Michigan Basketball: Top 5 Storylines for Wolverines' 2013-14 Season
With a pair of exhibition games in the books, the Michigan basketball program can now turn its attention toward the 2013-14 regular season. There were some impressive moments to take away from the Wolverines' preseason contests, but overall, the level of competition was not great enough to make any long-term assumptions about this team.
The two tuneups did provide plenty of storylines worth following this season.
There are five things for Michigan fans to keep an eye on. Each will play a key role in whether or not the Wolverines can accomplish their goals of competing for a Big Ten conference title and make a run at another Final Four.
Mitch McGary's Health
This is an issue that simply will not go away and is likely going to be a storyline until Mitch McGary can return to the floor. The preseason All-American is being hampered by a "lower back condition." The injury has forced the Michigan coaches to limit his practice activities.
Optimistically, McGary hopes to be back by the time the Wolverines square off with Duke on Dec. 3. This is by no means a guarantee, though, and is not exactly easing the concerns of anyone in Ann Arbor.
In order for Michigan to contend with the Michigan State Spartans for the Big Ten title, it needs McGary to be healthy. The sophomore was a dominant force inside during the 2013 NCAA tournament and has the potential to be a walking double-double.
As long as he can return by league play, Michigan should be in good shape. Missing crucial contests in Big Ten matchups, however, would be a nightmare scenario for the Wolverines.
It has become increasingly clear Caris LeVert is in line for a breakout season in 2013-14. The long-armed sophomore had yet another impressive showing in Michigan's second exhibition game.
LeVert scored 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting and added three assists. He spent some time running the point for the Wolverines, which is something the Maize and Blue faithful may get to see quite often this season. Long story short, it is going to be difficult to keep LeVert off the floor this season.
The biggest difference thus far for the Ohioan is confidence. In the Wolverines' pair of preseason contests, he has stood a little taller, hesitated less often and has a much better feel for his role at both ends of the floor. The fact that he can play either the 1, 2 or 3 bodes well and is another reason he will see a substantial increase in playing time.
Do not be surprised if LeVert manages to crack the starting lineup once Michigan gets into the meat of its nonconference schedule. Be sure to keep an eye on him as the season progresses.
Battle of the Point Guards
The battle at point guard is going to be a notable storyline during nonconference play but will likely fade away by the time Big Ten games begin. Neither Spike Albrecht nor Derrick Walton Jr. has been able to separate from one another through Michigan's two exhibition games.
Walton impressed with 11 points and four assists against Concordia only to follow it up with a lackluster performance versus Wayne State. The true freshman looked hesitant and struggled early on, though these nights are going to happen from time to time. Growing pains are to be expected with a young point guard. He finished with seven points on 1-of-4 shooting, four assists and a pair of turnovers against the Warriors.
Meanwhile, Albrecht keeps plugging along and will not back down in the battle for the starting spot. The Crown Point, Ind., product tallied 11 total points in exhibition play but looked more like a role player than a starter.
Albrecht will still be important to this Michigan team, even if he comes off the bench.
Caris LeVert figures to see some action at the point as well, so the Wolverines have options if Walton begins to struggle at any point.
Bet on Walton to be the clear-cut starter by January, though.
Two Bigs or Just One?
It is hard to draw any real conclusions from a pair of exhibition games, but it is becoming clear Michigan is at its best with a smaller lineup on the floor. Playing power forwards Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford together does not look like a recipe for success right now.
When Mitch McGary returns, one of the two will be able to play center. As long as McGary can defend well enough to play the 4, Michigan could utilize a lineup with two bigs.
With Horford and Morgan, however, the Wolverines are just giving up too much at the offensive end. There are an abundance of scorers on this squad. Caris LeVert or Glenn Robinson III could play the 4 if McGary misses a significant amount of time.
Freshman shooting guard Zak Irvin could thrust himself into a starting role if he continues to shoot the lights out. He went 5-of-8 overall and 3-of-5 from three-point range against Wayne State.
Again, the decision to play two bigs or just one depends on McGary's health. Until he returns, though, Michigan will be far more effective with a lone big man playing alongside four scorers.
Who Takes the Last Shot?
This is of course the biggest question facing the Michigan Wolverines right now. If a game comes down to the wire, and several inevitably will, who takes the all-important final shot?
Although this is an unknown, the good news for Michigan is that it has plenty of options.
Zak Irvin and Nik Stauskas appear to be the best bets if the Wolverines need a three. Glenn Robinson III should also be an effective jump-shooter inside the arc, while Mitch McGary began flashing some range at the end of the 2012-13 season. Do not exclude a guy like Caris LeVert from the equation, either. Given the potential he has shown thus far and his length, opposing guards would have a tough time defending him.
The question itself will likely go unanswered until March, unless one player winds up taking on this role and running with it early in the campaign.
It is definitely something worth monitoring for the Maize and Blue faithful, though.