Offseason storylines: Expectations for 2013-14 season

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan-61-Syracuse-56-21[1]Over the next two months we’ll rundown some of the biggest storylines facing the 2013-14 Michigan Wolverines. We start with expectations. A year after a trip to the National Championship game and having two players selected in the first round of the NBA Draft, what should we expect from Michigan next season?

John Beilein has things clicking in Ann Arbor. Lately, Michigan’s head coach seems to cross a new milestone achievement off of his checklist every year. First, it was Michigan’s first NCAA tournament berth since the late 1990s. Then it was Michigan’s Big Ten Championship since 1986. Last year it was Michigan’s first Final Four appearance since 1993 and the first of John Beilein’s 38 year coaching career.

Michigan fans waited a long time to reach this level of success once again and the next step is to see whether the Wolverines can sustain it.

Last season was prime example of just how volatile the college basketball season can be. The Wolverines started 16-0 and eventually reached No. 1 in the country. Then things unraveled a bit down the stretch as Michigan went just 6-6 in its 12 games leading up to the NCAA Tournament. The bitter disappointment of losing a share of the Big Ten Championship on a missed last-second tip-in disappeared as the Wolverines regained their momentum in the NCAA tournament and dazzled all the way to Atlanta. (Photo: Dustin Johnston)

The lesson is that expectations change weekly in a sport where they shouldn’t be judged until the end of the year. Wins in November and December will be forgotten but with a couple lucky bounces in March, those February conference losses can also be erased.

Now what? Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. are gone but Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III are back. Michigan’s five man freshmen class (which exceeded expectations across the board last season) will now be relied upon to carry the Wolverines as sophomores. Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford bring back valuable experience in the frontcourt while another talented group of freshmen in Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton and Mark Donnal will be relied upon early and often.

Both Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III mentioned that they are returning to school to take another run at the National Championship. Given how last year ended, it would be tough for any returning player to state the end-goal as anything else. But is that a fair goal for this year’s team?

Most pundits have Michigan ranked somewhere in the preseason top-ten once again this season – a decision that doesn’t seem nearly as controversial as it was a summer ago. But after losing the National Player of the Year and another first round draft pick that feels optimistic at first glance. A longer look down the listing of other top teams reveals that it’s hard not to peg the Wolverines as contenders once again.

Michigan was the sixth youngest team in college basketball last season but won’t be much older – if at all – this season. Five sophomores and at least two freshmen should be in the Wolverine rotation and Michigan could easily field a starting lineup of freshmen and sophomores. Youth didn’t hold the Wolverines back last season but will certainly have to be watched early in the season, especially without Trey Burke helping everyone along.

Should Michigan be a top-ten team? Top-25 team? Do the Wolverines have the talent to compete for a Big Ten Championship or take a trip back to Cowboys Stadium for the Final Four this spring? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

  • jblair52

    I think of NC State last year. At this time they were saying they had 2 “lottery” picks and were ranked preseason top 5. Didn’t turn out so hot for them.

    I think our PG play will be so much more huge this year. They’ve got to make sure they get our guys in the right position and get them the ball. I’m confident in Spike and Walton. Both seem to have high IQ and good handles.

    One thing I think sets Beilein apart when I think of these things is the turnover ratio. If we don’t turn the ball over, we have a shot against anyone (with this kind of talent).

    ….I think Sweet 16 is my definite must have. Elite 8 would be good. Final Four would be spectacular but I’m not “expecting” it. There are going to be some other really good teams out there too.

  • cpapp

    I think we should be in the hunt for the Big Ten title until the end of the season and should at least make it to the Sweet Sixteen. This team has the potential to go all the way but anything more than the above would require luck and significant player development.

    • geoffclarke

      Agree with this. Ceiling I think is as high as last year, but floor may be lower. A lot will have to do with team chemistry (I know Beilein has had “the talk” with Robinson and McGary, but both seem mature like Burke) for Michigan, but also other squads (such as Kentucky). As far as the B1G race is concerned, we’ve got a very good chance.

  • Indiana_Matt

    Top 10 team – Yes
    Compete for Big Ten Champ – Yes, they will compete. Definitely a top 3 finish
    Final Four – Yes

    With more of a pass-first point guard running the show setting up the sophomores (who’ve no doubt added confidence, physical strength and maturity) and the freshman Irvin, we should be able to put a lot of points on the board. Defense will probably be the bigger struggle. I predict that, like last year, we will lose a handful of games in the big ten and get bounced in the big ten tourney (I hope, anyway) and then kill people on our way back to the final four.

  • mikey_mac

    The trial-by-fire to start the year might make for a less pretty record come B1G season, but it will hopefully give this team the competitive experience necessary to really go for a B1G championship against much more experienced MSU and OSU teams. Ultimately, though, I think having this team peak during tourney season, as last year, is my hope and their likeliest scenario.

  • JVS

    Agreement with the below, non-conference will be tricky unless some things go very well that aren’t yet to be expected (Spike?). Probably 2-3 losses going into conference, but battle tested (Walton vs VCU press will be telling). Honestly if last year said anything, its that beating a bruiser team in big-10 play doesn’t translate to tourney success. I can deal with losing to a few big 10 teams and miss the conf title, if GR3/Mitch/Walton all can facilitate a consistent offense at the end of the year. They had a tendency when they got down last year to sit and wait for Trey to do something. Thats no longer there. If that solution presents itself early in the year, we can win the big 10 and justify the ranking, if not we probably don’t, but either way the tournament performance, whether as a 1 or a 6 will be determined by that consistent approach being proven and reliable.

