Perhaps it's best to get a crucial fact out of the way immediately. In a year where the Big Ten is loaded with decorated seniors, Michigan doesn't have a single senior on its roster. There are just two juniors. Only four players who came to Michigan on scholarship can say they've scored a point for the Maize and Blue.
In short, this doesn't sound like the year when Michigan hangs a Final Four banner that will be allowed to stay in Crisler Arena's rafters.
"Right now, we're so young that we might be too naive to know any better, that we're not supposed to do well," Michigan junior guard Zack Novak told AnnArbor.com. "We've got guys really working hard this whole offseason, especially the freshmen coming in to work on Day 1. Just the attitude and demeanor they have about themselves, they are a confident bunch. I think we can surprise some people. It's going to be fun."
At the least, it's going to be a season where the Wolverines can't lose sight of the fact that they're building. With six freshmen and four sophomores on scholarship, the long view is paramount. While Novak (7.4 ppg) and fellow junior Stu Douglass (6.8 ppg) figure to be among the team's top six players -- and sophomore point guard Darius Morris figures to retain the starting job he owned for the latter half of last season -- that leaves a lot of minutes for a lot of untested youngsters.
"If we just focus on developing and focus on developing, we're going to finish where we finish," Michigan coach John Beilein told AnnArbor.com, "but we're dead set on finishing as high as we're capable of doing and get better and then we attack again."
Michigan got a jump start on the development process by hitting Europe for nine days in August. The Wolverines went 1-3 on the trip as nobody played more than 21.5 minutes per game, but they learned some things. Freshman forward Tim Hardaway Jr., for example, averaged 11.8 points in just 18.7 minutes per game.
--Michigan has more than its share of famous surnames on this year's roster. As you might be able to guess, freshman Tim Hardaway, Jr., is the son of the former Golden State point guard. The 6-foot-5, 185-pound Miami native figures to be the Wolverines' starting small forward from the jump. AnnArbor.com columnist Mike Rothstein speculates that Hardaway could be the team's leading scorer and rebounder.
Freshman forward Jon Horford is the brother of Atlanta Hawks power forward Al Horford and the son of former NBA center Tito Horford. While he has the frame to play inside (6-9, 220), Horford has a sweet 3-point touch. His skill set makes him sound like a potential Kevin Pittsnogle -- the power forward who helped one of John Beilein's West Virginia teams to the Elite Eight.
Sophomore guard Jordan Dumars, the South Florida transfer who becomes eligible after the fall semester ends, is the son of Detroit Pistons president Joe Dumars.
--When center DeShawn Sims exhausted his eligibility and junior forward Manny Harris decided to leave school a year early, Michigan lost the two players that dominated the box scores last season. They combined for 53 percent of Michigan's points, 50 percent of the field-goal attempts and 43 percent of the rebounds.
While Michigan has a few experienced players to pick up Harris' slack on the perimeter, there's no such thing upfront. Michigan has four players 6-foot-8 or taller, but they're all freshmen: Redshirts Blake McLimans (6-10, 240) and Jordan Morgan (6-8, 240) and rookies Evan Smotrycz (6-9, 225) and Jon Horford (6-9, 220).
--Michigan coach John Beilein says true freshmen Evan Smotrycz and Colton Christian are the contenders to start at power forward. Smotrycz, ranked as the No. 80 prospect in the Class of 2010 per the Recruiting Services Consensus Index, averaged 6.8 points and 3.8 rebounds in 14.0 minutes per game on the Europe trip in late August. Christian sat out with a hamstring injury.
LAST YEAR: 15-17 overall, 7-11 in the Big Ten
HEAD COACH: John Beilein, fourth year as head coach (46-53 at Michigan; 597-371 career)
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Although we're young, that doesn't put any limitations on how hard we work and the effort we give on the court. Even if we're outmatched talent-wise or height-wise. Our hearts are going to be a big part of the season." -- Sophomore point guard Darius Morris on AnnArbor.com.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Darius Morris, SG Zack Novak, SF Tim Hardaway, Jr., PF Evan Smotrycz, C Blake McLimans.
LINEUP BREAKDOWN: Michigan's lineup figures to be a flexible thing as Michigan's youngsters wax and wane and the Wolverines try to match up with their opponents. Every projected starter except Morris attempted at least 3.5 3-pointers per game on the Europe summer trip, while returning starter Stu Douglass and much-improved sophomore guard Matt Vogrich might be the team's best shooters. That always counts in John Beilein's system. All five of Michigan's power forwards and centers are freshmen, which suggests their playing time will be fluid.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS:
All four of Michigan's incoming freshmen figure to be in the mix. Tim Hardaway, Jr., who averaged 31.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4 assists as a high school senior, ought to step right in at small forward. Evan Smotrycz and Colton Christian are the leading contenders at power forward while wiry Jon Horford (brother of Atlanta Hawks standout Al Horford) figures in the mix at center.
--Freshman forward Colton Christian didn't play on the Europe trip in late August due to a hamstring injury. However, the one-time Tulane signee is in the mix to start at power forward.
--Sophomore guard Jordan Dumars can't play until the fall semester ends. The son of former Detroit Pistons all-star Joe Dumars didn't transfer from USF to Michigan until last January, so he'll fulfilling the rest of the required one-year sit.
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