Archive for the ‘Season Preview’ Category

How returning production throughout the Big Ten translated in 2014

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Ohio State Sugar Bowl(AP)

Last summer we kicked off our season preview series with a look at the returning production from each team in the Big Ten from the year before. We’re going to do the same this summer, but we’ll begin with a review of how the returning production entering last season translated over the course of the season. That will lead into this year’s returning production, our opponent previews, and our Michigan position previews.

Entering last season, Maryland was far and away the most experienced team based on the previous season’s production. The Terrapins returned 97.5 percent of their offense, 94.4 percent of their scoring offense, and 82.6 percent of their defense. They led the conference in all three categories. But did it translate?

Maryland went just 7-6 overall and 4-4 in conference play in 2014, its first year in the Big Ten. All that returning offensive production resulted in the 12th-best (third-worst) offense in the Big Ten, though it ranked fifth in scoring. The offensive line that returned 51 starts from 2013 produced the third-worst rushing offense and allowed the second most sacks. All that returning defensive production resulted in a the conference’s 12th-ranked defense and 10th-ranked scoring defense.

Returning 2013 Production vs 2014 Results
Team Returning Total Off. Returning Scoring Off. Returning Def. Big Ten Finish
Ohio State 12th (59.8%) 13th (53.7%) 11th (60.3%) Champion
Wisconsin 13th (57.0%) 11th (57.7%) 13th (49.9%) 1st – West
Michigan State 3rd (90.9%) 2nd (91.3%) 12th (50.1%) 2nd – East
Minnesota 10th (65.9%) 12th (57.4%) 8th (66.1%) 2nd – West
Nebraska 9th (66.5%) 10th (59.5%) 9th (66.5%) 2nd – West
Iowa 2nd (92.8%) 3rd (89.3%) 14th (44.4%) 4th – West
Maryland 1st (97.5%) 1st (94.4%) 1st (82.6%) 3rd – East
Rutgers 6th (74.4%) 4th (86.9%) 3rd (77.8%) 4th – East
Illinois 14th (34.3%) 14th (40.0%) 6th (75.8%) 5th – West
Michigan 8th (68.6%) 9th (63.8%) 4th (77.6%) 4th – East
Northwestern 7th (71.9%) 8th (71.1%) 5th (76.1%) 5th – West
Penn State 5th (76.4%) 5th (84.4%) 7th (67.4%) 6th – East
Indiana 9th (67.3%) 7th (72.2%) 2nd (79.1%) 7th – East
Purdue 4th (82.5%) 6th (80.6%) 10th (63.3%) 7th – West

Iowa and Michigan State ranked second and third in returning offensive production, both at about 90 percent. It translated for the Spartans, who went 11-2 and possessed the Big Ten’s second-best scoring offense and total offense. Interestingly, the running game, which returned 100 percent of its 2013 production ranked just fifth in the conference, while the passing game, which lost 21 percent of its yards and 35 percent of its receiving touchdowns, led the conference in passing. Iowa, meanwhile, was middle of the pack, ranking sixth in total offense and seventh in scoring while matching Maryland’s record of 7-6 and 4-4.

Defensively, both ranked among the bottom three in returning production entering last season, but performed much better. Michigan State ranked fourth in total defense and third in scoring defense, while Iowa ranked sixth and eighth, respectively.

Michigan was in the middle of the pack in returning production with 68.6 percent of its offense and 63.8 percent of its defense returning. The Wolverines went 5-7 overall and 3-5 in Big Ten play, ranking dead last in total offense, second to last in scoring offense. The defense fared much better, finishing third in total defense and fifth in scoring defense.

How about the Big Ten and national champions? Ohio State had the third-lowest total offense, second-lowest scoring offense, and fourth-lowest total defense returning. And that included Braxton Miller, who missed the entire season. All the Buckeyes did was bounce back from an early-season loss to Virginia Tech by running the table the rest of the way, taking down Michigan State, Wisconsin, top-ranked Alabama, and second-ranked Oregon in the process.

2013to2014 Returning Production Results Chart

Wisconsin followed a similar pattern, starting the season with the second-lowest total offense, fourth-lowest scoring offense, and second-lowest total defense returning. It translated into an 11-3 record, a trip to the Big Ten title game — which the Badgers lost to Ohio State 59-0 — and an overtime win over Southeastern Conference power Auburn in the Outback Bowl.

Minnesota, the surprise team in the conference last season, brought the fourth-lowest total offense, third-lowest scoring offense, and eight-most total defense back from 2013. The Gophers went 8-5, nearly ended Ohio State’s chances of a national title, and were a regular-season-ending loss away from a spot in the Big Ten championship game.

For the most part last season — with the exception of Michigan State’s offense — the teams that brought the least production back did the best, while those that had the most returning production suffered the opposite fate. Stay tuned for a look at this year’s returning production across the conference.

Michigan basketball 2014-15 season preview: Caris’ turn

Saturday, November 15th, 2014


Every year, college basketball starts in mid-November and ends with the conclusion of the Big Dance in early April. The season seems to pass in a flurry of magical moments, the kind where you blink your eye and they’re gone.

The time in between, on the other hand, feels like an eternity.

But just like the cool wind has begun to bring a crispness to the Michigan air and the leaves have all fallen to their cruel death, basketball is finally back. Excitement will brew and hearts will break, but most of all, it will be one hell of a ride.

(Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

Caris LeVert looks to step into Trey Burke’s and Nik Stauskas’ role as go-to guy for the young Wolverines (Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

For Michigan fans, it’s an increasingly familiar start to the season. The football season has been a lost cause for what seems like many months, and all faith lies in the hands of John Beilein — the coaching savior of the program. After sending a trio of sophomores off to the NBA following another deep run in the Dance, the Wolverines will be breaking in a host of new faces while relying on a core of three young veterans to lead.

Caris LeVert, the one-time Ohio commit and Michigan after-thought, is the undisputed go-to guy. Zak Irvin, the former Indiana Mr. Basketball and freshman just-a-shooter, will look to flank LeVert and prove that his offseason strides are for real. And Derrick Walton, the sophomore point from Detroit, will run the show with a quiet confidence.

Joining those three are five true freshmen and one redshirt freshmen who have yet to see real playing time but will all be forced to contribute in some way. Ricky Doyle and Mark Donnal, two raw big men, will do their best to replace Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, and Mitch McGary. Kameron Chatman and D.J. Wilson, two West Coasters, will try to make fans forget about Glenn Robinson III. Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, two late signees that didn’t get a look from any big name school other than Michigan, will fight for minutes with a chip on both shoulders.

But one other returning player perhaps best emulates the whole Michigan team. In the spring of 2012, John Beilein reached out to an under-sized point guard that no one wanted. In fact, this player had gotten so little attention that he felt the need to spend an extra year in prep school. After finishing up there, however, still the biggest school that came calling before Michigan was Brown.

As a freshman, Spike Albrecht played his role all year until nearly springing the Wolverines to a National Championship. After his 15 minutes of fame, Albrecht returned to be a backup yet again, but performed in the same way he was asked to. This season, the junior will again come off the bench, but he will play the way he needs to in order to help the whole team be successful.

Albrecht is still under-sized, unathletic, and underwhelming. Michigan as a whole has also been consistently over-looked since Beilein took over with his unorthodox style. But like Albrecht, Michigan plays the way they are supposed to, overcomes expectations, and consistently surprises.

After losing so much talent and production from last season, many continue to write the Wolverines off as a flash in the pan. Yes, pundits have finally become smart enough to pencil the Maize and Blue into the NCAA Tournament, but they don’t really take their chances of doing much in the Big Ten or on the national stage seriously.

Well, guess what? With another banner going up in Crisler this afternoon, maybe it’s time to start taking John Beilein and his Michigan program seriously. Sure, the unknowns abound. But throughout the course of the season, the baby steps will turn into leaps, and the Wolverines will be competing for all the glory – like usual.

Top Five Scorers Top Five Rebounders
Caris LeVert Mark Donnal
Derrick Walton Caris LeVert
Zak Irvin D.J. Wilson
D.J. Wilson Ricky Doyle
Kameron Chatman Zak Irvin
Top Five Assists Top Five Three-Point Shooters (%)
Derrick Walton Caris LeVert
Caris LeVert Zak Irvin
Spike Albrecht Derrick Walton
Kameron Chatman Spike Albrecht
Zak Irvin D.J. Wilson
Most improved player: Zak Irvin
Most valuable freshman: D.J. Wilson
Most valuable player: Caris LeVert
Final record: 27-9 (13-5 Big Ten)
Conference finish: T1
Postseason: NCAA Tournament, Elite Eight

Michigan basketball position preview: The bigs

Friday, November 14th, 2014


Now that we have already broken down Michigan’s freshmen and analyzed the point guard and wing positions, let’s preview the biggest unknown for the Wolverines — the bigs. Michigan graduated Jordan Morgan and lost Jon Horford and Mitch McGary to transfer and the NBA Draft, respectively, last season. Now, the Maize and Blue look to replace the lost production with a stable of inexperienced big men and one rarely used senior.

