Four Takeaways from Michigan Media Day

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Robinson, McGary and Stauskas at Media Day (2)

The Michigan basketball team held its media day on Thursday for a packed house — when you go to the national title game the year before, your media events tend to have a few more butts in the seats than in years past. John Beilein spoke during the initial press conference and touched upon a wide variety of subjects, from Mitch McGary’s injury to Caris LeVert’s defense to his freshmen adjusting to the college game. After Beilein spoke, assembled media got a chance to speak with all the players individually. Then, we got to watch an hour of practice. There was a lot of buzz swirling around Crisler Center, and we’re here to clear the way to the four major takeaways from this year’s media day.

Mitch McGary still isn’t healthy

Michigan’s coaching staff is staying tight-lipped about the “lower-back condition” the Wolverines’ star center is suffering from. All we know is that McGary isn’t practicing or doing anything that strenuous outside of rehab. At practice, he did little but shoot a few free throws, though he didn’t have the outward appearance of being physically hampered in any way.

Parsing John Beilein’s words on the subject, it’s possible the coaching staff is just being extra cautious with one of its most important players.

“He’s making great progress, but we’re super cautious,” Beilein said during the press conference. “He’s been doing underwater treadmill workouts that are really productive. I know I couldn’t do some of those, and so it’s really good but we’re being very cautious as well. If he keeps making this progress day after day (he’s still day-to-day), one of these days he’s going to have to get out there to see what he can do. But we’re very cautious.”

If you’re wondering whether or not we’ll see McGary during the exhibition season, Beilein has no answer for you.

“I can’t answer the date or the days, all I know is that the improvements are really good right now,” Beilein said. “Everyone else is pretty good.”

Whether the coaching staff is just being overly cautious or McGary is in real danger of missing significant time, the injury has succeeded in stressing out the Michigan fan base. Unfortunately, it appears we won’t know the extent of the injury until McGary starts playing — or doesn’t.

For his part, McGary appeared to not be terribly bothered by it.

“(The back) is good. It feels great. Right now, I’m day-to-day,” McGary said during the interview session. “Right now, I’m just trying to do what I can to help the team.”

The Wolverines are harder, better, faster, stronger

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Every year, returning players make progress in the weight room and in their skill development. For Michigan, this could mean the rich get richer — Mitch McGary is slimmer and far more muscled than he was at this point a year ago, and Glenn Robinson III looks like a comic book superhero. However, it also means some serious forward steps for players who aren’t as physically gifted. Two of those players in particular — Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert — stand out in that regard.

Stauskas added 16 pounds of muscle. Glenn Robinson III has a vertical reach pushing 12-foot-3. Caris LeVert is pushing 190 pounds after arriving on campus listed at a generous 170 pounds.

Throughout media day, players and coaches alike were raving about the progress each had made athletically and in the weight room over the course of the offseason.

“[Caris and Nik] both have gotten a lot stronger. They’ve both put in a lot of work , hard time in the weight room,” said Spike Albrecht, whose own physical progression is nothing to shake a stick at. “You can tell in how much better their verticals are, how their athleticism has increased. They’ve gotten a lot better. It just gives you so many more options. Knowing that they can play so many positions is just going to help us out in the long run.”

Glenn Robinson III noticed the duo’s increased physicality, as well, and noted one important area where he believes it helps the most — defense.

“They’ve both gotten quicker and are jumping higher. And their defense has improved,” Robinson said. “Every time those two are on the court, we tend to become a better team in practice. They’ve been working hard in the gym, and they continue to knock down shots like crazy. They could be a defensive nightmare or an offensive nightmare.”

Expectations are high, and John Beilein doesn’t find that particularly important

You would think that after going through last season — a season that saw his young team ranked in the top five of most preseason polls and then subsequently exceed sky-high projections — that John Beilein would be comfortable with high expectations.

But he’s not. At least, he doesn’t appear to be. Beilein continues to balk at the expectations question — it’s not that he shies away from high expectations, he just finds what the preseason polls say very, very irrelevant.

“I think a lot is premature,” Beilein said of his team’s high preseason ranking. “We’re not going to know what we’ve lost until we find out what we can do. But at the same time, I think Michigan should have high expectations every year. You don’t do as well some years, well then the expectations probably were too much. It beats the alternative, certainly, but we’re trying to handle it well.”

The funny thing about high expectations is that if you have enough sustained success, you get used to them. After having been dormant for so long before Beilein’s arrival in Ann Arbor, the Michigan basketball program is finally settling in and being comfortable with the expectation of being a perennial contender.

“To be honest with you, after our second NCAA tournament year where we almost beat Duke in the second round, there were high expectations and last year there were even higher expectations,” Beilein said. “They’ve been able to meet them pretty well, but you’re never going to meet all expectations that everyone has.”

For now, Beilein is just focused on championships. A task that starts in Puerto Rico this November.

“We go on the floor as champions,” Beilein said. “We had opportunities to be champions in the Puerto Rico tournament, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the championship for our league, the Big Ten regular season, the Big Ten Conference tournament and obviously the NCAA Tournament if we can make it.”

Michigan has a lot of players who can play multiple positions

Michigan’s versatility has been talked about ad nauseam this offseason but recently experienced a resurgence in interest after Michigan’s assistant coaches broached the possibility of Caris LeVert logging minutes at point guard this season.

Being versatile is one thing, but being able to field three different point guards with a six-inch height difference? That’s on another level. The revelation has opened up the imaginations of Michigan fans everywhere, with endless speculation about potential lineups.

