The Michigan Wolverines are coming off a National Title game appearance two seasons ago and a Aaron Harrison three pointer away from returning to the Final Four in 2014. Yet with sophomores Nik Stauskus, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary all forgoing the remainder of their collegiate careers to go to the NBA, there is skepticism in Ann Arbor about if this program can make it back to the heights they've climbed to recently. Despite their losses, Michigan returns some serious talent and brings in freshman whom are ready to contribute right away in John Beilein's system. Let's take a look at five reasons to be optimistic as a fan of the Michigan Wolverines in 2014-2015.
1) Caris LeVert
Nothing is set in stone, but many reports are out suggesting that LeVert is the frontrunner to be named the preseason pick for Big Ten Player of the Year. If the next NBA draft happened tomorrow, LeVert would be projected to be taken in the back end of the lottery. LeVert made huge strides last season as a sophomore and many times took over the scoring load when Nik Stauskus was on the bench or struggling to find his rhythm. LeVert, once an Ohio Bobcat verbal pledge, has come to Ann Arbor and done nothing but improve under Beilein and his staff. If he keeps that rolling, he could prove all the experts right.
2) Freshman Talent
It seemed common knowledge by the end of last season that both Nik Stauskus and Glenn Robinson III would leave Ann Arbor and head to the NBA. The wild card was Mitch McGary, who sat out most of last season with a back injury he sustained last summer. With McGary deciding to leave as well it left the Wolverines very thin up front as they look to retool for this upcoming year. With ESPN Top 100 forward recruit Kameron Chatman joining the fold along with Cape Coral, Florida native Ricky Doyle, the freshman will look to fill the void left by the All-American talent McGary. It's simply a matter of how quickly they can develop because the raw ability is there.
3) Europe Trip
The Wolverines spent part of their summer preseason over in Italy playing against professional teams over there and absolutely obliterated the competition. The team finished with a 4-0 record, averaging 101 points and shooting over 55% as a team. Reports are that Zak Irvin looks like the breakout star for the Maize and Blue and that LeVert, who suffered a foot injury overseas, is going to be just fine. Nothing like a little tune up before the games actually count.
4) Super Sophomores
We mentioned Zak Irvin and his stellar Europe trip, but the breakout of Irvin began last year in the NCAA tournament. The then Freshman was a consistent threat from the outside and helped Michigan spread the floor so their other wings could attack the paint. He looks to make a similar leap that Stauskus did from freshman to sophomore year. Same thing for Derrick Walton Jr. As the year went on last year Walton became much more comfortable in John Beilein's system and turned into someone you could count on to make plays not just the guy who needs to avoid a mistake. The Wolverines will have to count on these two sophomores in order for Michigan to go where they want to go.
5) John Beilein
At the end of the day it starts and ends with Coach Beilein. This man has not only gotten the Michigan basketball program back on track since he has come to Ann Arbor, but he has taken it to heights never reached before. The momentum around this program both on the court and in households for recruiting is at an all time high. Beilein and his staff have put five first round picks into the NBA in the last two seasons alone. The leaps and bounds players take in the offseason at Michigan is remarkable to watch and assuming it continues, Beilein could go down as one of college basketball's all time greats, as if he wasn't in the conversation already.
If Michigan is not the favorite to open this season than they are a close second behind Wisconsin. Despite the losses, poll voters trust in Beilein and his staff and the development of the young talent they're bringing to Ann Arbor. The fact that his teams continue to progress and get better is the sign of a great coaching staff. That's the number one reason to be optimistic in Ann Arbor.