The Starter

#34 Mark Donnal – 6’9, 240 – Redshirt Freshman
2013-14 stats: N/A (redshirt)
Projected 2014-15 stats: 5.3 pts (55% FG, 35% 3pt, 68% FT), 3.8 reb, .5 ast, .4 blk, .4 stl, .4 TO, 20 min/game

With a year of practice under his belt, Mark Donnal looks to be the safe bet to start at the five – at least early in the season. The Toledo native provides Beilein with yet another shooting threat, and Donnal has bulked up after being far too skinny to play last season.

But there is clearly work to be done. In Michigan’s exhibition win over Wayne State, Mark Donnal started down low but looked timid at times and struggled to deal with contact around the basket. With his body starting to fill out, Donnal simply needs to be strong with the basketball in his hands, get good position on the boards, and battle with what he has. He’ll look to add more muscle next offseason, but it’s very difficult to put on any weight during the grueling season.

This year, Donnal won’t be asked to carry much of the scoring load, but I really like his versatility and all-around game. When I scouted him in a high school game, Donnal shot beautifully from deep but also showcased an array of face-up and back-to-the-basket moves for easy finishes at the rim in addition to a couple monster dunks and blocks. The competition is obviously a few steps above the high school level, but Donnal’s outside-in skillset is hard to deny.

Donnal also runs the court very well and showcased an intelligent Euro-style slap-out on offensive misses in the exhibition game. Most players simply look to corral the rebound, but Donnal knows that if he can’t grab it, he can at least try to slap it back outside, where his guards are likely to get the rebound.

The Backups

#32 Ricky Doyle – 6’9″, 245 – Freshman

For a complete look at Doyle, please see his freshman preview.

Ricky Doyle is the yin to Mark Donnal’s yang. Where Donnal excels further from the basket and should develop into a nice perimeter threat while continuing to work on his game down low, Doyle is a true old-school post. Doyle loves to catch the ball with his back to the basket, make one move, and put it up. Beilein raved about Doyle’s hook shot during Media Day, and Doyle’s willingness to bang in the post makes him the most similar returning player to Jordan Morgan.

Doyle’s strengths this year will lie in his rebounding ability and his passing. He had a couple nice dishes on Monday despite not recording an assist, and his 2/2 line from the field should be pretty typical – he’s not going to shoot or score much, but he is also not going to take many risky shots. Doyle’s big body and strength will be key when Michigan faces the likes of Arizona, Wisconsin, and Syracuse this year.

So while Doyle’s skillset seems most typical and perhaps the safest of Michigan’s bigs, his shortcomings make him the clear backup at this point. The worry with keeping Doyle on the floor too long stems from two areas: defense and handling. Doyle has worked long and hard in the weight room to improve his strength and quickness, but he is still clearly too slow to defender quicker bigs or provide adequate help defense.

During Media Day, Assistant Jeff Meyer was going through a simple defensive shuffle drill with everyone. When Meyer pointed left, the players needed to shuffle as quickly as possible that direction; when he pointed right, they’d change direction. The majority of the players were able to take two or three shuffle steps in both direction every time Meyer pointed; Doyle, however, would barely get his shuffle foot down once before having to shuffle the opposite way. In another drill where the bigs practiced hedging screens, Doyle let Spike Albrecht split through him and the screened defender as if no one was there two straight times. Beilein had to stop the drill and give Doyle a word of advice.

When it comes to handling, Doyle almost treats the ball as a grenade that would explode if it hit the floor. He is far from a confident dribbler at this point and will be an easy pick-pocket if he holds onto the ball too long. Throughout the season, you may even be able to count the number of dribbles Doyle takes on two hands.

#5 D.J. Wilson – 6’9″, 220 – Freshman

For a complete look at Wilson, please see his freshman preview.

Wilson’s natural position at Michigan will end up being on the wing, as previewed in our piece earlier this week, but he will also see some minutes at the five backing up Donnal and Doyle. Like Donnal, Wilson presents a deep threat that will force defenses to spread the floor.

Unlike either Donnal or Doyle, though, Wilson lacks the size to bang too much with opposing bigs. Wilson will likely be a fouling liability if he is to play big minutes at the five, but I still think his versatility and shot blocking provide some interesting options for Beilein down low.

Right now, Wilson looks a little bit more comfortable on the wing facing up, but he’ll continue to learn both positions and is willing to help out wherever he is needed.

#44 Max Bielfeldt – 6’7″, 245 – Senior
2013-14 stats: .8 pts (28.6% FG, 33.3% 3pt, 0% FT), 1.1 blk, .1 blk, .1 stl, .1 TO, 4.7 min/game
Projected 2014-15 stats: 0.8 pts (40% FG, 30% 3pt, 50% FT), 1.0 reb, .1 blk, .1 stl, .2 TO, 2 min/game

Max Bielfeldt committed to Michigan over Illinois a few years back but has found himself buried on the depth chart throughout his college career to date. This year, it looks like he again finds himself behind three freshmen at the five and may be relegated to providing strong leadership in practice and in the locker room.

Unfortunately for Bielfeldt, he simply lacks the size, skill, and athleticism to compete at center at the highest level right now, but he certainly showcases strong effort on the court. In the exhibition game, Bielfeldt sat out the entire first half but came in early in the second half and had a nice spurt resulting in five points, an offensive rebound, and two blocks in just seven minutes of play, so he’s certainly making a case.

We may see some spot minutes from Bielfeldt early on in the season as Michigan breaks in a slew of new big bodies who could struggle with foul trouble, but as those freshmen continue to mature and grasp the offense, Bielfeldt’s minutes will start to decline.

Minute Breakdown:

5-spot (traditional center):
20 Mark Donnal
14 Ricky Doyle
4 D.J. Wilson
2 Max Bielfeldt

Michigan basketball position preview: The point guards

Thursday, November 13th, 2014


After taking a look at the three wing spots yesterday, let’s take a look at the point guard position today. With Michigan returning its two primary floor generals, there’s not much up for debate, so let’s see how things will run.

The Starter

#10 Derrick Walton Jr. – 6’0″, 185 – Sophomore
2013-14 stats: 7.9 pts (42.9% FG, 41% 3pt, 79.3% FT), 3.0 reb, 2.9 ast, .6 stl, .1.5 TO, 26.7 min/game
Projected 2014-15 stats: 12.0 pts (45% FG, 41% 3pt, 82% FT), 3.5 reb, 4.1 ast, 1 stl, 1.3 TO, 32 min/game

In the summer of 2011, John Beilein and his staff sent out offers to three different coveted point guards: Monte Morris, Demetrius Jackson, and Derrick Walton Jr. Walton was the first of the trio to jump at the offer, and it’s been an outstanding fit so far. Like Trey Burke before him, Walton probably committed with the idea that he would have a year or two to apprentice under Michigan’s then-star point guard, but Burke of course left after his sophomore season, leaving Walton the keys to the offense.

As a freshman, Walton performed about as well as could be expected, and had game-changing performances in road victories at Michigan State and Ohio State. He’s certainly not making any friends among rival fan bases, and that has made him all the more loved in Ann Arbor. In his first season, Walton scored when he needed to, but more often deferred to Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Glenn Robinson III.

With two of those three gone, Walton will take on a bigger overall role this season. Not only will he be asked to shoot and score more, but he will also be charged with finding LeVert, Zak Irvin, and Michigan’s bigs in scoring positions consistently off the dribble and pick-and-roll. Walton is Michigan’s quickest player and arguably the best slasher on the team. He is also a very good shooter from range and the best returning free throw shooter.

One area for improvement this year will be in finishing at the rim. Walton has no trouble getting to the hole and is excellent at drawing contact, but his 42.9 percent mark from the field should go up a couple ticks.

The Backups

#2 Spike Albrecht – 5’11″, 175 – Junior
2013-14 stats: 3.3 pts (40.4% FG, 38.7% 3pt, 77.8% FT), 2 ast, 1.1 reb, .5 stl, .4 TO, 14.7 min/game
Projected 2014-15 stats: 5 pts (43.5% FG, 40% 3pt, 80% FT), 2.5 ast, 1.4 reb, .7 stl, .7 TO, 15 min/game

Spike Albrecht has been a consistent, if quiet, role player for Michigan the past two seasons and will look to take on a slightly bigger role this year with an even younger roster. Albrecht knows he’s not the scorer or the athlete that Walton is, but he uses his own toolset to make a difference when called upon.

It’s no secret that John Beilein loves the veteran presence and fundamentally solid play that Albrecht can provide in buckets, and though Albrecht’s star will probably never be brighter than during the first half of the 2013 National Championship game (or immediately after when one of his teammates tweeted at Kate Upton from Spike’s account), he will do enough this season to be a thorn in the side of opposing teams. Beilein has already said that he’s calling on both Walton and Albrecht to shoot more from deep, which is good news for Spike, but his patented move will always be the corner drive and cross-court dish to an open shooter on the opposite corner.

This year, look for more of the same from Spike, who should also see about half of his minutes come with fellow point guard Walton on the floor.

#12 Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman – 6’4″, 175 – Freshman

For a complete look at Abdur-Rahkman, please see his freshman preview.

