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Top 25 Countdown: No. 9 Michigan Wolverines

Oct 23, 2012, 12:00 PM EDT

Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr.

Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 24-10, 13-5 Big Ten (t-1st); Lost in the Opening Round of the NCAA tournament to Ohio

Head Coach: John Beilein

Key Losses: Zack Novak, Evan Smotrycz, Stu Douglass

Newcomers: Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Spike Albrecht

Projected Lineup:

- G: Trey Burke, So.
- G: Tim Hardaway Jr, Jr.
- F: Glenn Robinson III, Fr.
- F: Mitch McGary, Fr.
- C: Jordan Morgan, Jr.
- Bench: Nik Stauskas, Fr.; Jon Horford, So.; Matt Vogrich, Sr.; Spike Albrecht, Fr.

Outlook: On paper, this Michigan team is a very easy one to fall in love with.

It starts at the point guard spot, where John Beilein will have one of the best in the country at his disposal in Trey Burke. Burke was one of the country’s most pleasant surprises last season, as he filled in for NBA-bound Darius Morris by putting together an all-american caliber season while carrying the Wolverines to a share of the regular season title in the Big Ten. To get an idea of just how impressive and unexpected Burke’s season was, he went from the outside of most top 100 lists as a high school senior to sharing the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award with Cody Zeller.

Part of the reason that Burke was so effective for the Wolverines last season is that he’s excellent in pick-and-roll situations, something that Burke was called upon to do incredibly often last year. Essentially, what Beilein did is put the ball in Burke’s hands at the end of a clock, gave him a high-ball screen and let him create. More often than not, it worked out well, as Burke averaged 14.8 points and 4.6 assists on the season for one of the slower teams in college basketball.

At this point in his career, Burke can probably be called a scorer that is capable of being a playmaker, which was required of him last season with the makeup of Michigan’s roster. That may not be the case this season, as the Wolverines will have plenty of weapons.

Tim Hardaway Jr. has proven himself to be a capable slasher, averaging 14.6 points last season as Michigan’s secondary offensive option. He’ll slide down to the shooting guard role this season, meaning that it would be nice if he could, you know, shoot a little better than last year’s 28.3% clip from three. But Hardaway’s strength will always be as a big, athletic scorer, not as a spot-up shooter. Glenn Robinson III will slide over and play the role that Hardaway did last season, and the top 20 recruit actually has a similar skill-set to Hardway. He’s a little bigger and stronger than Hardaway, but he’s another big-time athlete on the wing that is capable of scoring in multiple ways.

Nik Stauskas is another freshman wing that will see a lot of time this season. Beilein has compared him to a five-tool prospect in baseball given the 6-foot-6 wing’s all-around ability. The most important may be how well he shoots the ball, as neither Robinson nor Hardaway are what you would call a knockdown shooter. Matt Vogrich and Spike Albrecht will be the guys that see emergency minutes on the perimeter.

This may be the best front court that has ever graced the roster of a Beilein coached team. It starts with junior Jordan Morgan, a strong, 6-foot-8 center that really seemed to build a chemistry with Burke in the pick-and-roll by the end of the season. He’ll be joined up front by Mitch McGary, a four-star recruit that was once considered a top three prospect in the class. McGary’s ceiling has dropped a bit, but that should take nothing away from his ability as a basketball player. He’s aggressive and he’s strong, although he sometimes relies too much on outhustling opponents. He ball skills definitely can stand to be polished. He has a bit of a young Tyler Hansbrough in him.

The third guy to keep an eye on will be Jon Horford, Al’s younger brother. He was injured much of last season, but he’s the biggest and most athletic of Michigan’s bigs.

There is a ton of talent on the Michigan roster, but there is also plenty of reason to be concerned. For the first time that I can remember, Beilein will be fielding a team that not only plays two true big men, but two big men that are nothing like the Kevin Pittsnoggles of yore. There is also a dearth of perimeter shooting for the Wolverines, which could also pose a problem. You see, when you hear the name John Beilein, you think of defenses spread thin by sharpshooters and big men that are more comfortable 20 feet from the rim than two feet from the rim. That’s not there this season. Will it be a problem?

Predictions?: Beilein’s teams usually execute well enough offensively, taking advantage of mismatches, that they can survive the fact they struggle defensively and on the glass. This group? Well, they look much better prepared to defend and rebound than run a typical Beilein offense. Does that mean things won’t work out in Ann Arbor? Not at all. Beilein can adapt his system to the strengths of his players and his players can adapt to fill the roles they’ll be asked to play. It’s just … interesting. How well the Wolverines and Beilein can manage with this kind of roster makeup will be one of the more important subplots of the season. Beilein’s always won with guys that everyone else overlooked, so what happens if he proves he can win with the guys everyone else wants?

As for this season, I think Michigan will be right there with Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin, battling it out for second place in the conference behind Indiana.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.