Ann Arbor, MI (SportsNetwork.com) - The Michigan Wolverines will raise their 2013 Final Four banner to the rafters of the Crisler Center on Friday night, part of pre-game festivities before the seventh-ranked team in the nation entertains Division I newcomer UMass Lowell in the season opener for both clubs.
The River Hawks made the jump to D-I following a stint in the Northeast-10 Conference at the Division II level. They went 15-13 a season ago, and begin this next chapter in their history with a new head coach in 43-year-old Pat Duquette. UML will call the America East Conference home for the foreseeable future.
John Beilein's Wolverines excelled in 2012-13, winning 31 games and coming up just short of the promised land when they lost to Louisville, 82-76, in the NCAA Championship Game. Michigan lost a couple of key components to last season's stellar club, but still has the talent and depth to be considered one of the favorites in the Big Ten Conference.
This bout marks the first-ever meeting between these two schools in men's basketball.
The return of four starters and several other guys who saw action last season will help with the River Hawks' transition, with the most important holdover being senior Akeem Williams (19.9 ppg). The 5-10 guard was an all-conference selection in the Northeast-10 last season when he led the league in scoring while also draining 40 percent of his 3-point attempts. Senior Antonio Bivins (15.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and freshman guard Jahad Thomas were both lost for the season with knee injuries prior to practice even beginning, making it that much harder for UML to win games this season. In their absence, a guy like Chad Holley (11.2 pg, 3.2 apg) could shine as he is a solid shooter and is also adept at getting his teammates involved in the action.
Michigan was stacked at multiple positions last season, but the loss of standout guards Trey Burke (18.6 ppg, 6.7 apg) and Tim Hardaway, Jr. (14.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg) means guys like Glen Robinson III (11.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Nik Stauskas (11.0 ppg, .440 3-point FG percentage) and Mitch McGary (7.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg) are going to be thrust into the limelight amid lofty expectations. McGary is expected to miss this contest due to a nagging back injury. Beilein has brought in a couple of talented newcomers in point guard Derrick Walton, Jr. and shooting guard Zak Irvin to help. Michigan was one of the better shooting teams (.484, .385 3-point) in the Big Ten last season, and it played well at the defensive end too, and that could be the key to another successful campaign as the club's top scorers take some time to get assimilated into the roles vacated by its former stars.