Rahk will only be an emergency option at point this season, but he has the raw skills right now to develop into an intriguing prospect down the line. His height is ideal for a Beilein point guard who plays off screens a lot, and his quickness and driving ability are great for the fast break and drawing fouls. I also really like the Pennsylvania native’s potential to grow into a lock-down man defender with his plus foot speed, length, and energy.
Abdur-Rahkman will see very few, if any, minutes as the primary ball-handler this year, but he should see spot minutes here and there on the wing as he continues to learn the offense. Next year will be his chance to compete for primary backup duties, but he’ll need to spend many hours in the gym working on his shot if he wants to win the role.

Minute Breakdown:

2-spot (traditional shooting guard):
32 Derrick Walton Jr.
8 Spike Albrecht

Michigan basketball position preview: The wings

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014


As we edge toward Saturday’s season opener, let’s take a closer look at each of Michigan’s three position groups, starting today with the wings.

For all intents and purposes, John Beilein really operates his basketball teams with three positions – the point guard, the big men, and the wings. Positions 2 through 4 are very similar offensively and require many of the same actions on each possession. Wings in John Beilein’s offense are expected to be adequate ball handlers, good passers, and primetime shooters. Here are the players who will be seeing time at the wing this season:

The Starters

#21 Zak Irvin – 6’6″, 215 – Sophomore
2013-14 stats: 6.7 pts (43.4% FG, 42.5% 3pt, 71.4% FT), 1.3 reb, .4 ast, .4 TO, 15.4 min/game
Projected 2014-15 stats: 11.5 pts (46% FG, 41% 3pt, 75% FT), 4.2 reb, 1 ast, 1 TO, 33 min/game

Last year, Zak Irvin was about as much of a Just a Shooter as possible, with a full 74.5 percent of his attempts coming from behind the arc. He often looked uncomfortable putting the ball on the floor, and his slashing was almost non-existent. Over the offseason, however, Irvin remained dedicated to improving his game by staying in Ann Arbor over the summer, and the results are apparently already. The former Indiana Mr. Basketball reportedly increased his vertical leap by some five inches without hurting his outside shot, and showed that off last night.

In Italy, Irvin was on fire from downtown and led the team in scoring with a whopping 20.8 points per outing. Perhaps more impressively, he was also the second-leading rebounder on the team, hauling in 7.3 rebounds a game. His bounce and rebounding ability were both on full display in the team’s exhibition season opener in which Irvin slammed it home three times and pulled in an impressive five rebounds – something that will continue to be important given the team’s youth down low.

Going forward, Irvin will continue to work on becoming a threat to take it to the hole, but he doesn’t need to be a world-beater in that department for the Wolverines to thrive. If Irvin can knock down shots at a high clip again, finish in transition, compete for rebounds, and play solid defense, his job is more than accomplished. Look for him to have a very nice sophomore season, the season during which John Beilein likes to see his players make their biggest leaps (think Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert), while playing the bulk of the minutes at the 2 spot.

#23 Caris LeVert – 6’7″, 200 – Junior
2013-14 stats: 12.9 pts (43.9%FG, 40.8%3pt, 76.7%FT), 4.3 reb, 2.9 ast, 1.2 stl, .3 bl, 1.7 TO, 34 min/game
Projected 2014-15 stats: 15.5 pts (45%FG, 42%3pt, 81%FT), 5.1 reb, 4.5 sat, 1.5 stl, .4 bl, 1.5 TO, 35 min/game

There’s no doubt who this Michigan team’s star player is. That would be Caris LeVert, the 20-year-old who was all set to play at the mid-major level for Ohio University until then-coach John Groce left Athens for Champaign and chose to not bring LeVert with him. I guess Illinois’s loss is Michigan’s gain.

After an up-and-down freshman year that saw a young, gangly, skinny, and oft out-of-control LeVert go from surefire redshirt to inconsistent contributor on Michigan’s NCAA Runner-up team, the sophomore exploded onto the scene as a sophomore and played Robin to eventual lottery pick Nik Stauskas’s Batman.

Now, the reins are all his. LeVert has bulked up to a once-unimaginable 200 pounds and has as complete an offensive game as anyone in the country. Standing now at 6’7″ (will he ever stop growing?), LeVert should be Michigan’s go-to scorer from the wing and the secondary general to Derrick Walton. You’ll see plenty of pick-and-roll action drawn up for LeVert at the 3 position that Stauskas thrived in, and LeVert’s size, quickness, shiftiness, shooting, and passing ability make him a dangerous weapon off the curl. He will also be called upon to play solid perimeter defense, where his length and foot speed should lead to further improvements on that end of the floor.

The early returns for LeVert are very positive, after posting a team-high 16 points and six assists last night with only one turnover. What the stats don’t show, however, is the ease with which the veteran now operates. The Columbus, Ohio native was like a tub of Jell-O in human form when he arrived in Ann Arbor, sometimes to the point where it looked like he wasn’t even controlling his own extremities. Now, only two years later, LeVert plays with an air of cool and operates incredibly smoothly across the floor without comprising any of his quickness or shiftiness.

#3 Kameron Chatman – 6’7″, 210 – Freshman

For a complete look at Chatman, please see his freshman preview.

Kam Chatman arrived in Ann Arbor as one of the few players under John Beilein that chose Michigan over other top-ranked programs. That’s certainly no shot at Chatman; Beilein, after all, is highly selective when scouting high school players and considers off-the-court character perhaps more than any other coach in the country. It’s not Chatman’s fault that Beilein has consistently gotten the job done with more diamond-in-the-rough types.

Now Chatman has a chance to prove his high regard was not a fluke, and after immediately grading out as a rotation player under John Beilein and his assistants’ scouting, the Portland native looks to have locked up the starting 4 spot this season. In last night’s exhibition, Chatman appeared to be the most relaxed freshman on the court, and though his shot didn’t fall consistently (he air-balled two threes and swished another), his stat line was impressive: nine points, six rebounds (one offensive), four assists, and zero turnovers in 25 minutes. The freshman will still have plenty of learning to do and needs to find his stroke consistently as the season gets rolling, but he looks like a nice piece to the puzzle at this point.

The Bench

#2 Spike Albrecht – 5’11″, 175 – Junior
2013-14 stats: 3.3 pts (40.4% FG, 38.7% 3pt, 77.8% FT), 2 ast, 1.1 reb, .5 stl, .4 TO, 14.7 min/game
Projected 2014-15 stats: 5 pts (43.5% FG, 40% 3pt, 80% FT), 2.5 ast, 1.4 reb, .7 stl, .7 TO, 15 min/game

Let’s be clear on one thing: Spike Albrecht is a point guard. The only reason I am including him here is that John Beilein has said on many occasions leading up to this season that Spike Albrecht and Derrick Walton will share the floor for some time every game. Last night, Albrecht played 20 minutes while Walton notched 21 of his own (and probably would have had a few more if not for a cramp), and they were both on the floor for approximately 3.5 minutes. During the season, I expect to see Walton running the point for around 32 minutes a night with Albrecht getting all the backup minutes there and another seven or so at the 2-spot.

Albrecht’s role is very clear on this team. Beilein wants him to shoot when he’s open, find the open man, and take care of the ball. Albrecht did those three things very well last season, and with another year of experience under his belt, I expect more (albeit small) improvements. He’s under-sized and not super athletic, as evidenced by his casual layup on a full breakaway last night, but Albrecht is usually very smart with the ball and is adept at finding the open man for the corner three.

#24 Aubrey Dawkins – 6’6″, 190 – Freshman

For a complete look at Dawkins, please see his freshman preview.

Aubrey Dawkins should provide a nice outside threat and the rare “wow” dunk in limited minutes this season at the 3 and 4 positions. He has all the tools to become a very good player down the line, but he’s at the wrong position to make a huge impact this season. Look for similar output to LeVert’s freshman year but in fewer minutes.

#5 D.J. Wilson – 6’9″, 220 – Freshman

For a complete look at Wilson, please see his freshman preview.

John Beilein has made it clear that his long, versatile freshman will end up as a wing forward down the line, and that’s where the majority of his minutes should come this season as well, but he’ll also spotlight at the 5-spot along with Mark Donnal and Ricky Doyle.

Right now, Wilson looks more comfortable facing up on the wing, and he should see the majority of Chatman’s backup minutes there. His size and athleticism give him two valued assets defensively, and Wilson’s offensive range and driving ability will make him a very tough guard. His face-up game is in the mold of consensus All-American Frank Kaminsky from Wisconsin, and his varied skillset make him a very intriguing prospect. Look for Wilson to see 10-15 minutes a night at the 4 and another 5-10 at the 5 position.

#12 Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman – 6’4″, 175 – Freshman

For a complete look at Abdur-Rahkman, please see his freshman preview.

Luckily for basketball writers covering Michigan, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman looks to be a year or two away from being a major contributor in Ann Arbor. His quickness and slashing ability give him a skill set that not many on this team possess, but Rahk still needs to get the offense down and finds himself behind the likes of Derrick Walton, Spike Albrecht, and Zak Irvin for minutes.

