Archive for the ‘Season Preview’ Category

Michigan basketball 2013-14 season preview

Friday, November 8th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

Six and a half years ago, an eternity for college athletics, Michigan announced the hiring of John Beilein from West Virginia. Beilein, whose father was a farmer and paper mill plant superintendent, made a name for himself with a unique system predicated on always having four players be a threat from three-point land.

Having coached at Canisius, Le Moyne, and Erie Community College, among other little-known schools, Beilein knew that he would have to devise some plan to be able to compete at the higher ranks. He was never going to get the best athletes or biggest players, so he had to continuously tweak his offense to make what he had work.

Somewhere along the way, Beilein was labled an offensive genius. Perhaps it was for the fact that he had never been an assistant coach in his life, or maybe it was his job in taking Canisius to the NCAA Tournament and winning a Tournament game as the head man at Richmond with a 14th-seeded team.

Wherever it came from, the mantra stuck through his time at West Virginia, where Beilein took the Mountaineers to the Elite Eight and the Sweet Sixteen with players that were simply not on the same level as the competition they consistently faced.

Beilein has built Michigan into a regular Big Ten title contender and national power (Brad Penner, USA Today Sports)

Eventually, Beilein’s success throughout the lower levels of coaching brought him to Ann Arbor and finally gave him the opportunity to show what his system could do with an equal playing field.

In his first year, competing with a team left over by Tommy Amaker, Beilein looked like he might have made a mistake. The Wolverines hobbled to a 10-22 record in the 2007-08 season and weren’t projected to do much better the next.

Soon, however, it seemed clear that Beilein had a plan. He led Michigan to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 10 years with a squad picked by most to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten and upset the seventh-seeded Clemson Tigers in the first round.

Then, following another brutal year in 2009-10 in which Beilein’s preseason top-15 team flopped to a 15-17 record, question marks arose again.

With pressure mounting and Beilein’s first recruiting classes starting to mature, he made a move that would alter the course of Michigan basketball. John Beilein, a loyal and honest man if there ever was one, cleaned out his coaching staff, promoting Jeff Meyer permanently to assistant and hiring young guns Lavall Jordan and Bacari Alexander.

One season later, with his own coaches and his first Michigan team that featured only players that he had recruited, Beilein led the Wolverines back to the second round of the Big Dance.

Since then, he has not looked back.

Tonight, Beilein will watch as Michigan adds an NCAA Final Four banner to the rafters of the Crisler Center. He’ll reminisce of last season’s dream run one final time, he said, and then it’s back to work.

Coaching transitions are never easy, and Beilein’s rise to the top at Michigan certainly did not come without some low moments, but he showed his true talents last year.

Now, Beilein will look to prove himself once again with a clean slate. It won’t be as difficult as when he was competing with under-sized players or guys that he never recruited, but there will be plenty of challenges. Michigan will play at Duke and versus Arizona, two top-10 teams, along with a trip to a packed Puerto Rico Tip-off in the non-conference alone. The Big Ten also projects to be the strongest conference in the nation, with four teams in the preseason top 25 and a few middle-of-the-pack teams that should also contend for an NCAA berth.

This year’s Michigan team is bursting at the seams with potential, however, and though it will be different from any Beilein team of the past, it’s a safe bet that the offense will thrive with a few tweaks here and there.

McGary will start the season in street clothes with a back injury, but is in line for a huge season once healthy

The Wolverines do lose Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr., and a few senior leaders, but they also return five sophomores who made waves as the Fresh Five last season and add a few very talented freshmen.

Derrick Walton, who will be called upon to lead this Michigan team as a freshman, will never be the same player as Burke, but Beilein doesn’t need that. He will tinker with what he has until he finds the right system. There probably won’t be as many pick-and-roll actions at the top of the key, and the ball will not rest in the hands of one player as often as it did with Burke.

