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Mutka: Northwest Indiana trio bring optimism to Michigan

Northern Michigan forward Matt Craggs left defends Michigan forward Glenn RobinsIII (1) second half an NCAA college basketball exhibitigame Thursday

Northern Michigan forward Matt Craggs, left, defends Michigan forward Glenn Robinson III (1) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball exhibition game, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. Michigan won 83-47. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

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Updated: December 6, 2012 6:18AM



Michigan basketball coach John Beilein seems to be growing a bumper crop of Northwest Indiana talent.

Give Chesterton’s Zack Novak an assist for the not-so-random harvest. Last year he started all 34 games for the Wolverines, who shared the Big Ten title on their way to a surprising 24-10 record.

Novak’s gone, but is leaving his imprint on the revived program. He helped recruit freshmen Spike Albrecht (Crown Point) and Mitch McGary (Chesterton). Lake Central grad Glenn Robinson III completes the trifecta.

Beilein happily gives Novak post-graduate credit for being an unofficial recruiting gem.

“He hosted him (McGary) on his visit. They’re from the same high school,” Beilein said. “It’s hard not to spend a lot of time with Zack and not be attracted. He loves Michigan.”

Novak also connected with the Albrecht family through AAU basketball with Spike’s brother, Stephen, now a senior at Brown.

The Wolverines were ranked No. 5 in the Associated Press preseason poll, their highest standing since 1993. Skeptics might challenge that rating since three players who accounted for 69 starts having departed. But preseason All-American Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jordan Morgan provide a firm foundation.

So how does the Northwest Indiana trio impress Beilein?

“All three have a passion for basketball, about improving their game,” he said. “They’re fun to coach.”

A tightly knit community which carried over from the New England Preparatory Athletic Council, provides a rooting connection. McGary, Albrecht and Nik Stauskas, another talented neophyte, honed their talents in that league before matriculating to Ann Arbor.

How much the Hoosier transplants contribute to Michigan’s rotation will be revealed in months to come. Beilein displayed cautious optimism.

“In bits and pieces,” he said. “The volume we still have to determine.”

No one expects Albrecht to displace Burke, who led UM in scoring and assists, but he presented a convincing case in an opening exhibition romp. Burke was benched for disciplinary reasons, but Albrecht stepped up with 16 points and six assists in 30 minutes.

The nimble 5-11 guard and Robinson, who added 13 points in 23 minutes, started. McGary also came off the bench to deliver a game-high six offensive rebounds in 17 minutes. Their willingness to learn endears them to Beilein, who is second to Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan in the Big Ten race to 700 victories (651-to-642).

“Glenn’s very receptive,” said Beilein, who is 91-77 in five years at UM. “When you give him ideas to improve he puts them into action almost immediately. He and McGary bring a lot of energy to the floor. As for Spike, he’s very clever with the ball.”

It’s doubtful whether Albrecht and Burke will see much simultaneous action because of size issues, but Beilein didn’t rule it out.

“It could happen especially late in the game,” he countered.

Michigan is highly regarded because of its size and strength.

“We’re going to be able to run more,” Burke said, “because we’re more athletic. We’ve also got guys who can rebound.”

Last year, Novak played bigger than his 6-foot-5 frame to average 4.5 rebounds.

“We snuck up on people,” Burke said at the Big Ten media day in Chicago. “Teams overlooked us because we had such a small lineup. Zack played at the four (power forward), but we were able to go on runs.”

Now Beilein can muscle up with a front line of immovable objects in Robinson (6-6, 210), McGary (6-10, 250) and Morgan (6-8, 250). Hardaway, their off-guard, checks in at 6-6. Like Burke, he was a 14-point plus scorer.

Whether Michigan can improve on a 13-5 conference record depends on how the learning curve of its rookies develops.

“Our freshmen will all contribute,” Burke insisted. “They’re thirsty for knowledge and their level of interest on the offensive end is going to help us go a long way.”

Robinson’s genes are well-documented. He’s the son of former Purdue All-American and NBA All-Star Glenn Robinson. Burke already appreciates the potential difference-maker’s versatility.

“Glenn’s probably the most athletic guy on our team,” Burke said. “He’s able to hit 15, 20 footers and even threes when he’s open. He can rebound at both ends.”

What registers most is Robinson’s strong defense.

“That’s more important,” Burke said. “He can be a stopper.”

Because of the early hype Michigan won’t catch anybody napping this trip.

“We’ve got a target on our back,” Burke said.

Sound the alarm.

That’s fair warning in a league armed with at least five top-25 programs and 17 players who earned all-Big Ten honors.



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