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October 17, 2013Michigan basketball, coming off a national championship game performance, is the nation's No. 9 team as voted by the coaches in the annual USA TODAY preseason poll. The Wolverines are second in the Big Ten to Michigan State (No. 2) and ahead of Ohio State (No. 10), Wisconsin (No. 21) and Indiana (No. 24).
The Wolverines return starters Jordan Morgan, Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas. Losing Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the NBA hurts, but Yahoo Sports tabs freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. No. 7 in its freshmen expected to have a big year.
"The last time Michigan had to replace an NBA-bound point guard with a freshman, some kid named Trey Burke turned out to be halfway decent," they wrote. "The Wolverines can now hope that the transition from Burke to Walton is as seamless this season as it was from Darius Morris to Burke during the 2011-12 campaign.
"A speedy and athletic 6-foot point guard best known for his court vision and ability to set up his teammates, Walton will be given every chance to win the starting point guard job from day one. The Detroit native's primary competition is sophomore Spike Albrecht, a reserve who scored 17 first-half points in the national title game last year but averaged just eight minutes per game behind Burke over the course of the season."
ESPN.com's Fran Fraschilla, meanwhile, recently named Robinson III one of the top undersized power forwards in college basketball.
"Robinson is a tricky case, as he ranks No. 13 in Chad Ford's NBA prospect rankings as a small forward but played his freshman season in the player forward role with great success," Fraschilla wrote. "While I have no doubt that coach John Beilein will figure out what is best for Robinson and the Wolverines, he must make sure Robinson doesn't stray too far from what makes him successful: intelligent energy plays."
That said, reviews on Robinson's improved ball handling have been positive. The sophomore shot 65 percent from two-point range and 32-percent from three last year. He'll still play some four, but expect to see more of him at the three, as well.
While Walton Jr. is fine after suffering a minor foot injury (he was spotted in a boot earlier this fall), there's still concern about sophomore big man Mitch McGary's back. McGary has been relegated to lighter workouts and treatment in the early going, and we don't expect to hear more from head coach John Beilein until Oct. 24 media day.
Bad news for Burke, though, for those who hadn't heard. The Utah Jazz rookie and ninth overall pick in the draft started the preseason well, scoring 12 points and adding three assists in a 101-78 win over Golden State that left his veteran backup, John Lucas III, impressed.
"He let the game come to him," Lucas told the Salt Lake Tribune. "When I saw that, I was like, 'Young fella's gonna be OK. Young fella's gonna be all right.' I think he's going to be a star in this league."
The bad news came a few nights later when Burke broke his finger, requiring surgery. He'll be out eight to 12 weeks, meaning he'll miss 22 to 36 games. Dec. 9 is the earliest possible projection for his return.
"It's unfortunate," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "It's part of the business getting hurt and seeing how he responds."
Burke was nine of 30 from the floor before getting hurt, but he'd dished 12 assists against five turnovers. He was still considered a potential rookie of the year candidate given how much he was expected to play.
"My heart goes out to (Burke) because he wants to be out there and he was just now getting into his rhythm," Lucas said. "He was feeling comfortable, feeling the flow of the game - how fast [it] can be, the intensity. (But) one thing about Trey, he's going to go in and watch film. And when he comes back, he's going to be ready."
Better news for Hardaway Jr., who continues to impress in New York. The rookie will be in the rotation, head coach Mike Woodson said, after a strong preseason debut.
"I think Tim has put himself in a nice position to play, there's no doubt about that. He's going to be in the rotation, he's going to play some," Woodson told reporters, according to KnicksNow.com.
Hardaway Jr. went for 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including the eventual game-winner, in last Wednesday's 103-102 win over the Celtics.
"I'm not really worried about playing time, I'm just trying to get an opportunity to go out there and play as hard as I can when I get the opportunity," Hardaway Jr. said after shooting 3-for-5 from the arc.