Instead, diversity and versatility will be the name of the game. Walton and Spike Albrecht will be called upon to handle the ball and find the scorers, of which there are many, but Michigan should be able to field adept lineups featuring anything from two point guards on the floor to nothing but 6’6 players and above.

That versatility is almost unfair when given to a coach with an offensive mind like Beilein’s.

Nonetheless, Michigan will not be perfect, and already there are questions emerging. Mitch McGary, Beilein’s best ever catch on the recruiting trail, has been hampered by a lower back condition for all of fall practice and will not play in tonight’s season opener. He may not be fully healthy all season long.

The question of youth is also an issue. Can Michigan really expect to compete in the Big Ten and in the NCAA Tournament with a team dominated by underclassmen?

But that is the nature of college basketball. If there were no uncertainty, there would be no fun.

At this juncture of the year, Michigan looks to be in great shape. Boasting arguably the best athlete and one of the best shooters in all of college basketball (Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas) along with a preseason AP All-American (McGary), two freshmen with great offensive and defensive prowess (Walton and Zak Irvin), a wildcard sophomore who seems worlds better than last year (Caris LeVert), and a pair of veteran big men who are leaders on and off the court (Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan), Beilein seems poised to bring his team back to the promised land.

The long journey of the college basketball season begins tonight, and many eyes will be on Ann Arbor.

Brace yourself, for it’s the best time of the year.

2013-14 Michigan basketball predictions
Top 5 Scorers
1. Glenn Robinson III 14.0
2. Nik Stauskas 13.5
3. Mitch McGary 12.0*
4. Zak Irvin 9.5
5. Caris LeVert 8.0
Top 5 Rebounders
1. Mitch McGary 9.5*
2. Glenn Robinson III 6.0
3. Jon Horford 4.0
4. Jordan Morgan 3.5
5. Nik Stauskas 3.5
Top 5 Assists
1. Derrick Walton, Jr. 4.0
2. Caris LeVert 3.0
3. Nik Stauskas 2.0
4. Spike Albrecht 1.5
5. Zak Irvin 1.5
Top 5 Field Goal Percentage Shooters
1. Mitch McGary
2. Jon Horford
3. Glenn Robinson III
4. Jordan Morgan
5. Spike Albrecht
Top 5 3-Point Percentage Shooters
1. Nik Stauskas
2. Spike Albrecht
3. Zak Irvin
4. Glenn Robinson III
5. Caris LeVert
Minute breakdown
1 – Walton (26), Albrecht (14)
2 – LeVert (25), Irvin (15)
3 – Stauskas (28), Robinson III (7), Irvin (5)
4 – Robinson III (33), McGary (7)*
5 – McGary (18)*, Horford (12), Morgan (10)
Superlatives
Most improved player Caris LeVert
Most valuable freshman Derrick Walton Jr.
Most valuable player Glenn Robinson III
Final record 30-7 (15-3 Big Ten)
Conference finish T1
Postseason NCAA Tournament, Elite Eight
*denotes projected stats when healthy

Predicting Michigan: The bigs

Thursday, November 7th, 2013


It has been quite a while since Michigan has had a truly dominant force down low, and last season was no different. Despite bringing in one of the top-rated centers in the 2012 recruiting class, Michigan really relied on their smaller guards to get the bulk of the scoring done on offense; defensively, Wolverines fans always seemed worried about going up against very good big men even though Jordan Morgan was an All-Big Ten defender. That all seemed to change in an instant when March rolled around and one Wolverine developed into a lottery-level prospect before the country’s eyes. With a key injury and some unproven vets, however, Michigan may still be searching for answers down low. Let’s take a look at what lies ahead.

[Ed: These predictions are for Michigan's season as a whole, not a reflection of who will start on opening day. Obviously, McGary's injury will keep him out for a brief time].

Projected Starter: Mitch McGary

While the majority of basketball players are said to improve most over the summer between freshman and sophomore year, Mitch McGary was a rare case of someone improving drastically over the course of one season.

