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September 27, 2013

News & Views: Beilein talks McGary injury, more

Michigan coach John Beilein sat down with the media to discuss his team as it gears up to get back on the court after last season's run to the National Championship Game. Here are the highlights:

News: Shortly before Beilein took to the podium to address the media Friday afternoon, the athletic department released a statement that said sophomore forward Mitch McGary has been - and will be - "limited" in practice due to a "lower back condition."

No timetable was discussed, and Beilein declined to talk about the cause of the injury.

Beilein: "It's day to day. He's working like crazy to get back. He's not going to be out there today. … It's been day to day pretty much all fall. We move forward from there, and we're very hopeful. He had a great summer, and he has done some on-and-off things this fall."

Views: This, of course, is not great news. As good as point guard Trey Burke was in the NCAA Tournament last season, McGary's emergence in postseason play was the catalyst of the Wolverines' run to the National Championship Game - and with his return to school, McGary is poised to have a huge season in 2013-14.

McGary was pegged as a USA Today Preseason All-American, and with that level of recognition, the expectations are sky high.

The Wolverines still have more than a month to prepare for their first exhibition game of the season, vs. Concordia Oct. 29, and they seem hopeful that McGary will be back to his normal, feisty self by then.

But in practice, it will be up to fifth-year senior Jordan Morgan and redshirt junior Jon Horford to pick up the slack in his absence. Of course, it was a late-season injury to Morgan that opened the door for McGary's postseason explosion last season, so the Michigan frontcourt is used to carrying their fallen brethren.

Expect a lot of talk about McGary's health in the coming weeks. Without Burke and guard Tim Hardaway, Jr., who are now both playing in The League, a lot of the onus will fall on McGary and forward Glenn Robinson III. Getting McGary back quickly will be a big issue for the Wolverines.

News: With the new more lax NCAA practice rules and guidelines, the Michigan coaches have been able to spend much more time with their team than in previous years.

Beilein: "We hope it's going to be really helpful for us. If my math is correct, we would have 24 practices in four weeks. Now we have 30 practices in six weeks. As a result, we're going five days a week, and those six extra practices should be big for us. And, of course, the practices in the summer.

"This change is so good, overall, being able to practice over the summer and at the right rate. I hope that teams that emphasize skills and fundamentals, like we hope to do, will really benefit from it."

Views: Freshman point guard Derrick Walton, Jr. and freshman guard Zak Irvin are going to be big pieces to the team this year, having to fill in the vacant spots left by Burke and Hardaway.

The more time that the coaches have with those two, the better.

And of course, Beilein is a coach that preaches fundamentals as much if not more than any coach in the league. The first practices of the year are all about footwork, placement, the little things. Back when practices began in October, that focus on fundamentals pushed the installment of offensive and defensive philosophies back pretty late.

Now, the Wolverines are way ahead of schedule. These extra practices are obviously going to benefit every team in the country - but they're almost tailor made for a coach like Beilein. This is a huge positive for the Wolverines.

News: Sophomore point guard Spike Albrecht and Walton are competing for playing time, jockeying for the chance to replace Burke in the lineup.

Beilein:" We've had them together a limited number of times. We've had them in separate groups sometimes, because of class schedules. Right now, as far as what I hear from them in open gyms and things, the players enjoy playing with both of them. It's not as much about them going against each other as it is the embracing playing with each of them. They both have great goals in the number of assists they can have. They both take a lot of pride in that."

Views: The idea of "replacing" Burke is almost absurd. He was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of player, but the Wolverines have to move on. Neither Albrecht nor Walton will live up to Burke's lofty standard, but that's OK. With a team stocked with talent around the point guard position, Walton and Albrecht don't have to be otherworldly this season.

That's not to say they're not good. Walton has all the makings of a special point-guard-in-the-making. He has all the physical tools, the offensive IQ and the understanding of the game to be a standout at the position - but he is a true freshman, so there will undoubtedly be some hiccups along the way.

Albrecht is pretty darn good, too - and he can provide some serious sparks when and if he needs to, as he showed in the Final Four.

The Wolverines are in pretty good hands.

News: Beilein likes players with the versatility to play multiple positions on the court - and Irvin is right in that mold.

Beilein: "You always like to have guys out there that can shoot. He's a hunter out there as well. You like that. He's more aggressive offensively than some of the other freshmen that have come in here, and that's something we can work with.

"Defense is a norm for him. From what we've seen so far, he likes to play defense. There aren't a lot of people that look at that end of the floor and say, 'I get to play defense.' He's given no indication that he doesn't love that side of the floor. That's not always normal for the scorer, shooter that he has been in high school. He relishes both those roles."

Views: Irvin also has pretty big shoes to fill, but he's more than capable of doing so.

Irvin has a lot of talent. He can fill in the Hardaway role, as well as provide some other flare for the Wolverines. Like Walton, he will probably have some growing pains as he transitions to the next level, but he has the potential to be a very dangerous offensive and defensive player.

News: After the Wolverines' run to the National Championship Game, the program is striving to be a consistent perennial contender.

Beilein: "I like the direction that our program is going in, with that Big Ten Championship and making the tournament with that young team a couple years ago. And then of course last year. Maybe people know us more or understand the Block M more. As we strive to get back to where we were in the days where we were a perpetual postseason player, I think I see that appreciation and understanding that, so far, this is working well.

I should probably enjoy that a little more, but I do know the recognition of our program and what we're trying to do is 100 percent, 200 percent, 300 percent more than when we first got here."

Views: What's not to like about the Michigan program right now? The Wolverines were right there with Louisville with a chance to win a national championship, are recruiting as well as anyone in the country, have some of the best facilities in the nation and are poised to make their fourth NCAA Tournament in a row and their fifth in six years.


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