ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Mitch McGary's back issue remains a bit of a mystery.
Michigan coach John Beilein said his sophomore big man is making good progress but remains day to day, with the season opener still a couple of weeks away. Beilein announced last month that McGary had been limited because of a lower back condition.
"We're super-cautious. He's been doing these underwater treadmill workouts that are really productive. I know I couldn't do some of those," Beilein said Thursday. "If he keeps making this progress, day after day -- it's still day to day -- one of these days he's going to have to get out there and see what he can do."
The 6-foot-10 McGary averaged 7.5 points per game last season as a freshman, but in the NCAA tournament he averaged 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds, helping the Wolverines reach the national championship game, which they lost to Louisville.
If he's at full strength, Michigan should again be one of the top teams in the Big Ten.
"Right now I'm day to day -- doing stuff on the court, light shooting, limited in what I can do, what they're allowing me to do," McGary said. "There's no target date or anything."
The Wolverines open the season Nov. 8 against UMass-Lowell. They'll play in a tournament in Puerto Rico later that month, and the nonconference schedule also includes a game at Duke on Dec. 3.
Aside from McGary's status, the biggest question facing Michigan is how the Wolverines will replace their backcourt of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., both of whom left school early to go to the NBA. Burke was the national player of the year and ran the offense brilliantly as Michigan's point guard. Freshman guard Derrick Walton comes in highly regarded, but it remains to be seen how quickly he'll adjust to the college game.
"We're not going to know what we lost until we find out what we can do," Beilein said.
Burke and Hardaway left, but McGary and Glenn Robinson III came back, and if healthy, the Wolverines should have enough talent and athleticism for another postseason run.
"That's what Michigan probably should be. There should be high expectations every year," Beilein said. "You don't do as well some years, then the expectations probably were too much, but it beats the alternative certainly."
The 6-foot-6 Robinson averaged 11 points last season, and his quickness and jumping ability helped Michigan become a much more dangerous team in transition. Now he can expect a bigger role in the team's half-court offense -- and as a more vocal leader, perhaps. Robinson is quick to put last season's success behind him.
"That's something I haven't really thought about," Robinson said. "I've kind of told the team that we have to forget about last year. No one cares. This is a new season, new team."
Nik Stauskas also returns after shooting 44 percent from 3-point range. If McGary remains limited, the Wolverines can turn to senior Jordan Morgan and junior Jon Horford inside.
A few years ago, the Wolverines simply wanted to reach the NCAA tournament. Then they set their sights on a Big Ten championship, which they won a share of in 2012. Now, Beilein says his team will just focus on trying to be champions -- of the conference, maybe, or a preseason tournament or the NCAA tournament at the end of the season.
"What's the next thing you can win -- is what you're trying to be a champion of," Beilein said. "You can't be talking about the Final Four when you're still trying to go to Puerto Rico or trying to win something -- be champions in this game."