In looking at Rahk’s profile, one number should stick out too – 175. Despite being five full inches taller than Spike Albrecht, Abdur-Rahkman is the same exact weight. And Spike is no heavyweight. I don’t think Abdur-Rahkman will redshirt this season, as Beilein continues to talk as if all the freshmen will get their opportunities, but he certainly won’t find the court in every game, especially against early heavyweights like Syracuse and Arizona.

Minute Breakdown

2-spot (traditional shooting guard):
32 Zak Irvin
7 Spike Albrecht
1 Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman
3-spot (traditional small forward):
35 Caris LeVert
2 Aubrey Dawkins
2 Kameron Chatman
1 Zak Irvin
4-spot (traditional power forward):
25 Kameron Chatman
12 D.J. Wilson
3 Aubrey Dawkins

Michigan basketball season preview: Freshman Austin Hatch

Monday, November 10th, 2014


Michigan Basketball kicks off with an exhibition game tonight. Today is our final freshman preview before we take a look at returning Wolverines and position breakdowns as we continue to preview the upcoming 2014-15 season. Before Saturday’s official season opener, we will come out with a comprehensive look at the team, complete with minute, stat, and record predictions.

Previously: Ricky Doyle, Kameron Chatman, D.J. Wilson, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Aubrey Dawkins

#30 Austin Hatch
Measurements 6’6″, 215 7/18/14 Men's basketball promos
Hometown Fort Wayne, Ind.
High School Loyola HS (Calif.)
High School Stats (2010-11) 23.3 points, 9.3 rebounds per game
AAU Spiece Higher Level
Projected Position(s) Wing
Committed June 15, 2011
Major Suitors Notre Dame, Indiana, Virginia

Background: For as long as he can remember, Austin Hatch has dreamed of playing basketball for the University of Michigan. As a little kid, Hatch would practice with his dad with the full intention of one day suiting up in the Maize and Blue of his mother’s and both grandfathers’ Alma mater.

When he was just eight years old, however, his dream took a backseat to tragic reality after the young Austin Hatch survived a plane crash nearly unscathed along with his father, the pilot, but lost his mother, his older sister, and his younger brother.

Left an only child and without his mom, Austin Hatch bonded daily with his dad, Dr. Stephen Hatch, who quickly became his best friend too. Within a few years, he began working day and night to reach his goals of playing at Michigan, and with an attitude toward becoming an “uncommon man” instilled in him by his parents, Austin thrived.

By the time high school rolled around for Hatch, his dream looked increasingly more attainable. As a freshman at the Canterbury School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Hatch was an honor roll student in the classroom and a standout on the basketball court, where he started every game and averaged 18 points, seven rebounds, and two assists.

College coaches were keeping a close eye on the young prospect, including Michigan’s John Beilein. At a team basketball camp at the University of Michigan following his freshman year, Hatch impressed Beilein with his size and deft shooting ability.

(Lon Horwedel, Detroit Free Press)

(Lon Horwedel, Detroit Free Press)

On June 15, 2011, when it came time to hand out scholarship offers to the 2013 freshmen class, Beilein offered Hatch a full basketball scholarship. Hatch, of course, accepted before any other coaches even had the chance to pitch their schools. This was, after all, Hatch’s life-long dream coming to fruition.

Unfortunately, the fantasy would take yet another awful twist, as just nine days after committing to play basketball for Michigan, Hatch was involved in yet another plane crash.

Hatch’s father, who was flying the small plane to a summer home in Northern Michigan, passed away, as did Hatch’s stepmother and a family dog. Austin lived, but was in critical condition after suffering a punctured lung, broken ribs, a broken collarbone, and a cracked skull resulting in severe head trauma and brain swelling. Doctors rushed to save Hatch’s life, but the outlook was grim; after analyzing his condition, doctors decided it was necessary to put Hatch into a medically induced coma in order to control the swelling as much as possible.

Sports fans around the world followed Hatch’s progression with great hope, and finally, eight weeks later, doctors felt comfortable enough to wake Austin up.

It’s unimaginable to think of what was going through Hatch’s head after learning of the results of the accident.

A young, blooming basketball star’s world was turned upside down.

At 16 years of age, Hatch was orphaned and faced a massive uphill battle to so much as regain the ability to walk and talk. Basketball had to be an afterthought.

But John Beilein’s commitment to his future player was unwavering, and Hatch’s commitment to himself and his future coach grew even stronger. Beilein, unable to comment publicly on the situation due to NCAA rules, had visited Hatch while still in his coma in Traverse City and again in Chicago as Hatch rehabbed.

With an unmatched fervor for getting back on the court, Hatch worked to overcome unfathomable adversity to once again achieve his dream of playing basketball for the University of Michigan.

Despite his dedication, however, Hatch refused to enter into a high school game until he felt that he wouldn’t be a liability to his team. After transferring to Loyola High School in Los Angeles to be closer to family, Hatch finally let his coach insert him into game, at which point the kid who had been through so much sunk his first shot attempt – a three-pointer – since that second fateful plane crash.

Hatch is still visibly slower on the basketball court than before his injuries and talks very deliberately – signs that his recovery remains a work in progress – but today he is a scholarship basketball player at the University of Michigan.

When the Wolverines took a summer trip to Italy to play four exhibition games in preparation for this season, Hatch patiently watched his team from the bench until his number was called in the waning minutes of Michigan’s first game against the Perugia Select Team. He was greeted with a standing ovation from the small Michigan contingent – which included his grandfather – and went on to record an assist and a turnover over the course of four games.

Hatch completely understands that he’s still a long way from playing any meaningful minutes in college, but he remains determined to improving every day. For his part, Beilein plans to show Hatch’s teammates some clips of the star player before the injuries diverted his career path, but admits that he’s not sure how he’ll do it.

Looking back on that terrible accident today, Hatch says it was nothing more than “a bump in the road…not a road block.”

Without knowing everything that Hatch went through, you might think that the tall, handsome young man was just like any other 19-year-old college student and basketball player. But you’d be wrong.

Austin Hatch is an uncommon man.


Michigan basketball season preview: Freshman Aubrey Dawkins

Monday, November 10th, 2014


Michigan Basketball is right around the corner, and it’s time now to start looking at the new and returning Wolverines as we begin to preview the upcoming 2014-15 season. As in the past, we will begin by taking a look at the unknowns – the freshmen – and continue with position-by-position breakdowns featuring the rest of the squad and conclude with a complete season preview, including our picks for breakout players, team MVP, record, postseason finish, and more. Get excited!

Next up is freshman wing Aubrey Dawkins.
Previously: Ricky Doyle, Kameron Chatman, D.J. Wilson, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman

#24 Aubrey Dawkins
Measurements 6’6″, 190 7/18/14 Men's basketball promos
Hometown Palo Alto, Calif.
High School Palo Alto HS
High School Stats (2012-13) 18.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists per game
Prep School New Hampton Prep
Prep School Stats (2013-14) 12.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.0 assists per game
AAU Arizona Magic
Projected Position(s) Wing
Committed April 28, 2014
Major Suitors Dayton, Rhode Island
Chance of Redshirt 40 percent
Recruiting Rankings
Rivals NR
Scout 3-star – NR
ESPN 2-star – Overall: NR, Position: 101, State: 53 (Calif), Grade: 65
247 3-star – Overall: NR, Position: 71, State: 8 (N.H.), Grade: 84
247 Composite 2-star – Overall: 385, Position: 88, State: 11

Background: Aubrey Dawkins is the son of former Duke great and current Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins, but he certainly didn’t achieve the fame his father did before stepping on campus.

In high school, Aubrey was dwarfed by his 6’2″ father. Standing at just 5’8″ through his sophomore season at St. Francis High School in Mountain View, California, Dawkins was less than a blip on the recruiting radar of any colleges. In the blink of an eye, however, Aubrey shot past his dad, growing to 6’5″ by the time his senior season hit full stride at Palo Alto High, and 6’6″ today. After putting up strong scoring and rebounding numbers in his final two years of high school, Aubrey Dawkins was yearning for more interest from the next level.

Instead, however, the younger Dawkins, like Spike Albrecht before him, had to go to prep school after graduating from high school to attract major college attention. He chose to fly coast-to-coast to powerhouse NEPSAC program New Hampton Prep in New Hampton, New Hampshire — the one-time home of former Wolverine Evan Smotrycz.

In prep school, Dawkins’s game continued to evolve, and his shooting and athleticism, along with his ideal size, pedigree, and exposure, figured to turn him into a more coveted prospect.

But the season in New Hampshire merely turned up mid-major offers from the likes of Rhode Island and Dayton — respectable programs, to be sure, but far from elite.

Enter John Beilein’s watchful eye.

With a few roster spots still available on Michigan’s 2014-15 roster, Beilein kept his options open and reached out to Dawkins after the Maize and Blue’s Elite Eight finish in March. The scouting and scouring paid off, as Dawkins didn’t take long to buy what the Wolverines were selling despite having been recruited much longer by the Flyers of Dayton.

On April 28, Dawkins pledged to spend his college years in Ann Arbor and signed in the late signing period a little more than a week after. With his prayers answered, Dawkins’s future is now his own to write.


