Wolverines eager to keep building program
John Beilein has brought Michigan back to the NCAA tournament - twice in four seasons as coach. Just this week, he added a couple big-name recruits for the future, and when his talented, experienced team takes the floor for the season opener, it will do so in a newly renovated arena.
The basketball renaissance in Ann Arbor isn't complete, but there's a sense these Wolverines aren't too far from earning a spot among the nation's elite.
''We're certainly moving in the right direction,'' Beilein said. ''Most programs are going to have these peaks and valleys, as long as we keep, in the long run, moving in the right direction - I think we are.''
The 18th-ranked Wolverines begin their season Friday night against Division II Ferris State. The game will take place at Crisler Arena, which includes new seats and a new high-definition scoreboard. Later this month, Michigan will travel to the Maui Invitational for a nice early-season test.
The big question is how the Wolverines will manage without Darius Morris, their point guard who did a little bit of everything in 2010-11. Morris left after his sophomore season and was picked in the second round of the NBA draft.
Beilein announced Thursday that freshman Trey Burke will start at point guard against Ferris State, a move that will enable senior Stu Douglass to come off the bench and focus on scoring.
''I know he doesn't mind coming off the bench and hunting shots a little bit more than running a team,'' Beilein said. ''He's a shot hunter.''
Scoring is understandably a concern after Michigan struggled to a 47-39 win last week in a home exhibition game against Wayne State.
Beilein admits his team hasn't proven it can replace a player like Morris, but Michigan may have to get used to replacing top talent - because the Wolverines are bringing in more highly regarded players these days. Burke is the most important newcomer at the moment, but next season the Wolverines will welcome a recruiting class that's ranked No. 8 in the country by Scout.com.
That class includes Mitch McGary, a big man Scout.com ranks as the nation's No. 2 prospect in that class. Glenn Robinson III - the son of the former Purdue star - has also signed with the Wolverines.
Before those players join the team, Michigan will try to live up to some high expectations this season. The Wolverines surprised many by making the NCAA tournament last season. They've made it twice in Beilein's four years as their coach after they were absent since 1998.
Michigan swept rival Michigan State, and every key player except Morris is back - including Tim Hardaway Jr., who came on strong toward the end of last season as a freshman.
It's Hardaway who might have to take on more responsibility as a scorer now, as Michigan tries to replace Morris' ability to create his own shot.
''I think that we adapt to whatever situation we need,'' Douglass said. ''We can reevaluate our goals in the middle of the season and adapt how we need to play - adapt roles for different guys that might change during the year.''
Aside from Douglass and Hardaway, Michigan also welcomes back 3-point threats Zack Novak and Evan Smotrycz, as well as 6-foot-8 Jordan Morgan, who shot 63 percent from the field last season.
''I think we need to play with the same type of poise that we were at the end of last year,'' Beilein said. ''There was such an excitement in this building when we played Michigan State here. You couldn't be more hyped for a game, and we played with great precision and poise in that first half, yet now our first game in a new arena, we did anything but that. That's the biggest thing. Let's just get settled down and play basketball the best we can play.''