January 11, 2013

McCormick: Chance for a title

Former Wolverine and current ESPN college basketball analyst Tim McCormick has always liked this John Beilein team, and he's liking it more than ever now.

Here's McCormick…

On how good the Wolverines are right now: "They have a chance to win a national championship. I think they've got a really good chance to get to the Final Four.

"Obviously, they're a No. 1 seed right now. Essentially, if you get a No. 1 seed, it's not a 64-team tournament. It's a 16-team tournament, because you play teams that you will be extremely strong favorites over. Unless something crazy happens, you should be playing in the Sweet 16.

"I've been really impressed with their maturity, to take the court 16 times against teams that want to beat you and are prepared to beat you, and to come out unblemished. It's an incredible feat. There are only two teams like that in all of college basketball.

"Every bit of evidence that you could pull up about this team is extraordinary."

On whether Trey Burke is the best point guard in the country: "This is a really good crop of point guards this year. Michael Carter Williams [Syracuse], Peyton Siva [Louisville], and the list probably goes five or six deep.

"Head to head, I think you could put Burke up against anyone. He's my pick for best point guard in college basketball.

"I really have noticed a difference in his strength from last year. He's put on some significant size in his lower body. He's initiating contact more. He just has a swagger. When he steps on the court, it's almost like, 'I'm the best player out here. I'm going to make plays, and there's nothing anyone can do to stop me."

On Michigan's freshmen: "They're really mature. They don't seem to get caught up in the drama of being an undefeated team. They don't take games off. They're very complete.

"Typically, freshmen are liabilities on the defensive end. I'm not saying any of them would be considered a great defender by any means, but they keep their man in front of them, they know their assignments, their rotations are pretty tight for young players, and I've seen each of them make strides to improve on the defensive end from the first month of the season."

On Nik Stauskas: "It's going to be important for him to expand his offense. At the beginning of the season, he got a lot of open threes, and got very confident. He knocked down the shots, to his credit.

"In the Big Ten, it's going to be a lot more difficult for him to get those wide-open shots. Nobody is going to leave him. To be able to put the ball on the floor a few times, to be able to finish with strength, to grab some loose balls on the offensive glass … he showed a really nice drive to the rim in that last home game, with a surprising dunk finish. I think he's got a lot of substance to him."

On whether Mitch McGary will be taking minutes from Jordan Morgan as the season progresses: "I don't think he's going to take Jordan Morgan's minutes. What I see is, Jordan Morgan can play without fear of being in foul trouble, because he knows there is quality behind him, and there will be circumstances where they can play together.

"But Jordan Morgan has had a really good year. He's my favorite player, because whatever the role is, he accepts it. I appreciate big guys that don't need the ball to be effective. He's a very good screen setter, and he's really improved his rebounding.

"I remember him when he was in high school. I watched him play, and just thought he was out of shape. He had a bad body. His energy level was low. To watch his maturation has really been an enjoyable thing for me."

On the biggest concerns for Michigan going forward: "Handling adversity. They have not faced any really tough situations yet. They've played great basketball. They're going to get punched in the mouth at some point, and I'm anxious to see how they respond.

"I'd like to see them get off to quicker starts. It seems that against Iowa and Nebraska, they have the ability to turn things on.

"I always enjoyed watching the Celtics and the Lakers and the Bulls in the NBA. It seemed like they always had this ability, where they'd start the game and maybe be a little bit on the casual side. They knew they had another gear the other team didn't. At the appropriate time, they would put their foot on the accelerator and they would blow people away.

"Michigan isn't that good yet. They've got a long way to go. To be able to start games with more urgency would be a really good idea."

On the job Beilein and the coaching staff is doing with this group: "I can remember October 15, 2007, the first day of his first practice. He sat in an antiquated arena, with a bunch of mid-major-caliber players. His coaching staff had no idea what he was looking for.

"He was working so incredibly hard. He looked stressed. That whole first couple of years, he coached every possession. I don't see that anymore. I see a guy giving freedom to his players.

"He's having fun. He has a really, really good staff. He has empowered them to go out and coach. John Beilein is having fun. He knows his team is good, because he's coached so many teams that weren't good. This is a coach's dream, to have talent that listens to you, that plays hard.

"There are really no weak links on this team. There are areas to improve, but no weak links."


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