Four years ago, John Beilein’s crew nearly took down Duke in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32 with Darius Morris and Tim Hardaway Jr. leading the way. The following year without Morris, Beilein inserted a precocious freshman named Trey Burke into the lineup and led the Wolverines to the top of the Big Ten. The following year he added three more freshmen into the starting lineup and improved to the point of a National Championship game appearance. Last year, when everybody thought the run was finally done and Beilein couldn’t keep up with lost personnel, the Wolverines were an implausible three-pointer away from a return trip to the Final Four. For the past four seasons, Michigan’s offense has ranked among the top 25 teams in the nation in offensive efficiency. Producing at least 1.1 points per possession over such a long period of time doesn’t occur by chance — it happens because of an open-minded approach to adjusting the offense to players’ strengths and controlled experimentation with the available personnel. While the Wolverines do not appear to be a Final Four favorite this season, discounting their chances to challenge Wisconsin for the league title is probably not a good idea.
The following are three reasons why Michigan should have an elite offense again this year:
- The Wolverines have plenty of long-range shooters. It shouldn’t be a news flash to Big Ten fans that Beilein’s teams consistently move the ball to find long-range shots — 35 percent of their field goal attempts last season came from beyond the arc. Last year alone, they hoisted a robust 700 threes between their top six scorers. Ball-handlers dribbling off screens and kicking the ball to to the corners is a signature play within Beilein’s offense. Burke ran it to find Stauskas two years ago. Stauskas ran the same play last year with Glenn Robinson and Derrick Walton. Walton will take over that baton this year and he will not lack for shooters. A Michigan small-ball lineup would include Spike Albrecht, Zak Irvin Caris Levert and Walton — all of these players shot at least 38 percent from distance a year ago. There will be plenty of shots from long-range and luckily the Wolverines have a bunch of guys who shoot pretty jumpers.
- Irvin could be an effective version of Hardaway. Irvin and Hardaway are both 6’6” and can pull up on a dime off the dribble to shoot a jumper. The knock against Hardaway was his poor shot selection, but the jury is still out on Irvin’s efficiency because he didn’t play enough minutes last season. If the sophomore doesn’t force shots, he has the talent to become a very good scorer in this league. He is big enough at the wing position to grab a couple of offensive boards per game and keep the defenses guessing. Beilein will definitely try to use him on pick-and-rolls with Walton because both of them are effective from the mid-range. If Irvin works well within the construct of Belein’s game plan, he could be a super sophomore.
- Robinson’s departure could lead to better overall efficiency. Robinson was extremely talented but was also consistently flat-footed and didn’t try to attack the basket enough. Instead, he often crippled the Wolverines’ offensive flow by hoisting ill-advised shots from the corner when he easily could have used the back-door cut instead. And despite shooting 147 three-pointers, he made only 31 percent of them, the worst such mark on the squad. Take those shots and distribute them across players such as Walton and Levert, each of whom tends to make better offensive decisions with the ball, and now you have an offense that could actually be more efficient than last season’s top-ranked group.