Final Four still the goal of youthful Michigan Wolverines


Experiencing the madness of college basketball in March has been quite agreeable to the Michigan Wolverines.

Over the last two seasons, coach John Beilein’s squads have been quite successful in the NCAA Tournament.

The Wolverines found their way into the 2012-13 national title game before losing, 82-76, to No.1 overall seed Louisville.

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Last season, despite losing two players to the NBA draft and two more to eligibility, Michigan won three games in the NCAA tournament before bowing to eventual national runner-up Kentucky, 75-72, in the elite eight.

Three for the show

Michigan was hurt even worse by the NBA invasion this spring.  Three sophomores, Nik Stauskas (1st round, 8th pick overall), Mitch McGary (1st round, 21st overall) and Glen Robinson III (2nd round, 40 th pick overall) departed early, leaving Beilein quite a challenge to reload for the 2014-15 season.

As if he projected the NBA departures, Beilein signed a total of 10 recruits in the 2013 and 2014 classes, with five of them already starting or expected to start this season.

“It is going to be a great opportunity for some young men to really grow,” Beilein told The veterans may even be a bigger area of growth that we are going to need and that they want to have.’

Beilein also took his team to Europe this summer, an invaluable experience since the 2014-2015 roster consists of six freshmen, a redshirt freshman, five sophomores, two juniors and one senior.

Big Ten Title

Mar 30, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Zak Irvin (21) reacts after a basket against the Kentucky Wildcats in the first half of the finals of the midwest regional of the 2014 NCAA Mens Basketball Championship tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium. Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

“There were nice improvements from everyone and there should have been,” Beilein told WTKA-AM (Ann Arbor). “The focus coming into the fall workouts now will be to get reps — shooting and ball handling,” Beilein said. “We turned the ball over a lot over there — just simple ball-handling things. Then we need repetitions on defense — just staying in front of people. We have a lot of work to do, but that was a good first glimpse.”

The 2013-14 team won its first outright regular season Big Ten title since 1986, finished runners-up to Michigan State in the conference tournament and won three games in the NCAA tourney.

Despite the upcoming rebuilding job, the Wolverines goals remain just as lofty.

Spike Albrecht, who kept Michigan in the 2012-13 national championship game with an electrifying 17-point first-half performance expects to have another long run this season.

Final Four Appealing

“You want to get back,” Albrecht told the Michigan Daily. “You get a little taste of what it’s like playing in the Final Four, playing in the National Championship game, just how much fun that was. Coming so close to a National Championship our freshman year, and then falling just short of a Final Four last year. That’s definitely motivation, something that drives us each day.”

Beilein started each game in Europe with 6-0 Derrick Walton, Jr. at PG, 6-7 Caris LeVert at SG, 6-6 Zak Irvin at SF, 6-7 Kam Chatman at PF and 6-9 Mark Donnal at C. The principle subs will be Albrecht at both PG and SG, DJ Wilson at C, PF and SF,  Max Bielfeldt at PF,  Ricky Doyle at C, and either Aubrey Dawkins or Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman at SF.

Early season prognosticators aren’t giving Michigan much chance to defend their Big Ten title.

The conference coaches picked Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin as the top dogs in the league, but come tournament time, Michigan’s youthful team will be ready.

You can get a sneak peak of the Michigan Wolverines when they hold an open practice Wednesday (Nov. 5, 6-7 pm) at Crisler Center.

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