What He Will Provide:

1. Athleticism: Michigan lost hyper-athlete Glenn Robinson III to the NBA this offseason, but Dawkins should be able to replace a good deal of that. It’s not hard to see in any of his highlight videos that Dawkins can simply jump out of the gym. Beilein’s offense has developed more and more over the years to include increased fast break and alley-oop opportunities, as he’s recruited better athletes, and it should be no different this year. With a very young team, the coach will obviously be quick to pull the leash on anyone throwing up wild alley-oop attempts, but with the way Dawkins jumps, he won’t miss many. Dawkins’s quickness and prep school experience should also help him develop into a plus-defender in time.

2.Shooting: At this point in his career, Dawkins is not the most comfortable player with the ball in his hands driving to the basket, but he will benefit immensely from players like Derrick Walton, Caris LeVert, and Spike Albrecht, who will all be able to find him sitting on the perimeter waiting to kill the defense for leaving him open. Dawkins possesses an easy stroke and a quick release that doesn’t need much work. If he can knock down his outside shots with consistency, he’ll work his way into minutes, and he looks capable of stretching the defense at this point.

What He Will Have to Work On:

1.Ball-handling: There’s plenty of video on Dawkins out there, but there’s not a whole lot of him dribbling. That’s usually a sign that a player has work to do on his handles, and ESPN’s scouting report says as much:

“If Dawkins wants to take his game to another level, he must get better handling pressure while dribbling. His handle can get sloppy when defenders get into him-especially when he goes left.”

2. Strength: It’s great to be a shooter in Beilein’s offense, and it’s always a plus to be an athlete, but to excel at the highest level, Dawkins will need to be comfortable putting the ball on the floor and driving to the hole on occasion as well. With guys like Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin in front of him, Dawkins has to provide something those players can’t to see significant time this season. Both of them can shoot as well as, if not better than, Dawkins at this point, and are probably better slashers as well. Look for Dawkins to really focus on becoming a lockdown defender and diversifying his offensive game.

Burning Question: Can Dawkins win the back-up spot to Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert?

It’s safe to assume right now that LeVert and Irvin will both be starting on the wings and play 30+ minutes per game. But that leaves probably 10-15 minutes a night. Aubrey Dawkins has the size, shooting, and athleticism to compete for that handful of minutes, but he’ll be going against fellow freshmen Kam Chatman and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, and Spike Albrecht on occasion.

Stat Predictions: 1.0 points, 0.7 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.3 turnovers, 45% FG, 36% 3pt., 75% FT, 5 minutes per game

Bottom Line: Dawkins is very similar to a freshman Tim Hardaway, Jr. a few years back, but he doesn’t have as easy a path to playing time as the NBA sophomore did. John Beilein certainly loves Dawkins’s shooting and leaping abilities right now, and like Abdur-Rahkman, I think Dawkins will play spot minutes, but he’ll be hard-pressed to find consistent playing time with a few experienced guards in his way.

Michigan basketball season preview: Freshman Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman

Thursday, November 6th, 2014


Michigan Basketball is right around the corner, and it’s time now to start looking at the new and returning Wolverines as we begin to preview the upcoming 2014-15 season. As in the past, we will begin by taking a look at the unknowns – the freshmen – and continue with position-by-position breakdowns featuring the rest of the squad and conclude with a complete season preview, including our picks for breakout players, team MVP, record, postseason finish, and more. Get excited!

Next up is freshman guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman.
Previously: Ricky Doyle, Kameron Chatman, D.J. Wilson.

#12 Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman
Measurements 6’4″, 175 7/18/14 Men's basketball promos
Hometown Allentown, Pa.
High School Central Catholic HS
High School Stats (2013-14) 23.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists per game
AAU Team Final
Projected Position(s) Point Guard/Wing
Committed April 19, 2014
Major Suitors VCU, Bucknell, George Mason, Drexel, Rice
Chance of Redshirt 25 percent
Recruiting Rankings
Rivals 3-star – NR
Scout 3-star – NR
ESPN 2-star – Overall: NR, Position: 102, State: 9, Grade: 64
247 3-star – Overall: NR, Position: 66, State: 9, Grade: 85
247 Composite 2-star – Overall: 385, Position: 88, State: 11

Background: The name is Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, but if that’s a bit of a mouthful, you can call him “Rahk”.

Rahk has perhaps the most interesting back story of any of the six freshmen in this year’s Michigan recruiting class. A prolific scorer in the Eastern Pennsylvania city of Allentown at Central Catholic High School, Abdur-Rahkman long figured to be a coveted recruit. But going into his senior year in which he would turn an elderly-for-his-class 19 years of age, Rahk was still waiting on some notable offers. Sure, some low- and mid-major schools came calling, but the big fish didn’t bite.MAAR

So Abdur-Rahkman did all he could to attract them, scoring more than 20 points, grabbing more than six rebounds, and dishing out better than four assists per game while eventually eclipsing the 2,000-point mark for his career – just the 10th player in state history to claim that honor.

Still, schools like Virginia Commonwealth, Drexel, Bucknell, George Mason, and eventually Rice (once the VCU assistant recruiting him there took the head coaching position in Houston) were the most notable offers Abdur-Rahkman had to ponder.

While Rahk mulled over his offers, still holding onto hope that a more notable school might ring the doorbell, a former small-time college basketball coach named Dave Rooney was making calls of his own, as first reported by Brendan Quinn of MLive.

Rooney has long been out of coaching, but many years ago, he had met a young up-and-coming coach named John Beilein while Rooney was at Buffalo State and Beilein was at Erie Community College. These days, Rooney still enjoys watching local high school kids play ball, and still has an eye for talent. When the 72-year-old made a call to Dennis Csencsits, Abdur-Rahkman’s coach at Central Catholic, and discovered that the best high school player he’d seen in a long time had no high-major offers to speak of, he unhesitatingly called his old buddy Beilein.

Beilein, knowing his long-lost friend would never dupe him, immediately called Csencsits to discuss the newly discovered prospect.

Michigan’s coaching staff was intrigued by the slasher and knew the NBA Draft had just done a number on their roster; they invited Rahk to campus for an official visit in April and received his commitment shortly thereafter.

The rest, as they say, is history.

When I asked Beilein how much time he and his staff really had to evaluate late offerees Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins, he said that the timing only allowed for a couple weeks of scouting, but with as much video as they watched and as much talking as they did with Rahk and his coach, Michigan’s coaches felt that they had done their homework and had great confidence in the offer. Now that Beilein has had additional time to watch his freshman, he knows he made the right choice, and said that Abdur-Rahkman will see playing time this year and could be a key piece in the near future.

With the season mere days away, Abdur-Rahkman’s whirlwind journey from small high school to the big stage of Big Ten basketball has ended. Now the real ride begins. It’s time to smell what the Rahk is cooking.


What He Will Provide:

1. Slashing Ability: Beilein will never field a roster lacking shooters, but we’ve seen a few teams at Michigan that struggled to get to the rack when needed, rather preferring to pass it around the perimeter until jacking up a shot with the shot clock running down. The presence of Abdur-Rahkman should ensure that’s not the case for the next few years in Ann Arbor. The freshman from the Philadelphia suburbs shows great quickness and an ability to slither through defenders on tape. He also appears completely unfazed driving to the hoop despite being a very thin 175 pounds.

2. Quickness and Scoring: This goes hand-in-hand with Rahk’s slashing ability, but he should really provide some fast-break opportunities and plenty of chances at the free throw line from his driving. Abdur-Rahkman is not going to linger around the arc like Zak Irvin did last year; when he gets the ball, he’s going to put it on the floor and use his quickness to get by his defender or draw a foul. In Italy, Abdur-Rahkman averaged a very respectable 10 points per game and made more free throws (16) than any other Wolverine even attempted (14); with his 25 free throw attempts in four games, Rahk is clearly not afraid of contact and will look to take advantage of his strengths.

What He Will Have to Work On:

1. Shooting: If most people heard that Beilein took a late flier on an under-recruited kid from Allentown, Pennsylvania, they’d simply assume it was a prolific shooter who Beilein could mold into his system. That’s far from the case with Abdur-Rahkman. While not a terrible shooter, Rahk is much better and more comfortable going to the hoop and has a ways to go with his shot. That’s okay for now, as Michigan’s roster is flush with shooters, but eventually everyone would like to see Abdur-Rahkman become a serious threat from downtown. Beilein likes to have at least four capable bombers on the floor at all times, and if Abdur-Rahkman doesn’t improve his shot much, that preference would require two big men shooters. The good news is that Beilein is a great teacher and Rahk seems to be an able learner. Right now, Abdur-Rahkman’s shot resembles a high schooler’s – right foot a little too far out front, not enough air under his feet, a little deliberate on the release – but a few months of work should see improved consistency.

2. Strength: Reading through all these previews, you should start to sense a trend among the freshmen: almost all of them need to build muscle. Abdur-Rahkman is no different. Standing 6’4″ off the ground at just 175 pounds, Abdur-Rahkman will take a beating from opposing big men when he looks to drive, and if he is to maintain his confidence in getting to the hole, he’d be well-served to pack on some upper-body strength to deal with contact at the college level. What separates most elite prospects from good prospects is their body. Many blue-chippers already look like college veterans when arriving on campus while most college basketball freshmen resemble stick figures. Abdur-Rahkman falls into the latter group, but a year or two under Strength and Conditioning Coach Jon Sanderson will have him on the right track.