    I’m banking sweet 16, expecting great 8, would be very pleased with final 4 or more, but it really depends on how the bracket shakes out. LVille, Kansas, Kentucky, MSU, Duke, Zona, etc all will be credible and deep threats. Look at MSU’s death bracket last year. Seeding obviously influences that, but a non-negligible part of it is the bracket layout.

  • ajerome33

    I agree with a lot of the comments below. I think we finish 3rd or 4th in the B1G, but hit our stride again come tourney time. I say Elite 8 is my expectation, but of course I am holding out hope for a National title.

    In my opinion a lot of our success will be determined by the play of Walton.

  • Dr_ZC

    Well, we lost our #1 and #2 scoring options from last year. Like JVS said, if the game is close and the chips are down, we are not going to have a Burke type of a player to take the air out of the ball, and make something happen. This team will be totally different from last year’s team. It will all depend on how the point guard play and rotation will develop.
    I see a lot more set plays this year. Our #1 scoring option will be GR3, with #2 on Stauskas. If JB goes with two bigs down low, expect Mitch to be the high scoring option, though I am not sure he can score when posting. I would still expect that the pick-n-roll will be this team’s bread and butter, with Mitch being the beneficiary.
    I think this team has the potential to be even better than last year’s team. Let us hope that team defense will be stellar. One thing is for sure, however. Expect to see a lot of set plays at the end of close games, with everybody involved.

  • Mattski

    As good as Beilein has been at getting these very young teams to jell, I don’t think it can just be assumed that happens every year; I won’t be surprised if they struggle some early with the tough non-con slate, and struggle in the B1G sked, too. I feel so down on the B1G sometimes, the style of play and reffing, that I almost wouldn’t CARE if we won it–except that winning it means beating teams like MSU and Indiana. Also, Indiana and OSU may be a little down this year, MSU the real threat in the league. (We will all spend a good part of the year grumbling about the attention MSU gets, that’s for sure.)

    The NCAA draw/seeding makes a huge difference, but I expect Beilein to have his troops ready for March. And guys like McGary and Stauskas will keep me entertained, no matter what.

  • Bigrange

    No reason why we aren’t and should not be one of the top 3 teams in the Big 10. We are right there with MSU and OSU. I think last year we caught a break with some of the more loaded teams, not being so loaded. That changes this year with a lot of great freshman across the country at schools that will be better than last year (Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, Arizona). We can still make a deep run in the tourney, but will probably face some better teams.

  • Wayman Britt

    UM will be able to compete in the BIg Ten, but making the final four will be a stretch. Many people are saying UM goes as Walton goes, but I think most the weight will be on Robinson.
    I still have images of Robinson being soft, going long stretches of being nonexistent on the floor and not being able to create his own offense. UM will go as far as Robinson takes them.

    • Hops

      Disagree. As you note, Robinson has a “secondary”-type game that depends on other people to get him shots and points. He’s not a guy that creates plays with the ball in his hands, and I don’t see that changing in one offseason. I see this team being one with many solid contributors, rather than one game-changer, but if I had to pick one guy who is going to define the season, it would definitely be McGary, rather than Walton or Robinson.

  • jkuofm27

    I don’t think you will be able to compare last year to this year. The usage rates and talent/experience levels of each position will be completely different. Walton and Irvin will not be as experienced and savvy as Burke and Hardaway, but our five sophomores should be much better than they were last year.

    I am going to make a comparison that some people might not like, but I think it has some applicability. Our team last year with Burke was a lot like the football team with Denard. You have an exceptional talent and when everything goes to pot, you just depend on him to get you out of it. But that total reliance on one player also makes your team somewhat one dimensional. Caveat: The basketball team in the tournament run became much less one dimensional than earlier in the season, mainly because of McGary. I think that this team has a chance to be a better team with Walton, who is a pass first guy. Not that Burke was a complete ball hog, but it just seemed the rest of the guys would spend many plays standing around waiting for Burke to make a play. We have a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball and I think everyone’s ability will be utilized more efficiently than it was last year and that can make them a more dangerous “team”.

    I also think that due to the positions that they will playing, temperament and skill set that Walton and Irvin could end up being the top usage guys and the guys with the ball at the end of the shot clock. That could be good in the long run, but early in the season will probably cause the team to struggle. If this is the case, by the end of the season we could be a lot better and poised to make a similar run as last year, but if Walton and Irvin do not grow into those roles then I don’t think we will compete for a national championship. The tournament is often about guard play and Michigan’s most experienced players are all forwards going into the season. We will be a top ten team and compete for the B1G, but Walton/Irvin will need to play crucial roles for the team to win a championship.

    13 – Siva/Smith
    12 – Teague/Lamb
    11 – Walker/Lamb/Napier
    09- Lawson/Ellington

    Looking back at some of those teams their best player(s) were not necessarily their guards, but they all had solid guard play. I think the closest comparison to UM’s makeup could be Kentucky in ’12. If GRIII can be like Kidd-Gilchrist and McGary can be the force that UniBrow was then they could do it, with a decent and not necessarily a dominant Walton/Irvin.

  • geoffclarke

    I think it’s fair to expect our offense to be less efficient than last year (freshman PG, no Trey Burke, etc.), though who knows what it will be. I also think it’s fair to hope that our defense is better.

    • Dr_ZC

      We will have to see. Like many folks stated, last year it was the T. Burke show. Everybody on the team was happy to have Burke take the air out of the ball. Meanwhile, our opponents had a simple game plan against us (Get Burke). This year our options will be more than last year’s, and hard to be guessed by our opponents. I would be more concerned about floor leadership, and I am willing to bet that only Spike will rise to the occasion. As such, I would expect Spike and Walton on the floor in critical junctions of games, with Glenn, Mitch and whoever shows ready for prime time defense and leadership.