Last season, Michigan was the last team in the country to lose a game: the National Championship against Louisville in Atlanta. After a long offseason of waiting and excitement, the Wolverines finally return to their first meaningful game action at the Crisler Center on Friday, November 8th, 2013, where before tipoff there will be a special ceremony for the raising of the 2012-2013 Final Four Banner. Their opponent will be the UMASS Lowell River Hawks.
Who are they?
UMASS Lowell is in their inaugural season of Division I basketball this year, and faces the daunting task of opening up against a powerful Michigan squad. First year head coach Pat Duquette takes over a 15-13 team from last season, yet the River Hawks will bring a young and undersized unit to Ann Arbor.
The player to keep an eye on is 5’10 senior guard Akeem Williams of Brockton, Massachusetts, who led the River Hawks in scoring a year ago with 19.9 points per game along with 3.3 assists per contest. Williams will be buoyed alongside fellow guards Chad Holley and Antonio Bivins, each of which averaged double figure scoring as well. Poor James McDonnell, the only player on the roster taller than 6’7, will attempt to neutralize the battle in the paint for UMASS Lowell.
How will the 2013-2014 Michigan team debut?
Coach John Beilein in recent years has treated the beginning of the regular season much like he does for the exhibition slates, extending his bench and experimenting with multiple lineup and roster configurations. Expect this approach to continue in the opener versus what appears to be a drastically overmatched UMASS Lowell team.
For Michigan, preseason All-American Mitch McGary will not suit up as he battles a lingering back injury, but the size that Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford and Glenn Robinson III brings should be more than enough against a very small opponent.
Of most interest to Wolverine fans will be the much anticipated debuts of freshmen Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin. Walton Jr. looks to continue a proud Michigan point guard legacy of late following Darius Morris and Trey Burke’s footsteps, while Irvin has a legacy of his own to live up to as the defending high school basketball Mr. Indiana.
For some perspective on the prestige of that honor, here are the previous Mr. Indiana winners since 2006: Greg Oden, Eric Gordon, Tyler Zeller, Jordan Hulls, Deshaun Thomas, Cody Zeller, and Gary Harris. Not bad company. When Nik Stauskas, Spike Albrecht, and Caris LeVert are thrown into the mix as well, Michigan seemingly just has too many weapons for UMASS Lowell to handle.
(Not so) Bold prediction
It is certainly telling that the game is not even being televised, and will only be available on IMG Michigan Radio and to the 12,000 or so fans in attendance in the Crisler Center Friday night. For those that will bear witness, it should be an exciting evening of reverence for last year’s team as well as enthusiasm for what lays ahead. Put bluntly, Michigan is faster, stronger, and plain better than UMASS Lowell. Greater challenges remain ahead.
UMASS Lowell 58