ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The Wolverines have reached the Final Four for the first time since 1993. That means the last time Michigan stepped on a Final Four floor, not only had America just sworn in its first female attorney general, but Tag Team and Boy George were both dominating American air waves.
We’ll call it a draw for humanity.
So in the spirit of the basketball frenzy that has taken over, I’ll answer your roundball questions this week as the Wolverine fans prepare for what is an historic day. Mike will take care of the mailbag next week, so send your questions on to him at @MikeRothstein or firstname.lastname@example.org. Now, let’s talk some basketball ...
1) Rick Rawlings via Twitter: Do you think coach John Beilein has seen this zone from Jim Boeheim enough in the past? Can we break this zone?
A: One of the first Michigan basketball games I covered was at the Legends Classic in Atlantic City, where Michigan played Syracuse in 2010. And let me say, Boeheim’s 2-3 zone is something else. Its length is deceptive and Boeheim recruits to that system. Syracuse’s smallest starter is 6-foot-4 (that’s four inches taller than Trey Burke). And I guarantee you most of their players' wingspans are longer than they should be, so when players try to make passes that would be fine against any normal team, suddenly they become steals/turnovers created by Syracuse.
Beilein has seen it a fair amount, but what matters more is that this is a young team; they haven’t seen a zone like this, ever. Tim Hardaway Jr. played against it in that Legends Classic, but he’ll be the only guy in regular rotation who has seen it.
I think the key will be not digging a hole early. If they turn over the ball six times and play bad defense for the first few minutes and go down 12-3, you might see Michigan hit panic mode a bit on the floor, which would be bad all around. If the Wolverines can control the ball offensively, hit some early shots and get some defensive stops, allowing themselves to get used to the zone, the learning curve will happen and the Wolverines will be right there in it. That being said, I think the zone will favor Nik Stauskas’ side or wherever he is, so ball rotation and other players hitting outside shots will be crucial to their offensive success.
2) Chris Larson via Twitter: Which Wolverines do you expect to go pro?
A: I think that Burke is gone. (Though, I will add to that statement how I fully believed Taylor Lewan was gone, too. Moments before his announcement I sat in his press conference and said, “Who has a press conference to announce they’re staying?” to multiple writers. Lewan, that’s who.) Even if it ends without a national championship, this season has been about as picturesque as it gets for college basketball players these days -- between beating Michigan State and Ohio State in Ann Arbor, hitting that late 3 against Kansas and his accolades upon accolades, I think he has done it all.
Hardaway Jr. will be in an interesting spot. He definitely hasn’t been talked about too much, but I think in the back of his mind he’ll have memories of how his draft stock seemed to be lower after his sophomore season than his freshman season. Add to that the fact that his point guard next season -- the person he’ll depend on to open up shots and lanes -- will be either Spike Albrecht or a true freshman, which might also hurt his play as a senior.
As far as the freshmen, the only one I think would consider it would be Glenn Robinson III, but I think he’ll stay.
3) Josh Modjeski via Twitter: Who's more likely to step into PG next season, Spike or the incoming freshmen?
A: Out of the blocks, I’ll give the start to Albrecht. As the season goes on and Derrick Walton (Harper Woods, Mich./Chandler Park Academy) gets adjusted to the college game and speed, he’ll definitely have a chance to take over. But Albrecht has showed off some skills late this season and he’s further along in his game than I expected him to be.
Whether it’s him or Walton, next year’s team will be quite different and the game will be approached from a different angle. So much of the offense right now is funneled through Burke, which I think you just won’t be able to do next season with a first-year starter.