Sunday, October 26, 2014

Big Ten Basketball Preview: #6 Michigan Wolverines

Michigan is, without question, the most difficult team to rank this year.  Losing Nik Stauskas, Glen Robinson III, and Mitch McGary (kind of) to the NBA is a lot to recover from.  Of course, the year prior they lost Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway to the NBA and were on the cusp of a second straight final four last season.  Michigan might have the horses to step up and replace the departed NBAers, but replacing a couple other, less heralded losses might end up the more difficult task.

Caris LeVert leads the returnees at 12.9 points per game last season, a whopping leap from 2.3 ppg the year before after his playing time more than tripled filling in for the departed Hardaway.  LeVert got better in pretty much every way you could think of last season, which doesn't always happen with increased usage, which bodes well for his future improvement.  He's not the shooter Stauskas was, but then again who is, and he's effective from deep without being reliant on it and he already has Stauskas's ability to get to the rim.  There is a definite void where someone could step in to replace Stauskas's production and LeVert is candidate number 1.

Two other key returnees were highly regarded and productive freshmen last year in Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr.  Walton's the point guard who did a nice job keeping the offense flowing (7.9 points/2.9 assists per game) and shot the ball well when called upon.  It'll be interesting to see if he can stay as efficient as he was last year when the offense will rely on him more this year.  Irvin looked smooth and polished already and had games where his shot was unstoppable, but as most young players who are almost completely dependent on the 3-pointer he also had completely awful games.  If he pulled a Stauskas and added to his offensive skill set that'll go a long way towards making this team a threat again.

Now that we've discussed the obvious ways Michigan can patch their holes, now we need to look at what could be they're undoing: the losses of Jordan Morgan (graduation) and Jon Horford (transfer).  They only combined for 10.2 points per game last year, but they also combined for 9.2 rebounds and 33.9 minutes.  Even worse, there is nobody returning with any paint experience.  The most experience returnee among paint type guys is 6-7 junior Max Bielfeldt, who has played a grant total of 195 minutes in his two years at Ann Arbor.  And no, there is no convenient grad transfer who can step right in and help immediately, which is pretty surprising actually.

Which means an awful lot rides on some pretty talented freshmen.  Irvin's 6-7 so he can probably play some PF in a pinch, but they'll need major contributions from at least 2 of 6-7 Kameron Chatman, 6-9 D.J. Wilson, 6-9 Ricky Doyle, and 6-9 Mark Donnal.  Chatman is the jewel, ranking as a top 30 national recruit.  He's more of a small forward than power forward as is Wilson, but at this point it's not like the Wolverines have a lot of options.  The true PF/C types are Doyle and Donnal.  Doyle is a top 200 type recruit who had an impressive offer sheet.  He also comes from a basketball family so theoretically should have a high basketball IQ, which will definitely help him make an impact right away next season.  Donnal is a red-shirt freshman who was a top 100 guy last year.  It sounds like he already has a pretty solid offensive game with the ability to score inside or out, and if he can give them solid defense it would go a long way towards solving their paint problem.

Plenty of questions for the Wolverines, and not a completely dissimilar situation to Indiana with the lack of any real obvious options inside.  I ranked the the Hoosiers 10th but the Wolverines 6th.  Partially because Michigan has more coming back, but also because I think Beliein has a good thing going and will be able to mix and match well enough to have the Wolverines back in the NCAA Tournament, while Tom Crean couldn't coach his way out of a paper bag.


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