Once ranked as high as the 2nd-best overall prospect in his recruiting class, McGary struggled early on in his career with conditioning, fouling, and pretty much everything else. With a beastly 6’10″, 250-pound frame, though, McGary mystified everyone with his inconsistent play and inability to earn more minutes.

Sure, McGary was rebounding very well and hustling every bit as hard as fellow Chesterton native Zack Novak used to, but his defense often boiled down to being out of position and committing silly fouls rather than using his size and athleticism to shut down centers. Offensively, McGary didn’t manage to break double digits in a game until he did so twice in December against Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan. In fact, McGary recorded more fouls than points six times total throughout the season.

McGary came to Michigan with huge expectations but his NCAA Tournament performance raised them to a new level

Then the NCAA Tournament happened. After tallying just seven double-digit scoring efforts in 33 regular season and Big Ten Tournament games, McGary exploded when it counted most, rattling off five straight double-digit scoring games, including two double-doubles, over the first three weekends of the Big Dance.

Part of McGary’s emergence could possibly be attributed to an ankle injury and generally poor play that sidelined Jordan Morgan for the better part of three months, but something clearly clicked for the 20-year-old freshman. McGary was a beast on the boards, admirably manned up against elite big men talent, and scored at will.

Over the course of just one calendar year, it was one heck of a ride for the Michigan big man. From No. 2 prospect in the country to over-looked, out-of-shape, and foul-prone freshman and back to NCAA Final Four All-Tournament Team member and projected NBA lottery pick, McGary experienced it all.

Already this season, McGary has been deemed a preseason AP All-American, but he has one more physical hurdle to climb before fulfilling his vast potential – a lower back “condition” that has severely limited McGary’s practice time this fall and has many wondering when he’ll be back to full strength.

Coach John Beilein maintains that Michigan is just being extremely cautious with McGary right now, and McGary himself is constantly wearing a smile as he says he feels “fine”, but any back injury for a guy of McGary’s size is worrisome.

There is also still plenty of room for improvement in the big man’s game if he is to become a more complete player. McGary struggled mightily from the free throw line last year, and if he is unable to increase his shooting percentage by at least 15 percent in this year’s campaign, many teams will simply send him to the stripe, especially late in close games.

A change to the four position has also been rumored ever since McGary announced his intentions to return to Michigan for his sophomore season, but if that is to happen, his outside shot needs significant improvement and his defense would need to be vastly superior to where he was last year. Ultimately, if McGary can’t convert freebies, can’t make the defense respect his outside shot, and can’t stay out of foul trouble, he is going to have a hard time replicating the NCAA Tournament that made him a household name.

If the super sophomore is completely healthy by Michigan’s first big game, though, the Wolverines should be one of the most talented teams in the country and one of the few with exceptional players at every position.

And of course, if McGary picks up where he left off, this condition will just be the latest bump on the rise to stardom.

Projected Stats – McGary
Points Rebounds Blocks Steals Turnovers Minutes
12.0 9.5 1.0 1.5 2.0 28.0
Career Stats
2012-13 7.5 6.3 0.7 1.1 1.2 19.7
59.8 FG%, 44.2 FT%
2013 NCAA Tournament Stats
2012-13 14.3 10.7 1.2 2.0 1.8 30.7
67.8 FG%, 37.5 FT%

Primary Backups: Jon Horford

Much like the health question marks surrounding McGary’s season, a bevy of past injuries have left Michigan fans wondering “what if” for fellow center Jon Horford. The redshirt junior from Grand Ledge has shown flashes of brilliance in the past, but right when it seems time for him to break out, Horford has inevitably fallen prone to the injury bug.

Now, Horford has emerged as a leader on the court and claims to be feeling his best physically since he started college. With a terrific wingspan, Horford will be called upon to provide strong interior help defense and rebounding, both of which he is more than capable of doing.

