Offseason Report: The Michigan Wolverines

by Cakes Fisher
College Hoops Digest Senior Columnist

John Beilien/annarbor.com

On June 27th at around 7:25 PM David Stern will walk to the microphone and call the name Trey Burke as the first selection in the 2013 NBA Draft. With that statement Michigan fans will truly realize that next year there is a gaping hole to be felt for a team that almost captured a national title this past season.
Michigan coach John Beilein not only lost his floor general in Burke, but also his top hardwood lieutenant in Junior guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. A day after Burke announced he would be forgoing his last two years of amateur eligibility, Hardaway, (who will be the latest league legacy to join the NBA) decided his outstanding play during the NCAA tournament made it the right time for him to enter the draft.

These two on-court leaders will take 33 points a game from the Maize and Blue. That means theWolverines will be looking to replace nearly half of their offense from last year. After Hardaway’s announcement, many Michigan faithful started to worry that maybe Mitch McGary and/or Glen Robinson, two freshman stand outs, who stole national airtime from Hardaway and Burke during this year’s NCAA tournament may exit stage left and join their teammates at Madison Square Garden on June 27th. Fortunately that anxiety was quickly calmed the next day as McGary and Robinson said they would be returning for their Sophomore season at the newly remodeled Crisler Arena.

Beilein has a seasoned cadre of freshman players who now  have a year of service under their belt, that will be able to step up and fill the shoes of the departing legends. Aside from McGary and Robinson, championship game phenom Michael “Spike” Albrecht will be the preseason favorite to take over for Burke. To replace the player of the year in Burke will be a tall feat for a diminutive player, but if the championship game against Louisville in front of a record championship crowd is any gauge of what next year portends, Michigan fans will not have much to worry about in Burke’s departure from the point.

Competing for Hardaway’s starting position will be Sophmore Caris Levert and Freshman Zak Irvin. Levert a red-shirt freshman is coming along as a player. When he arrived on campus in 2011, Levert was underweight and three inches shorter. Since his red-shirt year, Caris has gained 10 pounds of muscle and grown three inches making many on the team refer to him as “baby Durant.”  Like Durant, Levert is an explosive player, who is able to create his own shots. While his playing time was limited by the amount of minutes played by Hardaway and Robinson, Levert showed signs of his Durant-like ability during the Final Four against Syracuse where he was able to score eight points in twenty minutes of play. Not a small feat considering the intense nature of the Orange’s zone defense.

This year the NCAA has decided to move the first day of practice to the first Friday in October, giving the teams an extra two weeks of practice. During this extended practice time Caris Levert will have to prove that he is capable of stepping in for Hardaway. Recently rated a five star recruit and Indiana’s reigning Mr. Basketball, Zak Irvin arrives on campus with one goal in mind, playing time. Irvin’s skills are evolving, as he’s ranked the 24th best incoming freshman,in the nation. With practice, he has the ability to start on next season’s Michigan team.

Next preseason, Michigan will start as a top 25 team with a lot of wait-and-see talk that will have to be proven on the court. It won’t take long for this team to be tested as they plan to participate in the 2013 Puerto Rico tip off, and have a showdown with Pac 12 powerhouse Stanford this fall at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn. These games highlight some of Michigan’s pre-conference foes for the upcoming season. Many in the College Basketball media elite will be focusing their writing talents on Kentucky, Duke, and North Carolina, and their incoming, well-publicized Freshman classes. I am glad that my beat will be to continue to write about and follow the maize and blue, because the best story in college basketball could be in Ann Arbor next year.