximate numbers, had a stretch four that you have to chase around the perimeter, whether it’s Adreian Payne or the young man from South Dakota State. VCU had a stretch four.”

Stretch fours are matchup problems, generally. Michigan found itself without a stretch four in the true sense — Robinson could hit from long range and make plays from the perimeter, but his lack of size was a detriment.

Mitch McGary’s skill set, and hopeful development this summer, could lead to him seeing minutes at the four.

“Glenn was sort of (a stretch four), he could shoot from outside,” Beilein said. “I think Mitch is working really hard at being able to shoot from distance.”

Beilein was quick to point out that there is a lot of coaching that goes into the decision to play big or small. Many factors contribute to the decision, and there’s no sure-fire way to always know the right move. It depends on how the opposing team is playing you and the skill development of your own players.

The recently-concluded NBA Finals served as an excellent example of the pros and cons of playing big or small.

“If you watch the NBA Championship, that’s probably the biggest chess match going on right now — how big one team is playing over another,” Beilein said. “You don’t go into a season saying we’re going to play big, we’re going to play small. You have to wait and see what people can do. We have freshmen. What can they handle? How can the coaches tweak it to their strength?”

One thing’s for sure: Beilein is not nearly as concerned about the decision to play big as Michigan’s fan base appears to be.

“It seems to be a lot of concern for everybody, it’s not really a concern for us. How can we develop our players so that number one we can win, and number two for professional play. Because that’s obviously a huge recruiting draw for us.”

Michigan may play big, and it may play small. What’s so different about the upcoming season is that they will likely have the option to do either. Much of that possibility depends on McGary’s development this summer — if he enters the season with a consistent midrange shot and improved decision-making, it could free up Robinson to play his desired position.

“Hopefully this is as flexible as we’re going to be, because of what Glenn’s been able to accomplish and his growth,” Beilein said. “We recruited Glenn to play the three position. We’ll see how people play us and we’ll see how everybody develops over the summer. It’s not about the number — it’s where you’re development is and how we can assist in that.”

  • Daniel

    His statement about using players in a way that will work with the pros seems like a departure from past Beilein, whose opinion seemed a lot closer to “We’re just going to try to win, and let players create their own draft stock.” I think it’s a change he has to make, but it’s worth noting the apparent change.

  • mikey_mac

    Donnal is the X-factor here … If he avoids a red-shirt season and can play 15 minutes a game at 4, GR3 can easily slide to 3 for the bulk of his minutes. The roster logjam will make this difficult, however, unless he picks up the system quickly. As is, Bielfeldt is on the outside looking in for anything beyond garbage time, and even Horford will have a hard time seeing more than a few minutes a game.

    • BlueBasketeer

      Minutes will be hard to come by for the bigs, in all likelihood. Assuming McGary gets 30-35 minutes a game and Morgan 20-25, that leaves maybe 15 at the most for the other three, and that’s assuming that we play a second big 3/4 of the time (which we may not). An abundance of depth is a good problem to have.

      • Willie Mitchell

        Morgan, McGary….bench – Horford, Donnal…Beifeldt…i hate to say it but Max Beifeldt may be lost in the shuffle…even though im pulling for him, he always gives it his all on the floor…will see how Donnal performs…

        good problem to have with our depth on the frontcourt…we been pretty slim last couple yrs…

        • BlueBasketeer

          I feel the same way about Beilfeldt…I thought he put in quality minutes when he did get to play last year, and would like to see him play more and develop, but this will be a hard lineup to crack. Still, I hope he sticks around. Since he’s already taken a redshirt year, I’m not sure if he’d want to transfer and sit out another year, but I don’t doubt he could find a lot more playing time at a lower tier school.

          • Willie Mitchell

            ya, I completely agree, time will tell how his situation will unfold…

          • bensant

            Bielfeldt will only be a sophmore so hopefully he sticks around. I think he can contribute even if it’s next year.

  • Willie Mitchell

    Bleacher Report has 5-Jordan Morgan, 4-Mitch McGary, 3-GRIII, 2-Nik Stauskas, 1-Derrick Walton…

    • A2JD

      I’m not saying this won’t be the line-up, as it’s the most obvious one. But, pretty much anyone with a computer can write an article on Bleacher Report.

  • Mitchigan

    Dylan, Joe even though Austin Hatch is not on campus yet a lot of us still probably think about him and how’s he’s doing? Any update on his progress since the last report in January? Many of us would love to hear from him only of course if he’s willing and it wouldn’t be a bother at all. Thanks and Goooo Bluuuee Hoops

    • A2JD

      Austin is on Twitter, so that’s one way to check in on him.

    • The Hatch family has asked for privacy as you can imagine. Austin has been out and about. He’s been at Michigan games, he was at NBPA Camp as a guest (not a participant), he tweeted just the other day that he was in Ann Arbor as well. But he hasn’t resumed playing competitively.

  • Champswest

    Many people are sleeping on Horford. He is the X factor. He has a higher upside than Morgan. I would love to see him earn the starter minutes at the 5.

    • Kenny

      horford is on my break out watch list.

    • fresh

      If the kid can stay healthy for a full year he will be extremely productive…….hopefully he has spent the off season working on this defense/defensive rotations……i believe that will set him apart from morgan…..his offense is definitely better but if his defense isn’t improved then morgan has to be the 5

    • BlueBasketeer

      I had been hoping that he’d break out last year, but for a variety of reasons, he never did. He has more athleticism than Morgan, but doesn’t quite seem to know how to use it to the fullest. For this year at least, if McGary is playing at anything near tournament level, we don’t need Horford or Morgan to be stars. If they get 4-5 points and rebounds a night, and an occasional double digit game when McGary is off, we’re golden in the middle. But for next season, with Morgan and very possibly McGary gone, it would be nice if Horford could play a bigger role.

  • A2JD

    Nice new measurables for GR III: