Commentary

Beilein eager to see what he has

Things to watch: Fresh talent, how it will mesh with returning back court

Updated: October 11, 2012, 10:39 PM ET
By Michael Rothstein | WolverineNation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- John Beilein has never been in this situation before, in sixth year at a school, a team with incredibly high expectations and more talent than he has ever had on a single roster.

Yet he said don't worry for a second about him or his team becoming complacent as the college basketball season starts today with Midnight Madness festivities around the country, but not at Michigan.

[+] EnlargeBurke/Hardaway
AP Photo/Tony DingMichigan's veteran guards must mesh quickly with the freshmen, of whom two might start.
"John Beilein is always going to have a chip on his shoulder," Beilein said. "You can never worry about that. I'm always trying to find a way to be the best team we can be in every single fashion we can do that.

"I hope my team reads that."

Considering that, here are five critical things to watch for as Michigan begins practice for its season, which tips off next month.

1. How Michigan incorporates its big men

It is a question to which Beilein already might know the answer, but he hasn't seen it happen in an actual game yet. This season, though, he has the depth and talent to experiment with something he has talked about as far back as when DeShawn Sims and Zack Gibson were Michigan's post players -- and really the only post presences on the roster since Jordan Morgan and Blake McLimans were redshirting.

He used it very, very sparingly then. Now, you might see it often with a rotation of Morgan, redshirt sophomore Jon Horford, redshirt freshman Max Bielfeldt and freshman Mitch McGary. All are talented. All, theoretically, are good enough to play. How Beilein balances that with the four-guard offense he has run for a long time will be one of the more interesting early season developments.

2. How point guard Trey Burke adjusts

This is an underrated topic. Burke is coming off a fantastic freshman season, one which almost saw him leave Michigan for professional basketball. But part of what made Burke such a good passer was playing with two veteran shooters on the wings who knew exactly where to stand in every wrinkle of Beilein's offense. Now he has a bunch of new faces surrounding him, a veteran player in Tim Hardaway Jr. shifting from the wing to off-guard and a team whose best shooter will likely be freshman Nik Stauskas.

So it might take a little bit of time before the entirety of the offense really starts to work as all of those players start to find comfort in their new roles, or college in general. Burke, who is among the best players in the country, will have to be patient.

3. How well McGary and Glenn Robinson III pick up the college game

The two jewels of Michigan's best recruiting class in a decade will play a lot of minutes this season and could end up starting their first games as Wolverines. But every year Beilein cautions about freshmen, and while the past two seasons have seen impressive first years from Hardaway Jr. and Burke, all one has to do is look back to Darius Morris' freshman season, when he struggled. By the end of his sophomore season, he was an NBA Draft pick.

Can McGary and Robinson III -- longtime friends, roommates and the highest-rated duo of freshmen Michigan has had since the beginning of the 2000s -- be effective early? That will be huge to the Wolverines' early season success, especially with a game against another potential top-10 team, N.C. State, on Nov. 27.

4. Expect at least one surprise

With this much talent on the roster, there is bound to be a surprise one way or another. So in that vein, pay attention in exhibition games to freshman Caris LeVert. His teammates raved about him during media day, and it did not sound like empty hype. Instead, it has been a consistent theme throughout the summer -- Michigan's final piece to its five-man recruiting class has a chance to be really, really good. He has already put weight on his thin frame since arriving at Michigan and while he might not make an immediate impact, he could be a surprise for the Wolverines sooner than later.

5. How Michigan rebounds

Going back to the first point, Michigan has more size and depth than ever before under Beilein, including an uber-recruit in the post in McGary. He is Michigan's biggest player, both in height and width, and will be an intimidating post presence. Plus, what he has done well through his entire career is rebound. Add him to Morgan, who rebounded well last season despite being the team's sole post presence most of the time, and Michigan has a chance to improve dramatically in that area.

Michael Rothstein | email

ESPN Detroit Lions reporter