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November 8, 2013

What To Watch For: U-M vs. UMass Lowell

Michigan opens the 2013-14 season vs. UMass Lowell Friday night.

1. The Starting Lineup:

The Basics
  • The Teams: Michigan vs. UMass-Lowell
  • The History: This is UMass Lowell's first-ever game as an NCAA Division I member. The River Hawks made the Division II tournament in four of the last five years.
  • The Place: Crisler Arena, Ann Arbor
  • The Time: 7 p.m
  • The Broadcast: MGoBlue TV
  • The Updates: Follow along with us on The Fort, @JB_Wolverine, @Balas_Wolverine and @AReid_Wolverine.
Wayne State Players To Watch
  • Senior guard Akeem Williams: 19.9 points per game and 3.2 rebounds per game last season.
  • Sophomore Chad Holley: 11.2 points per game and 3.2 rebounds per game last season.

Michigan coach John Beilein was a little coy Thursday afternoon, when asked whether he had decided on a starting five for Friday night's season-opening game against UMass-Lowell.

"Yeah, I think we'll have a good starting lineup," he said with a smile.

And that was all he had to say on the matter.

The one thing we know is the Michigan will be without sophomore forward Mitch McGary, who is still nursing a sore back. McGary is a presumed starter when he gets back into the lineup, so whatever five the Wolverines bust out Friday night will probably not be the one they end the season with.

Onto the players who will actually play Friday.

The most intriguing question is, "Who will start at point guard?" Beilein gave both sophomore Spike Albrecht and freshman Derrick Walton a start in the exhibition season, with Albrecht kicking things off against Concordia and Walton getting the nod against Wayne State.

At this point, it seems clear that the point guard spot will be a little more by-committee than last year, when Trey Burke put the offense on his back.

But someone has to start, and that picture will come a little more into focus today. Does Beilein let the rookie loose, or will he want Walton coming off the bench?

It seems like a sure thing that sophomores Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III will be in the starting lineup. Those two were clutch last year, and they have only progressed since then.

There's not much mystery there. Stauskas and Robinson are going to be on the floor.

Then, I think it comes down to whether Beilein wants size or perimeter athleticism.

He has a couple options here. He could go big with fifth-year senior forward Jordan Morgan and redshirt junior forward Jon Horford, or he could start one of them and get sophomore guard Caris LeVert into the mix.

2. The Handle

Last year, UMass Lowell played a Division II schedule, but even so, the River Hawks' 7.1 steals per game are still pretty impressive.

They have some aggressive and opportunistic defenders, and they can get hands on ball and disrupt things on the defensive end of the court.

Either Albrecht or Walton is going to make his first-career start. Michigan fans have every reason to be confident about their both point guards' handling abilities.

But in their first-ever start, facing an aggressive defense, there may be a few inopportune turnovers.

If Albrecht and Walton - when in the game - can effectively lead the offense without coughing up turnovers, it will be a very positive sign.

If they play the way the did during the exhibition season, they'll be just fine. In two games, Albrecht tallied four assists to one turnover; Walton had eight assists and three turnovers.

They're three-to-one combined assist-to-turnover ratio is more than sufficient.

3. Rebounding:

UMass Lowell isn't a great rebounding team, posting a negative-2.8 rebounding margin per game last season. The River Hawks have sophomore center James McDonnell (6-10) but not a whole lot of size behind him.

But Wayne State did not have much size, either, and it outrebounded Michigan 26-22.

The Wolverines have up 25 total offensive rebounds in the two exhibition games. They have to do a better job.

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