On the Wednesday before Michigan's home opener (an exhibition game against Wayne State University), I was able to attend an open practice for Michigan student season ticket holders. Although most people will likely come to the same conclusions in the coming days and weeks, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about what I witnessed during the two hours.
#1 - The Crisler renovations truly are as great as the team, university, and reporters have described. When I first walked through the doors I almost couldn't recognize the facility that had often been ridiculed as one of the Big Ten's weakest basketball facilities.
Things to note:
- Maize Rage (student section) bleachers have alternated sides. The Maize Rage will now be behind the visiting bench.
- What I'm assuming to be the press area looked very nice with the all blue seats.
- The seats look fantastic and are well organized, but it is a TIGHT fit. Try to avoid coming to games with a heavy coat, you WILL regret it.
- The stands are now almost on the court instead of having a significant gap. Hopefully this will add to the noise level, etc.
#2 - Tim Hardaway Jr. HAS taken the next step towards being a superstar. His play was very impressive during the practice. Not only is he clearly the best player on the court, his attitude embraces this role, but not in the usual fashion. Instead of simply being cocky and arrogant, Hardaway simply appears more focused this season than in his last. Hardaway had some dominant periods last year, but he will be taking over games this year, and not just against teams like Ferris State, I'm talking in legitimate Big Ten games. Anticipate a big year.
#3 - Be prepared for a shock when you see the team run out. The size of some of the players has changed dramatically since the end of last year.
Things to Note:
- Tim Hardaway - body has filled out, looks like he's gained weight
- Jordan Morgan - has definitely trimmed down, looks in great shape
- Evan Smotrycz - has put on a lot of weight, especially in his lower body
- Jon Horford - looks a little bigger
#4 - Freshmen:
Trey Burke seems to be a very talented player. He can shoot the ball well and plays fantastic defense, but his understanding of the game is still not up to speed yet. For those of you expecting a huge start for Burke, don't hold your breath. He will be fine, especially after he's played in a few games, but I would predict there's a good chance he doesn't start on Friday. Even if he does start, he will be rotated a lot. He will be a great player, but he needs experience. Also, this kid seems very small compared to the other guys. Not saying it's going to hurt him, but just an observation.
Max Bielfeldt had some great defensive moments during practice. He didnt' seem to be a player that could take over a game, or at least not yet, but his play implied that he will have a bright future here at Michigan.
#5 - Beilein and Bacari run some intense practices and really made it enjoyable for the students. The drills seem to be quite effective and looked as if the team could get some real improvement. Also, Beilein repeatedly came over to the students and explained aspects of practice and voiced his appreciation for the Maize Rage (plus the free pizza and pop wasn't bad either).
In an overall sense, the team looked pretty solid. There was great rotation (which I expect for the entire season) and there didn't seem to be a drop-off for any of the players. The team's shooting and rebounding looked great, but there were points when their play looked downright sloppy. Although this still remains a slight concern to me, I think a lot of this was due to the significant rotation (I think there were only a handful of time that I saw what I believed to be the starting lineup, play together) and some significant freshmen play.
Look for Michigan to play solid, at least defensively, but have significant improvement over the course of the season. I do not see a drop like the team had in the 2009-2010 season, but the team taking the floor in the coming weeks will not be as good as the one that lost a nail-biter to Duke last March, but after a month of play, it could be darn close.
Photo Credit: Thomas Beindit