October 17, 2011

Preseason Top 32: No. 20 Michigan

STRENGTHS: Last season, not much was expected out of a young Michigan team. But the Wolverines defied low expectations to win 21 games with a roster loaded with freshmen and without any seniors. Every key player from that team returns except PG Darius Morris, who turned pro early. G Tim Hardaway Jr. led the Wolverines in scoring in Big Ten games (14.9 ppg) and was one of the league's most efficient 3-point shooters. With Morris gone, he's the clear star for the Wolverines. G Zack Novak is the team's emotional, veteran leader. He's 6 feet 4, but in Michigan's guard-heavy lineup, he has been asked to work against opponents' forwards. Jordan Morgan, the third-leading scorer last season at 9.2 points per game, could be the breakout forward Michigan has been seeking -- if he can stay out of foul trouble. Morgan was one of the most improved players in the Big Ten last season. He hopes to continue that trajectory.

AT A GLANCE
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
F Jordan Morgan (6-8/240, Soph.)
F Evan Smotrycz (6-9/235, Soph.)
G Trey Burke (6-1/175, Fr.)
G Tim Hardaway Jr. (6-5/185, Soph.)
G Zack Novak (6-4/210, Sr.)
KEY RESERVES
F Jon Horford (6-9/250, Soph.)
G Carlton Brundidge (6-2/200, Fr.)
G Stu Douglass (6-3/190, Sr.)
G Matt Vogrich (6-4/190, Jr.)

Coach: John Beilein (5th season at Michigan)
Last season's record: 21-14 overall, 9-9 in Big Ten (T-4th in league)
Postseason: Lost to Duke in second round of NCAA tournament
Final regular-season RPI: 52nd
Last time didn't make NCAA field: 2010
[More on Michigan: Go to TheWolverine.com]

WEAKNESSES: The major question for Michigan is how the Wolverines recover from Morris' unexpected departure. Michigan could have trouble replacing his ability to penetrate, not to mention his 235 assists. Stu Douglass was Morris' backup last season, but he was streaky. The Wolverines may have to depend on freshman Trey Burke, a three-star Rivals150 member. Burke may have been the heir apparent at the point, but he'll have to do it a little earlier than coaches expected. Four-star signee Carlton Brundidge also is a candidate for the position. Both freshmen arrived with the reputation of being able get into the lane. With the guard-heavy lineup, Michigan had trouble on the boards, finishing 10th in the Big Ten in rebounding margin (minus-1.8 per game) last season, and that again will be a concern.

OVERVIEW: Michigan started 11-9 overall and 1-6 in the Big Ten before winning 10 of its final 14 games, coming within two points of the Sweet 16. Expectations are higher for the Wolverines this season because its core group of freshmen now are sophomores. Coach John Beilein looks to have the talent on the roster to make a title run in the Big Ten, but the question mark at point guard is a barrier.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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