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November 21, 2013
What To Watch For: Puerto Rico Tip-Off
Michigan begins its quest for a Puerto Rico Tip-Off title tonight against Long Beach State.
1. Mitch McGary
Leading up to last Sunday's game at Iowa State, Michigan coach John Beilein remained hush-hush on the topic of his big man, sophomore Mitch McGary, whose sore back had held him out of most team drills and practices and the Wolverines' first two games of the season.
"If you see him in warmups before the game, he's playing," Beilein said.
Well, we had on his warmups before the Cyclones game - and he certainly played. McGary was the first player off the bench in the game.
It wasn't cleared whether Beilein would ease McGary into the lineup a few minutes at a time or throw him out there and let him run wild. When the dust settled from the Wolverines' 77-70 loss, McGary had played a respectable - and productive - 22 minutes, finishing with nine points on 4-of-7 shooting, six rebounds and four steals.
He was an immediate boost to an offense that was struggling in its first game away from Crisler Arena, working inside to grabs boards, keep possessions alive and poke a few put-backs in for easy buckets.
The Wolverines were outrebounded by the likes of Wayne State and UMass Lowell. With McGary in the lineup, Michigan won the rebounding battle over a tough Iowa State team - complete with impressive post-presence Melvin Ejim - 38-37.
That's a big step up, and it can be attributed to McGary.
And even with how well he played inside, it was clear that McGary is still missing that extra bounce in his step he had in the postseason last year - that extra oomph that made him something of a national celebrity and put him on several preseason All-American lists.
He'll get it back. He just needs to get back into the groove of things, which will happen more and more and he continues to work back into the lineup.
That being said, it's difficult to gauge just how much he will play in this tournament. Because he's still so freshly back - and still not quite at 100 percent - Beilein could limit him. Three games in four days is a lot to ask of someone who's fighting back from back problems.
If he comes in and torches three teams in four days, you should absolutely be ecstatic and excited for his season ahead. If he doesn't play as much as you were expecting, don't worry - he'll be back to full strength soon enough.
2. Three-Point Shooting
This is obviously going to be a strength of this team in 2013-14 - and pretty much any year that Beilein is Michigan's coach.
But the Wolverines are coming off a dreadful shooting performance against the Cyclones, hitting just 8-of-29 attempts from downtown (27.6 percent).
And almost everyone was off, players that have proven they can hit the three-ball with accuracy.
Sophomore Glenn Robinson III, sophomore Caris LeVert and freshman Derrick Walton, Jr. all went 1-of-5 from three-point range. Freshman Zak Irvin was 0-of-2. And sharpshooter Nik Stauskas went 4-of-10 on the night.
Will the Wolverines bounce back?
It was no small coincidence that they first poor shooting performance came in their first game away from Crisler Arena. In Puerto Rico, will it be more of the same, or will Michigan buckle down and get back to its usual dead-eye shooting?
3. The Press
Not to get ahead of the curve here, but if Michigan does what it is supposed to and dispatches Long Beach State, and Virginia Commonwealth beats Florida State, it sets up a very interesting second-round matchup.
In the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year, the Wolverine annihilated the Rams, 78-53.
VCU's infamous press defense gave the Wolverines no problems, with sophomore point guard Trey Burke constantly breaking it and getting the offense out in transition.
But Burke is gone, and this would be a huge test for sophomore Spike Albrecht and Walton, who would be charged with handling the pressure.
I like both point guards' abilities, and think they can more than handle the VCU press - but they have to prove it. That is, if they play the Rams.