Burning Question: What is Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman’s role on this team?

Many freshmen this year cited an opportunity for early playing time as a reason they committed to Michigan. That’s not so much the case with Abdur-Rahkman. While classmates Kam Chatman, Ricky Doyle, and D.J. Wilson figure to form a significant part of the 4/5 core and seem to be on the fast track to big minutes out of the gates, Rahk will certainly find himself behind Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin, and Derrick Walton – all of whom should easily eat 30+ minutes a night – and most likely Spike Albrecht as well. Abdur-Rahkman looks comfortable holding the ball and could see a few minutes a night at the point, but his scoring ability could also lend some depth to the wing spots in a foul pinch.

Stat Predictions: 1.5 points, 0.5 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.2 turnovers, 34% FG, 29% 3pt., 70% FT, 5 minutes per game

Bottom Line: Unlike some of the freshmen this season, Abdur-Rahkman should have plenty of time to watch from the bench and develop in practice while going up against the core of Michigan’s young team on a daily basis. His quickness, handling, and driving give him a unique skill set on this team, but he’ll need to polish up his shot and develop on defense before seeing regular minutes. Redshirting could be an option, but like Beilein did with Caris LeVert two seasons ago, I think Abdur-Rahkman will play sparingly this season (especially considering he is old for his class).

Michigan basketball season preview: Freshman D.J. Wilson

Monday, November 3rd, 2014


Michigan Basketball is right around the corner, and it’s time now to start looking at the new and returning Wolverines as we begin to preview the upcoming 2014-15 season. As in the past, we will begin by taking a look at the unknowns – the freshmen – and continue with position-by-position breakdowns featuring the rest of the squad and conclude with a complete season preview, including our picks for breakout players, team MVP, record, postseason finish, and more. Get excited!

Next up is freshman big man D.J. Wilson.
Previously: Ricky Doyle, Kameron Chatman

#5 D.J. Wilson
Measurements 6’9″, 220 7/18/14 Men's basketball promos
Hometown Sacramento, Calif.
High School Capital Christian HS
High School Stats (2013-14) 13.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks per game
AAU Team Superstar
Projected Position(s) Wing Forward/Center
Committed Oct. 6, 2013
Major Suitors Gonzaga, California, Columbia, Boise State, Colorado, USC
Chance of Redshirt 0 percent
Recruiting Rankings
Rivals 4-star – Overall: 86
Scout 4-star – Overall: 69, Position: 14
ESPN 4-star – Overall: NR, Position: 41, State: 14, Grade: 75
247 3-star – Overall: 247, Position: 55, State: 23, Grade: 87
247 Composite 4-star – Overall: 123, Position: 32, State: 14

Background: It’s no secret that John Beilein has made a living recently off bringing in less highly touted players that he sees something in, coaching them up, inserting them into his system, and then watching their uncanny development lead to great team and individual success.

The list of these under-the-radar guys goes on and on, with players like Stu Douglass, Zack Novak, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, and Caris LeVert having made recruiting services eat their words. Perhaps next in line at Michigan is forward D.J. Wilson, who comes in with skills you don’t expect to see from someone who is 6’9″ with a 7’3″ wingspan.DJ Wilson

Behind every under-recruited player is usually a reason, however. For Wilson, it was as simple as growing too fast for his own good. After sprouting three inches before his junior year of high school ball, Wilson’s back literally broke on him, forcing him into a brace that stretched from below his waist all the way to his chest. The injury kept him out for AAU season and part of his junior year, and to make things even more iffy, Wilson’s Capital Christian School wasn’t giving him much exposure, with only about 400 kids in the entire school.

By the time Wilson was healed up and preparing for his final year of high school ball, many prospective colleges had already moved on. But an eye-opening game on the summer circuit in which Wilson scored 22 points and pulled in eight rebounds against 2015 5-star forward Ivan Rabb at a team camp at the University of California-Berkeley kept John Beilein and staff hot on the trail.

At the start of his senior year, Wilson received consecutive visits from Beilein, Jeff Meyer, LaVall Jordan, and Bacari Alexander. Other colleges were starting to sniff around again, and Wilson took official visits to Columbia and Gonzaga in late September before rewarding the Wolverines’ coaching staff’s dedication to him, and visiting Ann Arbor the weekend of October 4. Beilein extended a scholarship offer on that official visit and Wilson committed within a day.

Michigan was the biggest name recruiting Wilson to the end, but the lanky forward says it was his relationship with the coaching staff, Beilein’s history of developing under-recruited players into NBA draft picks, and an opportunity for early playing time that made the difference.

The opportunity is certainly there, and it’s Wilson’s for the taking. Will the big man prove Beilein’s diamond-in-the-rough radar accurate again? Only time will tell, but signs are pointing up.


What He Will Provide:

1. Versatility: When I asked Wilson at Media Day what he felt his biggest strength was, he immediately responded with “versatility”. Wilson has the size to play the four or the five position in Michigan’s offense, but also seems to have the handles, quickness and athleticism to play the three if needed. Beilein said that the coaching staff is still trying to see where Wilson fits best, but he mentioned that he thinks he’ll end up as a forward. Wilson himself thinks that his versatility will be key in exploiting mismatches on offense, where he could go against a guy three inches shorter and either post up or shoot over him without giving up anything on defense. Regardless of where he ends up fitting into this team’s plans, D.J. Wilson is already refining a solid all-around game and will provide a welcome movable piece on both sides of the floor. His shot is smooth, his athleticism is terrific for his size, and his basketball I.Q. has been praised by Beilein.

2. A Potential Shot-Blocking presence: Assistant Coach Bacari Alexander told me that he sees Wilson, Ricky Doyle, and Mark Donnal all as potential rim protectors for this floor, but it seems clear that Wilson’s combination of legitimate 6’9″ height (7’0″+ hair included), a 7’3″ wingspan, and plus-athleticism give him a head-start in that category. Beilein has yet to have a true post presence when it comes to rejecting shots, and Alexander himself admitted that all three freshmen still probably have quite a bit of learning to do before becoming bona fide Ekpe Udoh-types, but I like Wilson to have at least 10 multi-block games this season.

3. Stretching the D: Like Mark Donnal, part of D.J. Wilson’s intrigue comes from his ability to shoot from deep. Wilson mentioned at Media Day that right now he is more focused on improving in the post with BA coaching him up, but I suspect part of that has to do with an already established comfort level on the outside. The native Californian doesn’t get a ton of air under his feet when shooting, but with his size, length, and quick release, he more than makes up for it and looks fluid from beyond the arc and in the mid-range game. I’m still waiting to see Beilein deploy the pick-and-pop at Michigan and unleash the inner Kevin Pittsnogle of his current bigs, but something tells me I won’t be waiting much longer.

What He Will Have to Work On:

1. Strength: Wilson’s injury a couple years back probably didn’t help much in this department, and quick growth spurts in basketball players are generally paired with a lean body frame that needs work. That’s certainly the case with Wilson, who, though not overly skinny right now at 220 pounds, will look to add a solid 10 to 15 pounds of muscle before he’s able to compete and bang down low with the best big men college has to offer.

2. Back-to-the-Basket Game: Beilein has mentioned that D.J. Wilson could play center for a few minutes a game this season, especially in the case of injury or foul trouble, but if that is the case, Wilson will have to work on his post moves. His video showcases a strong face-up game for a big man and plenty of passing, dribbling, and driving, but rarely do you see Wilson turning his back and making fundamental moves to get easy layups. The caveat here, of course, is that Beilein rarely expects any of his players to back down defenders one-on-one, but it’d be nice to see Wilson continue to diversify his game at multiple positions after getting a strong grip on the offense.

Burning Question: Where will D.J. Wilson fit into the offense?

John Beilein flat-out admitted at Media Day that the staff is still very unsure of where to put Wilson to optimize his output, and with so many young players, those questions probably won’t go away tomorrow. If I had to guess right now, I think Kam Chatman will start at the four and just about split minutes with D.J. Wilson there, with the potential for a couple more minutes for Wilson at the center spot. Ultimately, Wilson should settle into the four spot nicely and provide depth at the three and five positions as well, but will he be able to grasp the intricacies of the offense enough early on to excel in multiple positions?

Stat Predictions: 10.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 1.0 assists, 1.0 turnovers, 48% FG, 38% 3pt., 75% FT, 25 minutes per game

Bottom Line: Wilson is going to be my pick for Freshman of the Year for Michigan, and I think he has the potential to develop into a very special player. His toolbox is absolutely packed and there appear to be very few glaring weaknesses in his game at this point despite flying under the radar out of high school. Wilson can score from anywhere on the floor, can rebound, block shots, and would be a major X-factor in a 1-3-1 defense. Look for a few monster dunks out of the freshman as he develops into the next unlikely pro prospect under Beilein.

