If this is any indication of how the Big Ten season is going to be on a nightly basis for Michigan, fans will endure a full gauntlet of emotions every night. After winning at Minnesota last year, i thought this team would have a much more difficult task, but Michigan proved it is ready for anything. From the opening tip, it had the making of a sloppy, defensive-minded Big Ten battle, with both teams having to scrap for baskets. While Michigan was able to eke out a victory, there were both positives and negatives to take away from this game.
Caris LeVert- LeVert, Nik Stauskas and and Glenn Robinson III are Michigan's best 3 players, and it's not close. LeVert has such an array of moves, can guard 1-3, and has a knockdown jump shot. For stretches of this season, however, he has seemed lost and overwhelmed. Going from a role player to a full-time starter is a huge jump, but Wolverine fans know he needs to be more productive for Michigan to win more games. He will likely play around 30-33 minutes a game, and played 31 minutes despite his struggles. With the McGary injury, LeVert will be called on to play significantly more time at the 3 as Robinson moves up to the 4, and he needs to be a 15 point a game guy as the season progresses.
Point Guard Play- The point guard position, like the 5 position, is going to be a "position-by-committee" until one player emerges as the guy. While Derrick Walton Jr. played almost double the minutes that Spike Albrecht played last night (30 vs. 16.), I'm still not wowed by either player. As mentioned before, Michigan had to go to a smaller lineup with Robinson out, forcing Beilein to play a 2-point system as different points. Walton finished 1-4 with 7 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, while Albrecht finished with no points a rebound and 2 assists. Those numbers combined will simply not cut it as the season progresses, and it will be interesting to see if Beilien plays LeVert at point guard against bigger teams.
Zak Irvin- If there's one thing Irvin has, it's confidence. After shooting 3-14 in the Puerto Rico final against Charlotte, Irvin has not been reluctant to let it fly, shooting 5-8 last night in 27 minutes (all 3's) and shooting 43% on the year. He filled in admirably for Robinson, and while he is a 2 on offense, at 6'6 he can play anywhere from 2-4 on defense. His length and size will continue to allow for more versatility in late-game situations as well.
Jon Horford- Finally! Michigan fans have been waiting for the emergence of a low-post presence who can fill-in (or at least try) to replicate some of McGary's production, and last night Horford did just that. He showed some flashes of brilliance, with a few post moves in the lane and a nice finish on a dunk in traffic, and he was able to control the glass as well. While Robinson is more of a flashy defender (he had 4 blocks in 18 minutes), Horford is every bit of 6'10, clogs the lane and rebounds pretty well. He had a few bonehead plays, but if he gives Michigan anything close to 14 and 9 every night, he could be a key piece as the season continues. My goal for the Michigan frontcourt is to combine for 15 points and 10 rebounds, and with Morgan's 3 points and 2 rebounds gave the pair 17 points and 12 rebounds on the night in 39 minutes. I can't imagine Beilein is going to play the two together very often, but keeping at least one out of foul trouble every night will be a struggle and something that Michigan needs to stay in games.
After a rocky start to the season with a few brutal non-conference games and a heartbreaking loss at home to Arizona, Michigan finally found their groove and picked up a signature, road, non-conference win. The next test for the Wolverines is Sunday when Northwestern comes to the Crisler Center, a team is desperate need of a win after a drubbing at home by Wisconsin. Michigan needs this game and should win comfortably, but with the status of Glenn Robinson III up in the air, it will be up to players like Irvin, Stauskas and LeVert to fill in if Robinson can't play. As always, Go Blue!