Now that we know who will be leaving and returning Michigan, we know what the team will be next season. That allows for me to project the starting lineup, with about seven months until next season tips off.
The spots we know are the trio of rising sophomore stars, Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary. Those three have established themselves, with Robinson having started every game as a freshman, Stauskas coming on a bit later as a starter and McGary becoming a starter in the NCAA Tournament. That leaves two open spots in the starting lineup and the job of matching players with positions and roles.
So, let’s fill out that starting five. But to do that, we must see what roles John Beilein has filled and what he needs. McGary is going to be the starting big man. That appears to be pretty obvious as Beilein clearly showed how much he believes in McGary by deciding to start him in the NCAA Tournament and how well it turned out for everyone involved. Stauskas is a wing, either a shooting guard or small forward. Let’s put him at shooting guard for now, but as long as Stauskas is in a position to make three pointers, he is in the right position. That leaves just Robinson. 6-7, he is athletic enough and a good enough ball handler and shooter to play on the perimeter, while also having the rebounding and inside scoring abilities that would suit him as a power forward. As a freshman, Robinson played a sort of in-between role, cutting into the paint, while also floating out to the perimeter and shooting almost two threes a game, though making just 32%.
So, if we pencil Stauskas in on the wing and McGary as the big man (I’ll come back to Robinson), we still have two starting spots, one at point guard and one at whichever position Robinson isn’t at (3 or 4). At point guard, it will be between the newly famous Spike Albrecht, or four-star, top 40 in the country freshman, Derrick Walton. I have to think that considering how much Beilein has relied on freshman point guards in the past (Stu Douglass, Darious Morris and Trey Burke all started more than 20 games as true freshmen) that he will give Walton a fair shot at starting. And at the end of the day, I think he picks Walton, who has much more talent and upside than Albrecht. I also think Albrecht is better suited to a role coming off the bench, while Walton can be another star point guard for Michigan. Most importantly, Albrecht will likely be too busy with Kate Upton next year to be a starter.
That leaves the Wolverines with one starting spot left. There are two options. The first: play Robinson at small forward on the perimeter and start another big man with McGary. That would likely mean a return of Jordan Morgan to the starting lineup or possibly Jon Horford. The scond option: move Robinson to power forward, where he will still be able to float out to the perimeter at will and start five star freshman Zak Irvin at small forward. I think the answer is actually pretty simple; the second choice. Irvin can be a superstar at Michigan, Morgan and Horford are both nice backup big men.
It would be silly to sit the no. 24 player in the 2013 class on the bench, when instead you could have an incredibly explosive lineup of Walton, Stauskas, Irvin, Robinson and McGary. Every player on that lineup can run the floor, finish a the rim, make mid range jumpers and four out of the five can hit threes. Opposing defenses will find it nearly impossible to guard a lineup with a dynamic point guard (Walton), possibly the best three point shooter in the country (Stauskas), a potential star, who can shoot and attack the paint (Irvin), an explosive, versatile player who could have been a lottery pick (Robinson) and potentially the most exciting big man in America after this past NCAA Tourney (McGary).
For this starting lineup to materialize, Robinson has to move to the four, which in Beilein’s offense would still allow him to play on the perimeter when the situation suits it. I believe that Beilein will be smart enough to do this, as his best attributes are getting his players in the right position to succeed and not being afraid to trust youth. If he does the latter of those attributes, it should result in the former and another exciting, special Michigan team next season.