2014 Big Ten basketball preview: Part two

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

2014-15 B1G BBall Preview-Part2

Over the past few years an incredible change has passed over the Midwest, which was long praised for elite football programs like Michigan and Ohio State and largely uncompetitive on the hardwood with Michigan State taking the cake nearly every season. Now, the sports landscape has been turned on its head, as Big Ten football struggles to keep three teams ranked in the Top 25 while the basketball conference continues to solidify itself as the best in the nation.

Last season was another great campaign for the conference as a whole. Wisconsin fought its way through a tough West regional to reach the Final Four, while Michigan and Michigan State were just seconds away from doing the same, eventually losing to the two National Championship competitors. Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska were also selected for the Big Dance, giving the Big Ten six teams that made the cut. Minnesota also had a successful postseason, winning the NIT championship.

The Big Ten has climbed to the top of the basketball world by featuring a deep slate of teams led by a few legitimate Final Four contenders. This season will be no different, even as the conference welcomes two new teams that have struggled in recent years.

Below is part two of our Big Ten preview. Although there are no divisions in basketball, we split up our preview into the Big Ten West and Big Ten East divisions for the sake of organization. Part one (the Big Ten West) was posted earlier this week.

Note: In the 2013 Stats & Rankings tables for each team, the darker the shade of maize, the better that team was in that category; the darker the shade of blue, the worse that team was in that category.

Indiana Hoosiers Indiana logo
Head Coach: Tom Crean (7th season)
2013-14: 17-15, T-8th in Big Ten (7-11), No postseason
Returning starters: 3 (Troy Williams, Stanford Robinson, Yogi Ferrell)
Recruiting class rank: #17 (James Blackmon, Jr., Robert Johnson, Emmitt Holt, Max Hoetzel, Tim Priller, Jeremiah April)
Key non-conference games: Dec 2 vs Pitt, Dec 9 vs Louisville, Dec 20 vs Butler, Dec 27 vs Georgetown

Indiana was surprisingly mediocre last season coming off two straight 27-plus win seasons under Tom Crean. As a sophomore, Yogi Ferrell took over the team and averaged 17.3 points and 3.9 assists per game to lead the offense. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, dominant freshman Noah Vonleh declared for the NBA draft and senior leader Will Sheehey graduated, leaving Ferrell without much help on the offensive side of the ball.

As Ferrell continues to lead Indiana as a junior, the team will have to solidify itself on defense without that dominating presence inside. The roster is small and turnover-prone, which is a formula for disaster in a difficult Big Ten conference. If strong defensive teams lock up on Ferrell and force the rest of this group to make plays, it could be another empty March for the Hoosiers.

Player to watch: Yogi Ferrell. This guy is really fun to watch, as he is quick and creative off the dribble but also accurate from the outside. As one of the most dangerous offensive players in the Big Ten, Ferrell can explode and give Indiana a chance to win on any given night.

Best-case scenario: Indiana sees even more growth from Ferrell and freshmen James Blackmon and Robert Johnson make a quick transition to the college game, landing Indiana a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Worst-case scenario: Last year’s mess leaks over into this season and Indiana hovers around .500 all season, giving the players plenty of time to study for exams in March.

Projected finish: 9th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 72.2 5 108
Scoring Defense 67.6 8 96
Field Goal Percentage .448 6 132
Field Goal Percentage Defense .412 4 59
3-pt FG Percentage .344 6 173
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .299 2 8
Free Throw Percentage .730 7 66
Rebounding Margin +7.6 1
Assist/Turnover Ratio 11.5/15.1 = 0.8 12 321
Steals 5.9 7 179
Blocked Shots 4.3 6 82


Maryland Terrapins Maryland logo
Head Coach: Mark Turgeon (4th season)
2013-14: 17-15, 9th in ACC (9-9), No postseason
Returning starters: 1 (Evan Smotrycz)
Recruiting class rank: #14 (Melo Trimble, Dion Wiley, Jared Nickens, Michal Cekovsky)
Key non-conference games: Dec 3 vs Virginia, Dec 21 at Oklahoma State

Maryland will make the move to the Big Ten and find itself in uncharted territory as a grueling conference schedule offers challenge after challenge during the winter months. Despite battling to stay relevant over the past few seasons, Maryland brought in a top 10 recruiting class to counter its first Big Ten slate, including Melo Trumble, who will join the team’s top returner Dez Wells in the backcourt.

Though the Big Ten is much deeper than the ACC, Maryland is no stranger to tough games and atmospheres. The Terrapins lost to eventual champion UCONN by just one point last season and even knocked off the conference champion Virginia Cavaliers.

Player to watch: Evan Smotrycz. Michigan fans will remember the curly-haired senior well from his two seasons in Ann Arbor. The 6 foot 9 forward averaged 11 points and six rebounds per game in 2013-14, both better than his totals in the Big Ten. He will miss at least the first month of the season after breaking his foot in October.

Best-case scenario: Maryland surprises the Big Ten and finishes in the top half of the league behind elite backcourt play from Wells and Trumble. Finishing with just over 20 wins earns the Terps a late invite to the Dace.

Worst-case scenario: The Big Ten proves to be much more difficult than the ACC and Maryland wears down early in 2015, finishing with a losing conference record and missing the tournament once again.

Projected finish: 11th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank* National Rank
Scoring Offense 70.9 8 157
Scoring Defense 67.7 9 103
Field Goal Percentage .430 8 218
Field Goal Percentage Defense .417 7 78
3-pt FG Percentage .342 7 172
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .341 9 154
Free Throw Percentage .679 12 253
Rebounding Margin +3.3 5
Assist/Turnover Ratio 11.7/12.8 = 0.9 11 243
Steals 6.3 6 138
Blocked Shots 4.3 6 81
*Where Maryland’s stats would have ranked in the Big Ten last season


Michigan Wolverines Block M - Maize
Head Coach: John Beilein (8th season)
2013-14: 28-9, 1st in Big Ten (15-3), Elite Eight NCAA Tournament
Returning Starters: 2 (Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, Jr.)
Recruiting class rank: #28 (Kameron Chatman, D.J. Wilson, Ricky Doyle, Aubrey Dawkins, Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Austin Hatch)
Key non-conference games: Nov 24 vs Oregon, Dec 2 vs Syracuse, Dec 13 at Arizona, Dec 20 vs SMU

John Beilein has certainly turned the Michigan basketball program around. After leading his team to the National Championship game in 2013 and losing stars Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. to the first round of the NBA draft, Beilein simply reloaded and came within one miracle heavy by Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison of returning to the Final Four. Now the team is hoping to recover from major losses once again as Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III left for the NBA, Jordan Morgan graduated and Jon Horford transferred to Florida for his final year of eligibility.

It’s no secret that Beilein needs to continue developing his players to maintain Michigan’s recent success. Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, Jr. weren’t the most highly-rated recruits, but they will be asked to lead the offense from the backcourt this season after shouldering a big load last year. LeVert, who was named to the 2014-15 preseason All-Big Ten team, set the precedent for sophomore Zak Irvin, who is the popular choice for Michigan’s third straight breakout star.

As the former Mr. Basketball in Indiana, Irvin should welcome lofty expectations. He gave the offense a shot in the arm in a lesser role last season, and will hope to become a more versatile scorer as a starter, much like Stauskas and LeVert did last year.

Michigan also brings in a trio of talented freshmen in D.J. Wilson, Kameron Chatman and, perhaps most importantly, Ricky Doyle. While Wilson and Chatman figure to join a deep rotation of talented guards, Doyle will join redshirt freshman Mark Donnel as the top options at center for Michigan. The two freshmen stand at just 6 foot 9, so Michigan will have to hide that weakness with another elite offensive season.

Player to watch: Derrick Walton. Michigan figures to get great production from the wings while struggling down low because of a size disadvantage. If Walton can build off of an impressive freshman season, he could give Michigan enough of a backcourt to make another run at the Big Ten

Best-case scenario: John Beilein does it again, and the revamped Wolverines improve throughout the nonconference season and emerge as one of the top teams in the Big Ten. After a top-3 finish in the conference, Michigan enters March with a return to the Final Four in mind.

Worst-case scenario: The exodus of centers from last season bites Michigan, and the Big Ten exposes a lack of size and experience in the paint. Michigan finishes the conference season in the middle of the pack and approaches Selection Sunday with a nervous twinge of doubt about their status.

Projected finish: 3rd

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 73.9 3 70
Scoring Defense 65.1 5 48
Field Goal Percentage .477 1 18
Field Goal Percentage Defense .445 12 196
3-pt FG Percentage .402 1 4
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .318 6 46
Free Throw Percentage .763 1 10
Rebounding Margin +0.2 10
Assist/Turnover Ratio 14.2/9.3 = 1.5 2 7
Steals 5.2 9 273
Blocked Shots 2.4 12 301


Michigan State Spartans MichiganStateLogo
Head Coach: Tom Izzo (20th season)
2013-14: 29-9, T-2nd in Big Ten (12-6), Elite Eight NCAA Tournament
Returning starters: 2 (Denzel Valentine, Branden Dawson)
Recruiting class rank: #51 (Lourawls Nairn, Jr., Javon Bess, Marvin Clark)
Key non-conference games: Nov 18 vs Duke, Dec 3 at ND

Michigan State battled through some regular-season adversity to emerge as one of the favorites to reach the Final Four last March, but fell short when eventual champion UCONN sent the Spartans home. In the following weeks, head coach Tom Izzo said goodbye to his three top players: Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Keith Appling.

