Ace Anbender from mgoblog.com, agreed to answer some questions about Michigan before Tuesday night's game. Thanks Ace! Also, you can check out his Twitter feed at @aceanbender.
1. What's your take on Michigan this year?
Given the fact that Mitch McGary is still rounding into form after an offseason back injury, it's been tough to get a good read on this team. They're at their best when they're generating turnovers—often due to McGary's disruptive presence—and getting out on the fast break; when opponents take care of the ball and force Michigan to run their halfcourt sets, the offense has often bogged down; too often, they end up looking to Nik Stauskas to just make something happen, and while he's quite capable of doing so it's tough to consistently ask so much from one player. Glenn Robinson III looks like the player he was last year—great in transition and good at out-jumping people for rebounds, but lacking aggression and the ability to create his own offense on one end and looking lost at times on the other. While it's early yet to sound the alarm, his lack of apparent progress really hurts a team looking to replace the production of Tim Hardaway Jr. and (most especially) Trey Burke.
At this point, it's safe to say this team has a lot of ground to cover to reach the heights of last season; like last year's team, though, this is a very young squad that should improve a good deal as the season goes along.
2. What's the health status for you guys? Who's out and who's recovering?
Stauskas rolled his ankle quite badly in the loss to Charlotte last week; his status for this game is very much up in the air, and if he's not able to go then Michigan's chances at victory take a huge hit—he's the clear go-to guy on this team and his shooting ability opens up space for everyone else. McGary had the aforementioned back injury; while he's still working his way into shape, he's in much better condition than he was at this stage last year, and he should be able to give ~30 very active minutes so long as he avoids foul trouble. Robinson fell on his back in the Charlotte game and only played nine minutes, but he looked just fine in last weekend's game against Coppin State—he's a full go.
3. How many young players are being incorporated?
Two true freshmen are playing key roles on this team. Derrick Walton Jr. has been the starting point guard from the get-go, and while he's had his ups and downs he looks very promising; he can knock down the three, spearhead the transition game, and is very active defensively. So far he's a little turnover-prone and occasionally screws up defensive assignments—the usual freshman issues—and I'll definitely be watching to see how composed he stays in Cameron; on a few occasions this year, including the loss at Iowa State, he's allowed himself to get caught up in the opponent's pace and made some poor decisions.
Then there's Zak Irvin, who started the season cold and then—with Stauskas out—went off for 24 points on 9/13 shooting; his previous high was ten points, and that was in the opener against a very overmatched UMass Lowell squad. He's a solidly-built wing who can play the three or the four in Beilein's system, and he has the reputation as a very good shooter and excellent defender—so far, we've just seen flashes of both. If Stauskas has to sit out, he's the key to the game for Michigan; if he's shooting well, the Wolverines can hang around, and if he's ineffective then I don't think they have the scoring punch to keep up.
4 What's Michigan's biggest weakness so far?
The perimeter defense has been shaky; more than that, though, Michigan struggles with size up front. Beilein has played around with having two bigs on the floor, but those lineups have been pretty bad offensively while also being susceptible on the other end if the opponent has a four that can play away from the hoop. When Michigan goes to their normal lineup with Robinson at the four, however, their interior defense and rebounding have suffered—Robinson gets caught ball-watching instead of boxing out on a regular basis, and Charlotte PF Willie Clayton took full advantage of this, pulling in nine offensive rebounds in that game.
5. Who's your key player thus far? And what's your prediction for the game?
Stauskas is the key; if he plays, Michigan has a decent shot, and if he doesn't... well, I'll be bracing for an ugly offensive performance. Since I don't think he'll be 100% even if he sees the floor, I'll predict that Duke takes this one in a game that looks closer in the box score than it does on the court.