High hopes for 5th-ranked Michigan

John Beilein is heading into uncharted territory.

For the first time since he began climbing the Division I

coaching ladder, Beilein is entering his sixth season with the same

school. And what a campaign it could be. His Michigan Wolverines

are coming off a Big Ten championship and start 2012-13 ranked

fifth in the country.

”I think anybody building a program has to understand, it is

difficult, because people weren’t stepping back and saying, `Hey,

let’s let Michigan have their turn.’ It’s hard to get there,”

Beilein said. ”If you establish the culture and get the right

breaks here and there, anything can happen.”

The Wolverines are one of three Big Ten teams in the top five.

The No. 5 ranking is Michigan’s highest in the preseason since

1993, when the Wolverines were coming off back-to-back appearances

in the NCAA title game.

After a nine-year run at LeMoyne, Beilein spent five seasons

each at Canisius, Richmond and West Virginia before settling in at

Michigan. Last season was his most successful yet with the

Wolverines. They tied for the Big Ten championship and won 24 games

– although they lost their NCAA tournament opener to Ohio.

Michigan then caught a break in the offseason when point guard

Trey Burke decided to stay for his sophomore season instead of

leaving for the NBA. When Burke arrived last season, the Wolverines

were trying to replace another star point guard after Darius Morris

turned pro. Michigan didn’t miss a beat. Burke was the team’s

leading scorer and provided crucial 3-point shooting in Beilein’s

perimeter-oriented offense.

”Burke was able to step in and fill in so admirably as a

freshman,” Beilein said. ”So having him back has been helpful

because he’s a good player, he is a winner, he’s proved he’s a

winner and having talent is one thing, teaching winning is another

thing. He’s been through a year where he was so helpful in that Big

Ten championship in games both at home and on the road.”

Burke’s role now includes mentoring Michigan’s newcomers. The

freshman class that includes forwards Mitch McGary and Glenn

Robinson III, along with guard Nik Stauskas, has Ann Arbor abuzz.

It will be interesting to see how they meld together with holdovers

Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jordan Morgan.

”I’m just trying to teach the freshmen at a faster pace,”

Burke said. ”When we’re off the court, I’ll show them some film.

I’ll just try to show them little tips and things in the

offense.”

Beilein’s offense often surrounds a single post player with four

perimeter shooters. Now, the 6-foot-8 Morgan can expect more help

inside. If the 6-10 McGary can contribute right away, the

Wolverines may actually be a threat on the offensive boards, which

isn’t usually a staple of Beilein’s teams.

It’s Beilein’s job to figure out how to use Michigan’s newfound

size while also setting Burke and the outside shooters up to

succeed.

”We’re basically trying to figure out what’s the best way to

use each guy rather than who are the five that are together,”

Beilein said. ”We are just continuing to experiment with it.”

Perhaps the biggest wild card on Michigan’s roster continues to

be Hardaway, an athletic wing who can drive to the basket and

create problems for opponents with his length. But the 6-6 Hardaway

looked frustrated at times last season, shooting only 42 percent

from the field and 28 percent from 3-point range.

”When he plays the 3 or the 2, how much he has the ball off the

dribble, off the pass, I think he’s growing comfortable no matter

what he’s doing and learning about his strengths,” Beilein said.

”Love coaching him every day, intensity is incredible.”