This season, a variety of role players will be asked to fill the void left by those starters, as the incoming freshmen are far from elite. Branden Dawson will be asked to finally embrace his full potential and anchor the starting lineup alongside streaky Denzel Valentine. Travis Trice and Matt Costello will be asked to step into bigger roles this season and give the Spartans a chance to contend for another Big Ten title.

Izzo’s teams often start slowly during the nonconference season, but they will always improve enough to offer a challenge as the calendar turns to March. With all the new faces in East Lansing, this team will likely follow that same script.

Player to watch: Branden Dawson. Will Dawson finally turn the corner and become the dominant inside presence Izzo recruited him to be? He’s no longer in the (exceptionally large) shadows of Derrick Nix or Payne, which means this is his team now.

Best-case scenario: Though this group may not be one of Izzo’s more talented teams, the best-case scenario for Michigan State is always to be in contention for a Final Four run. If Dawson has an All-Big Ten season and the role players progress significantly, no coach in the country will want to match up with MSU in the NCAA Tournament.

Worst-case scenario: A loaded Big Ten proves difficult for the Spartans during a transition year and the team lands somewhere around .500 in the conference and barely squeezes into the Big Dance.

Projected finish: 5th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 75.5 2 49
Scoring Defense 65.6 7 57
Field Goal Percentage .474 2 21
Field Goal Percentage Defense .397 1 18
3-pt FG Percentage .392 2 16
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .332 8 103
Free Throw Percentage .707 9 151
Rebounding Margin +5.1 3
Assist/Turnover Ratio 16.8/11.6 = 1.4 3 18
Steals 6.8 5 85
Blocked Shots 4.6 4 63


Ohio State Buckeyes Ohio State logo new
Head Coach: Thad Matta (11th season)
2013-14: 25-10, 5th in Big Ten (10-8), Second Round NCAA Tournament
Returning starters: 2 (Amir Williams, Sam Thompson)
Recruiting class rank: #8 (D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate, Dave Bell)
Key non-conference games: Nov 18 vs Marquette, Dec 2 at Louisville, Dec 20 vs UNC

Remember when Ohio State was 15-0 last season and ranked in the top five? Not many do, because the Buckeyes finished the season 10-10 with a loss to 2014’s Cinderella, the Dayton Flyers, in their first tournament game. Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. graduated, and LaQuinton Ross signed with a team in Italy, so things can only get worse for Than Matta’s group, right?

Wrong. Matta countered the loss of three starters by welcoming a top-five recruiting class into Columbus for the 2014-15 season. Top-ranked shooting guard D’Angelo Russell offers a much-needed shot in the arm for what was a terrible Buckeye offense last season. Shannon Scott will take over as the defensive anchor in wake of Craft’s departure, as OSU tries to match last year’s 59.8 points allowed per game (12th in the nation).

In the paint Ohio State will rely on two potential studs to mask an otherwise thin roster. Amir Williams is a beast on the defensive end and will have to stay out of foul trouble. Anthony Lee joins the Buckeyes after transferring from Temple and will partner with Williams to compose a duo that has to grab all the rebounds for this team.

Player to watch: D’Angelo Russell. He’s the top-ranked recruit joining the Big Ten this season, and Matta has a way of getting the most out of his guards. He has to be the go-to man on offense right out of the gates.

Best-case scenario: Matta turns Russell into one of the top players in the country and pairs him with a dominant defense led by Scott and Williams to win the Big Ten and enter the NCAA Tournament as one of the favorites to reach the Final Four.

Worse-case scenario: A talented trio of recruits suffers growing pains and fails to live up to sky-high standards in Columbus, while foul trouble exposes a thin inside presence on defense. Ohio State struggles in the conference season and finishes sixth in the Big Ten, earning a double-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament

Projected finish: 2nd

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 69.5 9 190
Scoring Defense 59.8 1 11
Field Goal Percentage .450 5 124
Field Goal Percentage Defense .406 2 34
3-pt FG Percentage .324 9 263
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .293 1 5
Free Throw Percentage .689 11 211
Rebounding Margin +0.3 9
Assist/Turnover Ratio 12.0/11.3 = 1.1 6 161
Steals 7.7 1 21
Blocked Shots 4.5 5 85


Penn State Nittany Lions Penn State Logo
Head Coach: Patrick Chambers (4th season)
2013-14: 16-18, T-10th Big Ten (6-12), CBI Quarterfinals
Returning starters: 4 (Jordan Dickerson, D.J. Newbill, Brandon Taylor, John Johnson)
Recruiting class rank: #86 (Shep Garner, Isaiah Washington, Devin Foster)
Key non-conference games: Dec 3 vs Virginia Tech

It might be another tough year for Pat Chambers and Penn State, especially now that Tim Frazier’s rein of terrorizing the Big Ten is finally over. But five of Penn State’s Big Ten losses came by five points or less last season, which means the Nittany Lions were reasonably within reach of finishing 11-7 in the nation’s top conference. That would have put PSU in fourth place with an overall record of 20-12 at the end of the regular season, a resume that almost exactly mirrors the one that put Nebraska in the NCAA Tournament.

Frazier’s departure hurts the Nittany Lions, but D.J. Newbill quietly took over much of the leadership from the senior last year, leading the team with 17.8 points per game and finishing second in rebounds, blocks and steals. Newbill won’t be alone as the team returns each of its top six scorers from last season, with the exception of Frazier.

Ross Travis and Brandon Taylor will start in the frontcourt for Chambers, who will have no shortage of veteran depth across the board.

Player to watch: Devin Foster. The junior college transfer quietly chose Penn State during the offseason and should take over as the starting point guard right off the bat. Foster averaged 12.2 points and 4.8 assists per game last season with Vincennes and gives Chambers a much-needed distributor on offense.

Best-case scenario: A host of returning players continues to improve under Chambers and Penn State wins half of its Big Ten games, threatening fellow bubble teams in the race for a NCAA Tournament bid.

Worst-case scenario: While Newbill performs much like he did last season, the loss of Frazier turns Penn State into the team it was two years ago, when its leader missed the entire season with a ruptured achilles. If so, the Nittany Lions could end up near the bottom of the league.

Projected finish: 10th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 70.9 8 158
Scoring Defense 70.2 10 172
Field Goal Percentage .428 8 228
Field Goal Percentage Defense .414 5 63
3-pt FG Percentage .319 10 284
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .352 12 222
Free Throw Percentage .741 4 38
Rebounding Margin +0.7 6
Assist/Turnover Ratio 11.3/10.6 = 1.1 8 144
Steals 4.5 11 327
Blocked Shots 4.7 3 58


Rutgers Scarlet Knights Rutgers logo
Head Coach: Eddie Jordan (2nd season)
2013-14: 12-21, 7th in AAC (5-13), No postseason
Returning starters: 2 (Kadeem Jack, Myles Mack)
Recruiting class rank: #66 (D.J. Foreman, Mike Williams, Ibrahima Diallo)
Key non-conference games: Dec 3 vs Duke, Dec 6 at Marquette, Dec 22 at California

Rutgers has battled controversy in its basketball program over the past couple of years, and the looming Big Ten schedule could make the winter just as ugly on the court for the Scarlett Knights. Eddie Jordan’s team failed to knock off a ranked opponent last season and now faces a conference slate that could feature as many as eight ranked teams over the course of the coming months.

Last year’s 20-loss team returns only three of the seven players that averaged more than five points per game. Luckily for Jordan, top playmakers Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack will lead the offense after averaging a combined 29.2 points, 9.5 rebounds and five assists per game last season. Jack is a slightly undersized center who will battle more physical defenses in the Big Ten, and his transition will be a major factor for Rutgers.

Player to watch: Kadeem Jack. His special 2013-14 season was masked by the team’s struggles, but the 6 foot 9 forward put up 14.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game while shooting over 50 percent from the field. His 68.8 percent free throw rate will be a number to watch as Big Ten centers bang with him in the paint.

Best-case scenario: Rutgers fans are treated to another version of the Mack and Jack show, carrying the team out of the Big Ten cellar in its first go-around.

Worst-case scenario: Rutgers finished 1-11 on the road last season with the lone win coming over last-place South Florida. With that in mind, Rutgers could realistically lose nearly every single Big Ten game if the players don’t make a smooth transition from the American.

Projected finish: 14th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank* National Rank
Scoring Offense 71.1 8 185
Scoring Defense 76.2 13 298
Field Goal Percentage .426 11 270
Field Goal Percentage Defense .447 13 232
3-pt FG Percentage .336 7 230
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .371 13 302
Free Throw Percentage .706 10 163
Rebounding Margin -0.6 11
Assist/Turnover Ratio 12.7/12.6 = 1.0 9 194
Steals 5.8 8 209
Blocked Shots 4.2 7 114
*Where Rutgers’ stats would have ranked in the Big Ten last season