Even the perpetually stoic Beilein appeared to be pretty excited about it.

“I think that we can multi-position those guys, that’s one thing, and we can continue to do what we’ve been doing, I mean really multi-position, like something no one’s ever seen,” Beilein said. “Guys like Caris (LeVert) and Nik (Stauskas), who are all 6-foot-6, and ones that are almost 200 pounds and ones that are over 200 pounds; they can play a lot of positions.”

You can almost see the gears turning as the coach talks about the possibilities.

Michigan assistant LaVall Jordan brought up one particular wrinkle the Wolverines’ versatility brings to defensive game-planning: having a bunch of guys who are able to guard multiple positions will cut down on rotations, generally when a team is weakest defensively on a given possession.

“If you can eliminate rotations defensively, it’s always a good thing,” Jordan said. “It’s a game now where everybody’s trying to get you to play close out basketball. From an offensive standpoint, in terms of attacking. If you have guys who can switch and defend, and you can rotate quicker, you can eliminate some of those rotations and not get put in some of those pinches as a defense.”

  • section13row15

    Is anyone that worried about McGary? I’ve had disc problems for awhile and it will take a couple months to get fully healthy again. But once its healed and he does the preventative maintenance every day (stretching, lower back strengthening, core) he should be ready to go. Would you rather him sit out now or during the season? They’re being extra cautious right now because they can and should be for Mitch’s sake.

    • lsahdjf

      after seeing what happened to cabby….

      sit him now please. i’ll be more than entertained watching 14 of my boys on court on Tuesday.

    • Adam St Patrick

      I don’t know enough about these back conditions, but, yeah — this isn’t good. I agree they should be extra cautious. It’s just a real shame for McGary himself. I hope he isn’t screwed in the draft, and I hope this isn’t a long-term thing like it has been for other talented players that robs them of a full career in which they can take advantage of their talents.

    • Dr_ZC

      Hard for us to tell if it is a disc, or sciatic nerve. The two are related, but I believe he is too young to develop disc problems. If one is overweight while playing hoops, most of the stress goes to the knees, or the lower back. In old ages, your spine develops spurs which can touch and irritate the sciatic nerve.
      The only cure against it, is rest and stretches. Acupuncture helps as well, but I am not sure this is the right place and time. Cortizone shots and muscle relaxants can give some temporary relief, but that is all. I guess you can feel fine, move well, etc, but one wrong move, and you can easily irritate the nerve, and you are back where you started.
      Get well soon Mitch, we’d love to see you create havoc back in the court.

      • Champswest

        I hurt my back (disc problem) as a freshman in high school, so I think Mitch is probably old enough.

        • Dr_ZC

          Well, I feel for you, really. What is interesting, however, Mitch’s back problems came out of the blue. It is not as if he had an injury and everybody knew about it. It might be because of constant wear and tear of being overweight, and playing with high energy below his weight.

          • PJohnson

            See my post above so you can get up on things. He is not too young to develop disc problems from invading acne bacteria, a very common issue. Those type of back problems would obviously “come up out of the blue” and most likely be diagnosed incorrectly as physical wear and tear.

      • andygoblue

        My wife injured herself playing volleyball in college and her back hasn’t been the same since. If she over-exerts herself, her disc is still prone to slipping and causing a great deal of pain. It’s possible he was doing something in practice (diving for a loose ball, extending and landing awkwardly) that could have caused the injury, which would not have been known to anyone outside the team.

  • DingoBlue

    I think Beilein’s excitement about a potential lineup where Caris is running the point is revealing. It sounds like it’s something he is going to experiment with through the year, even when we fans may not like it. Or maybe he will be smarter than that, I don’t know. Football has ruined me.

    • kam

      Caris has the ability to run a little PG. if they see he can do it in practice, why not give it a shot for a few minutes?

      • DingoBlue

        oh, I’m fine with giving it a shot. My point is, if he tries it and it doesn’t work, I hope he doesn’t try to force that lineup. No reason to think he would, but again, football recently has damaged me.

    • Chezaroo

      Never know how this is going to play out, but I do believe that you are on to something regarding JBs enthusiasm over Caris. He is a definite wild card as to the maxing out of this teams potential. Have always liked his skill set and room for development. Players can transform very fast over the summer. Remember, he played PG in HS..I want my five best players on the court regardless of their rating. Most likely scenario is all three will be contributors.

    • Kenny

      I think that everyone may over interpret “Caris run point”, it could simply be the two guard offense Beilein ran before he had Morris and Burke. Caris will not to in the role of Walton and Spike.

      • DingoBlue

        That is actually how I intend it. More akin to Stu Douglass bringing the ball up the court than fully being a point guard.

    • gobluemd16

      I think this lends to what I have said in a couple other threads about hearing how much Caris has improved. The coaches may realize this guy is too good to not be playing as many minutes as possible. Spike has his limitations and Walton is still a freshman, so it definitely may be the case that the coaches are trying to get Caris on the court in whatever situations they can. He adds a totally new dimension defensively too, if he plays in a role guarding the other team’s PG.

  • Mattski

    McGary doesn’t look wild-happy in any of the shots, and I can’t blame him. I think that conscientious college coaches are almost always going to err on the side of caution when they know a kid’s future is also possibly in the balance. And that’s a good thing.

  • Wayman Britt

    The change in Nikki three buckets body is amazing. That should help him big time when he driving in the lane.

  • http://www.umhoops.com/ Dylan Burkhardt

    Killed the thread on speculation regarding Mitch’s injury. Let’s not guess causes, etc. of injuries when the university isn’t disclosing them.