Dylan from the excellent Michigan basketball blog UMHoops.com  agreed to answer some questions about the Michigan Wolverines, who tip off the Big Ten season against the Golden Gophers on Thursday evening. I answered a few questions as well, and you can read those answers here.

FTB: The Golden Gophers just underwent a coaching change. At about the same time the Gophers hired Tubby Smith, Michigan hired John Beilein. What lessons should Richard Pitino learn from Beilein’s successful tenure and Tubby Smith’s less successful time with the Gophers?

UM Hoops: Beilein’s time in Ann Arbor was a bit of a rollercoaster and I think really proves that you have to give someone enough time. Michigan went 10-22 in Beilein’s first season and definitely had some ups and downs throughout his first four seasons. But in the last two years the Wolverines have shared a Big Ten Championship and been to the National Championship game. Beilein did it his way and eventually found success.

FTB: Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. were incredibly important to Michigan’s recent success. What players have filled in for them, and how are they doing?

UM HoopsDerrick Walton and Spike Albrecht are splitting Trey Burke’s minutes. Albrecht is a good offensive player (I’m sure you remember his shooting performance in Atlanta) but he’s limited defensively. Michigan’s offense flows better when he’s on the floor but it’s a constant balancing game on the other end of the floor. Walton was a four-star prospect with high expectations but everything hasn’t really clicked for him. Point guard is definitely a huge concern for the Wolverines, especially because they were spoiled by having Trey Burke for the last two seasons.

Hardaway’s minutes have been swallowed up by Caris LeVert. LeVert played a bit last year and the lanky guard is Michigan’s most improved player this season. He’s averaging 13 points, four rebounds and three assists per game. He’s Michigan’s best isolation player and is very adept at using change of pace moves to get in the lane.

FTB: Mitch McGary is unfortunately out indefinitely with a back injury. How will his absence affect Michigan’s strategy?

UM HoopsMcGary’s injury hurts because his talent can shift Michigan from a very good team to a great team. Michigan has already played without Mitch for four games and he was fairly limited in others. He’s never been 100% this season.

Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford will take his minutes. Morgan’s career bottomed out last year when he was relegated to the bench in the NCAA tournament after McGary’s emergence but he’s started 94 games in his career at Michigan. He’s a bit limited but he provides a dependable option defensively. Horford is a bit longer and a better shot blocker, he also has some more traditional low post moves.

FTB: Michigan was considered to be a national title contender before the season started, and now has a bit of work to do during the non-conference season to even make the NCAA tournament. What are your expectations for the conference season?

UM HoopsI think Michigan still has the pieces to be a very good team. Glenn Robinson III is showing signs of turning things around which will be critical but Derrick Walton’s development could be what decides Michigan’s fate. The Wolverines need Walton to continue to improve at the point guard spot but they should be able to make the NCAA tournament as a lower seed and then anything can happen.

FTB: What does Michigan need to do to beat the Gophers on Thursday evening? Do they beat the Gophers?

UM HoopsMichigan is almost always going to value the basketball and has a lot of shooting options. I think the Wolverines should be able to score the ball at Minnesota. The bigger worries will be on the defensive end. Michigan’s defensive rebounding has been very good overall but sometimes shaky – especially without McGary. That will be a key stat for Michigan in Big Ten play. But the game will boil down to the backcourt where Minnesota’s guards could give Michigan fits, especially in transition where the Wolverines have really struggled.

Michigan has the talent to win this game but I don’t think they steal it. The first Big Ten road game is never easy, especially with a freshman point guard and the McGary issue in the frontcourt.