College basketball is back! Michigan's first opponent is Division II Hillsdale College from Hillsdale, Michigan. Last season, the Chargers went 18-9 and did not reach the Division II NCAA tournament. First-Team All Region and Third-Team All-American Tim Dezelski is gone after a sensational senior year at Hillsdale, averaging 23 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists per game. With Dezelski's departure, Hillsdale will look to a few players to pick up the slack.
Junior Kyle Cooper was the second leading scorer last season, averaging 13 points to go with 5 rebounds, and Coach John Tharp expects Cooper to be his "go-to-guy". Fellow Junior Zach Miller also returns, playing in 22 games for the Chargers but not starting one. A third Junior, Jason Pretzer, is a legit 7-footer from Jenison, Michigan that could cause problems for an inexperienced Wolverine frontcourt, and has an athlete testimonial video doing strange workouts. However, the most intriguing players on the Hillsdale team are freshmen brothers Steve and Christos Giannakopoulos. Both brothers stand at 6'5 and could have an impact, as Christos played on the youth Greek national team in 2011-12. Kudos to Coach Tharp, in his eighth season for Hillsdale, for convincing these two young men to travel from Athens to Hillsdale to play their college basketball. Coach Tharp also believes freshman John Wilkinson is "one of the best scorers I've ever seen in our program." This will undoubtedly be the toughest game on the slate for Hillsdale, and it will be interesting to see whether they step up to the challenge against one of the two biggest programs in the state (Michigan State being the other.)
For Michigan, the big key will be how the freshmen react to playing in their first official NCAA game. John Beilein is expect to start freshmen at both the power forward and the center position, and will likely use at least two or three others for significant minutes. Last season, Beilein only played 8 players rotation minutes in an opening-season blowout win against UMass Lowell, but I expect this number to be at about 10 or 11. Besides for the four key returners, Michigan doesn't really know what the other players will provide in their first regular season game. The biggest thing to watch for will be on the defensive end. The last two seasons, Michigan has put up historic offensive numbers, but the defense has always left something to be desired. Is this the year that Beilein can equal the offensive production on the defensive side?
While it's clear Hillsdale has some talent, including freshmen that Coach Tharp is very keen on, Michigan just has too much talent on both ends of the floor. It will be interesting to see whether Caris LeVert defers more to get other players involved, or looks for his shot early on. In the end, talent trumps a significantly less talented team, and Michigan should run away with this one.
Score: Michigan 86, Hillsdale 59