Though Michigan's 2014-15 season did not proceed as planned, we are reviewing and grading how each person performed while looking ahead to their future. We started this series by evaluating how John Beilein handled what he called a "very unique" season before analyzing how Derrick Walton's toe injury robbed him of the breakout sophomore season he was on the verge of having. Now, we take a look at the point guard that replaced Walton in the starting lineup and proved that he is much more than the unknown white kid that scored 17 points in one half of a national title game as a freshman and tweeted Kate Upton afterwards: Spike Albrecht.
No. 2 | Junior | 5-11 | 175 lbs. | Northfield Mount Hermon | Crown Point, Ind.
What first comes to mind when you think about Spike Albrecht? This, of course:
You can't help it. Neither can I. How often do you watch a player score 17 points in one half of a national championship game, let alone when it is a diminutive white freshman that was ticketed for Appalachian State less than a year earlier? Exactly. John Beilein didn't scoop up Albrecht at the last second because he knew Albrecht would shine in a national championship game months later. He scooped up Albrecht because he needed a point guard that could give star point guard Trey Burke a breather here and there. And that's all Albrecht had done throughout 2012-13. Before that second Monday in April, he never played more than 15 minutes or scored more than seven points in a single game.
And then he did that.
It was an unbelievable performance -- one that sadly did not propel Michigan to their second national title (shakes fist at Luke Hancock and the official that called Burke's clean block on Peyton Siva a foul). Even in defeat, Albrecht became a media darling, which he did not attempt to change when he tried to capitalize on his sudden fame and flirted with Michigan fan and supermodel Kate Upton on Twitter -- no, Upton did not reciprocate. He became the centerpiece of columns by numerous media outlets, all of which wanted to share the remarkable story about the small backup point guard nicknamed "Spike" from Indiana that rose to the highest level on the grandest of stages.
But very few expected that performance to be a sign of things to come for Albrecht.
Michigan took comfort in knowing that it had a point guard that could erupt like that on any given night, but it was not as if Albrecht was anointed the heir apparent after Burke declared for the NBA. Rather, the player tabbed as the next great Michigan point guard was incoming in-state top-50 recruit Derrick Walton. Albrecht was expected to return to his spot on the bench and provide Michigan quality minutes here and there as Walton became accustomed to the speed of the college game. And that's what happened. While Albrecht excelled on the floor in 2014, posting an offensive rating of 126.1 and an assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.7, he started only one game and never scored more than 10 points.
It was much of the same in the first two months this past season for Albrecht, though he did receive a large uptick in minutes as Michigan's sixth man and after Walton began to hobble up and down the court with an injured toe. In the first 14 games, Albrecht averaged 5.4 points, 3.4 assists, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.1 steals in 26.9 minutes per game. He was a calming force off of the bench, maintaining a healthy assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.7, and produced big performances against Syracuse (11 points, nine assists, no turnovers) and Purdue (17 points, two assists, no turnovers). And he had a knack for the pizzazz, scooping in one-handed layups down the lane and tossing behind-the-back dimes.
However, when Beilein inserted Albrecht in the starting lineup to replace struggling true freshman Kameron Chatman in early January, those who thought that Albrecht was limited and could not be more than a role player seemed to be correct. In his first six games as a regular starter, Albrecht scored only 20 points total and slipped into a severe shooting slump, missing all 11 three-pointers he attempted and making only 26.9 percent of his shots from the field. Plus, his assist-to-turnover ratio dipped to a modest two during this span. It was the ammunition that those who argued Albrecht never would be anything more than a feel-good story from that national championship game wanted.
But Albrecht proved he should be defined by more than his first half versus Louisville.
After Walton joined Caris LeVert on the sideline with what would be a season-ending injury, Albrecht was forced to be the starting point guard for a lineup that consisted of three true freshmen, including some that were preseason redshirt candidates, and a sophomore in Zak Irvin. And, in the final 11 games of the season, Albrecht demonstrated that he could be one of the leaders of a group that had no business taking upper-tier Big Ten teams down to the wire. In that stretch, he was Michigan's second-leading scorer, averaging 12.5 points and scoring in double digits in nine games, and a model of efficiency, topping an offensive rating of 100 in all but one game. He regained his lethal stroke from deep, draining 42.6 percent of his threes. He was automatic from the line, knocking down 90.6 percent of his freebies. He orchestrated the offense to the tune of 4.8 assists per game as his Big Ten-only assist rate (28.6 pct.) finished as the sixth-best.
In front of our eyes, Albrecht became an above-average Big Ten starting point guard.
And he looked like a poor man's version of Steve Nash as he did it, whether he was making wrap-around drop passes to Michigan's big men in the paint for easy dunks ...
... or dazzling spectators with physics-bending behind-the-head passes in transition ...
... or slicing his way inside the arc to connect on crucial fadeaway mid-range jumpers ...
... or increasing the degree of difficulty on his shots ...
... until he broke the Internet with this alley-oop-to-himself runner against Illinois ...
... or channeling his inner Trey Burke on this win-sealing steal against Ohio State.
What was astonishing, too, was that Albrecht did all of this while playing with two bad hips that bogged him down all season and needed a cortisone injection during winter break to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. The injuries are significant enough that Albrecht may undergo offseason surgery on both of his hips, which may lead to shaving down areas of the hip bone and force him to rehabilitate for four to five months -- a recovery that could brush up against the start of next season's practices.
A one-time feel-good story doesn't produce like that for six weeks in that sort of pain.
A legitimate starting Big Ten point guard does.
No matter what Albrecht achieves for the rest of his career, he will be remembered first for his magical 17-point first half against Louisville in the 2013 national title game. He can't help it. We can't help it. But anyone can get hot for 20 minutes. Not everyone can exceed all expectations and transform from an unknown kid into a key starter and leader.
Albrecht completed that transformation in grand style this past season.
And it should be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of him.
Final Grade: A