The 2012-13 Michigan basketball team is ranked as high as No. 3 nationally by some prognosticators coming off a Big Ten championship season. Head coach John Beilein, though, is approaching the year the same way he always does - by focusing on his team only and ignoring the polls.
U-M exceeded most people's expectations last year thanks in large part to freshman point guard Trey Burke. An infusion of athleticism to a strong nucleus has many eyes on what's happening in Ann Arbor.
"I don't even pay any attention to that," Beilein said of lofty preseason rankings. "How would I know we're top five if I didn't know what anybody else had? I know Michigan has a team that we're trying to have them develop to find their potential.
"I'm not in other people's practices. I have no idea what other people have. If people base things just off recruiting they're probably going to be wrong a lot more than they're right, whether it's us or somebody else. Looking at people over a long run of what they do, that's how to best find out. We have a chance to keep improving every day, to go after a championship in the Big Ten just like all the teams in the Big Ten."
The goals are the same each year, he added.
"It will always be the same goal throughout the University of Michigan. I've always felt if you can compete for a Big Ten championship, you can compete for a national championship. If we are indeed one of the best leagues in the country, then it follows right along.
"Everybody dreams big. We honor that 1989 team, and what they did was such a tremendous part of Michigan lore and basketball history. There are a lot of ways we measure ourselves. One of the primary ones is Big Ten champions, as hard as it is to do. We've only had 13 of them, and we've been playing basketball a long time. That's a good number compared to other teams in the league. It's still always going to be the primary goal."
Beilein touched on a number of other subjects in his media day press conference:
On redshirt sophomore big man Jon Horford: "He and Jordan Morgan spent a lot of time in the weight room over the summer working out on their own. He's taken the smallest steps sometimes you can take and many steps backward just to make another big step forward.
"He's one persistent young man. He just keeps working, no matter what you say. He's had some workouts this summer where there were similar mistakes he's made before. We all know them - fouling right away, doing things he knows better than, and he catches himself. But there are some other things, those 'a-ha' moments where you say he's really improved. Better than any of that, his teammates love him, he loves his teammates and they love playing with him."
On having options at the four and the five: "We do have like four or five, six that could play there at different times. That's the versatility I love to have, but it is difficult. That four man is a pivotal guy now on teams. If you look at the NBA playoffs, who is playing four man for Oklahoma City late? It would be Kevin Durant. The four man for the Heat, that would be LeBron James. That four man sometimes can go so they've really got four guards on the floor, or you can play really big. It depends on who you're playing.
"We like having that option. I didn't feel we really had a choice when Jon got hurt. I didn't feel we ever had a choice last year. We weren't developed that much the year before. What we were doing was working as well as we thought we could. I like having that option. Who knows where that will play out, really?"
On freshman shooting guard Nik Stauskas: "He's just got a natural ability to find the bottom of the basket I've seen. What separates Nik and what we hope will make him a very difficult guard is where sometimes guys are just shooters, if you come out on Nick, he can put the ball on the floor and get to where he needs to get to. Some guys can do that and then can't throw drop off passes or see the court. He's been able to do that thus far.
"We see that we like it, but then it's all right, Nik - now you have to defend. I sense he's embracing it because that's how he gets to do the other stuff. Like most shooters, they love shooting the ball. I would sense if he continues what he's been doing so far, he - among some others - will have a pretty green light to let it ride."
On the freshmen and high expectations: "All we want them to do is follow our expectations, which would be to be a team player, work really hard, work in the classroom. There's nothing to temper. They just need to follow what we want them to do and it all seems to work out.
"They have done nothing but do that. They follow the veterans. That's the expectations. If they just do those things, all the other things will take care of themselves. Follow the leaders and the coaches and the veteran leaders."
On having a freshman point guard in Spike Albrecht to spell Trey Burke: "That was big. Last year there was really no one that really felt comfortable in that situation. I know Trey is tired, I know the year before Darius is tired, but let's call a timeout and get them some rest, make sure they are going to bed on time.
"We're still going to call timeouts, but we have a lot of confidence in those two that we can use those 40 minutes more productively than we have in the past. We don't have to use a timeout; we can take somebody out even if it's a couple minutes rest. We love what we've seen from Spike. We all saw some of the great things Trey could do last year.
"What was key to our season last year was not just Trey, but Stu Douglass' ability to put the ball on the ground and make some things happen. In the Purdue game down at Purdue, maybe a Big Ten championship type of game because we won on the road where few people are going to win, he can do that. Timmy Hardway was tremendous on that. Nik can do that, and Caris LeVert can do that."
On practice over the summer: "We used those 16 hours to do almost all offense thinking you can work on defense all summer but it's two hours a week, and it's 12 weeks before the season. We worked on our skill level all summer.
"September and the first two weeks I would say it's been 75 percent defense thinking, what's the easiest thing we can teach our guys? Defense, rebounding and run. If you can do those two you don't have to run as many plays, don't have to do as many things. We've been working on defending and rebounding. Now we'll try and put more of a package together.
"It is interesting conversation right now. I don't know what we're going to do yet until we can watch people over 20 hours, 20 more hours, 20 more hours and then we get to the Big Ten schedule and we'll be able to make other changes."
On what they might change: "We've studied ourselves. Playing two big post guys is a difference. I think we watched the NBA more closely than before and cut more tape than we ever have about different things when they have two primary post men in there."
On how much they use the early NCAA Tournament exit as a motivator: "I don't think at all. I haven't spoken about it at all. We're very proud of our Big Ten championship. I know when we get into that the goal is to stay and win it all. If we're blessed enough to get back there again, we'll talk more about it.
"Right now it's about more getting better and trying to be champions again. Preseason, helping the Big Ten win the Big Ten/ACC championship, different little things like the Preseason NIT."
On captains: "I don't think last year it was in doubt last year that it was Zack and Stu. We are really going to watch these first three weeks and see who the leaders are. We're not in that type of a position to name that yet. The players have a say; coaches will have a say. We need to gain more information."
On whether Hardaway will play the two or the three: "We like him at both. He's obviously very natural as a three man, knows what he's doing over there. Between Matt Vogrick and Glenn Robinson, Nik and Caris, those are all options. It's where we get people most comfortable.
"In two or three weeks we should know more. Then we'll start our season, say, 'that's not going to work,' move in a different direction. In the Big Ten we might move to another. Right now I love that he's versatile enough to do both. He likes both and he's so driven he can accomplish anything he wants to."