Michigan Basketball: Wolverines Live Up to Early Expectations in Opening Week

Josh Berenter@JBerenterCorrespondent INovember 14, 2012

ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 13:  Trey Burke #3 of the Michigan Wolverines gets to the basket past Anton Grady #15 of the Cleveland State Vikings at Crisler Center during the NIT Season Tip-Off on November 13, 2012 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

At No. 5 in the country, the Michigan basketball team garnered its highest preseason ranking in about two decades coming into this season.

And after the first three games of the 2012-2013 season, the Wolverines have proven they're deserving of the hype.

After flirting with the NBA this offseason, Michigan returned preseason All-American point guard Trey Burke and also welcomed back junior guard Tim Hardaway, giving Michigan one of the best backcourt's and possibly the best one-two punches in America.

But Burke and Hardaway alone wouldn't warrant a No. 5 preseason ranking. The Wolverines made up for the loss of former senior leaders Stu Douglass and Zack Novak with a heralded recruiting class, which ESPN.com tabbed as the No. 14 class in the country.

Headlined by 5-star guard/forward Glenn Robinson III, Michigan welcomed five freshmen that some have compared to the infamous Fab Five.

I won't go nearly that far as to put Michigan's incoming class in the same sentence with the Fab Five, but the Wolverines' newcomers are for real.

And the team showed it in its first three games.

Opening with Division II foe Slippery Rock on Friday night, Michigan unleashed its high-powered attack with a bang, winning its debut 100-62 and scoring 100 points for the first time since 2007.

Three days later Michigan was a rude host to visiting IUPUI in the opening round of the preseason NIT, defeating the Jaguars 91-54, putting up at least 90 points in back-to-back games for the first time since 2000.

With Tuesday's 77-47 win over Cleveland State in the second round of the NIT, the Wolverines advance to the tournament semifinals where they will face Pittsburgh (3-0) on Nov. 21 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

In Michigan's first three games, Burke and Hardaway combined to average 35.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 11 assists, while shooting 60 percent from the floor.

Robinson III had his best performance against IUPUI, putting up 21 points and eight rebounds. The freshman made his first eight shots from the field and finished 8-for-9, including 3-for-3 from three-point range.

Along with Robinson III, who's averaged 13.3 points and seven rebounds in his first three collegiate games, Michigan's freshman sharp-shooter, Nik Stauskas, has been impressive as well.

In just 23 minutes per game off the bench, Stauskas has averaged 11 points on a team-best 69 percent from the floor and 70 percent from long distance.

Freshman Mitch McGary, who was once the No. 2 recruit in the country last year, has been an energetic boost off the bench for the Wolverines, eating up space on the defensive end and tenaciously attacking the glass.

McGary has averaged 7.7 rebounds and 5.7 points per game in just over 39 minutes combined in his first three career games. McGary, who has battled a leg injury and who is still very raw, has given the Wolverines a shot of energy, and he will continue to get better as the season progresses.

The statistics in the first week need to be taken with a grain of salt, of course, considering the competition.

Michigan's first three opponents included a Division II team and two teams who have combined to make three all-time NCAA Tournament appearances.

It's too early to pencil in Michigan for a trip to Atlanta and the 2013 Final Four, but so far, the Wolverines have been as impressive as advertised.

Head Coach John Beilein will learn a lot more about his team against Pittsburgh next Wednesday, and when Michigan faces its toughest early test when the Wolverines host No. 6 NC State on Nov. 27 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

But after three games and three victories by a combined 105 points, Michigan has definitely lived up to the hype.


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