McGary is a very good athlete for his size, but he is certainly not a shot blocker, and at 6’8”, fellow center Jordan Morgan doesn’t have the natural size or wingspan to be a threat either; if Horford can consistently alter shots down low and clean up the defensive glass, while also staying healthy, he should be McGary’s top backup and will be in line to start until McGary returns to full health.

Over the course of two preseason games, Horford recorded four blocks and 21 rebounds, 17 of which came on defense. If he can continue to provide that kind of production while finishing wide open looks in the paint, Horford will see a nice uptick in minutes and could occasionally see the floor next to McGary – a potentially devastating look for opponents.

Obviously another injury would be the worst case scenario, but Horford’s measurables and strong intangibles lead me to believe that he will finally dig a little bit deeper into his great potential. Horford will likely be named a captain alongside Jordan Morgan as well, and the depth he provides will be invaluable for a packed Michigan team.

Projected Stats – Horford
Points Rebounds Blocks Steals Turnovers Minutes
4.5 3.0 0.8 0.5 0.8 12.0
Career Stats
2012-13 2.7 2.2 0.5 0.3 0.4 8.8
2011-12 2.7 3.6 1.0 0.3 0.6 10.8
2010-11 2.0 2.0 0.4 0.0 0.3 6.8
Total 2.4 2.3 0.5 0.2 0.4 8.2
53.3 FG%, 73.1 FT%
2013 NCAA Tournament Stats
2012-13 2.0 2.2 0.0 0.2 0.3 7.2
62.5 FG%, 50.0 FT%

Jordan Morgan

Four seasons ago, John Beilein was just coming off his first NCAA Tournament berth as the Michigan head coach and entered the season with a team ranked in the top 15 in the country. Jordan Morgan, a skinny redshirt freshman that 2009-10 season, joined the team as an unheralded prospect out of Detroit-Jesuit High School and sat through an unexpectedly poor year that saw the Wolverines finish a lowly 15-of-17 and miss out on any kind of postseason.

Over the next offseason, star Wolverines Manny Harris and Deshawn Sims, who were truly responsible for leading Michigan back to the Tournament in Beilein’s second year, left Ann Arbor and Beilein completely overhauled his assistant coaching staff.

Morgan's production has declined each season but he remains an integral part of the team especially for his defense

The following year, Darius Morris emerged and led an inexperienced and unproven Michigan, alongside Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, and Morgan himself, back to the Big Dance. One year later, Michigan went on to earn a four-seed before being bounced by Ohio in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and the year after was Michigan’s magical run to the championship game.

Today, as a fifth-year senior, Morgan is the only Michigan player to have been a part of those times. He is the only Wolverine to know what it feels like to miss out on the biggest stage in college basketball and one of only three current Wolverines to play on a team that didn’t win a single game in the Big Dance.

Morgan’s personal career, on the other hand, is nearly an exact opposite of the wild ride he’s been on since pledging to Michigan some six years ago. After using a redshirt season while hampered by a foot injury his freshman year, Morgan scored more than nine points a game as a beneficiary of Morris’s passes in his first playing season and started 68 of Michigan’s 69 games over his first two years on the court.

Unfortunately, Morgan’s numbers have been on a consistent decline almost across the board as Michigan’s talent increases every year. From his redshirt freshman season to last season, Morgan’s scoring average was sliced in half and he saw nearly 10 fewer minutes a game.

Jordan Morgan’s rebounding has remained encouragingly steady over that same time period, and his defense will earn him some spot minutes this year, but in the end his offensive game lags far behind McGary and his physical tools don’t quite compare to Horford’s.

A couple seasons ago, Morgan’s own dad admitted that he was very surprised when Beilein called Morgan in the first place to express interest and ultimately offer him a scholarship. After all, Morgan’s future would be as an engineer.

But Beilein did give him that chance, and Morgan has embraced his role in playing basketball for Michigan, no matter what it might be.

This season, his last, might be Morgan’s most unspectacular in the scoring column, but his leadership and experience will undoubtedly be needed if Michigan is to make another run. Many fans will end up forgetting Morgan’s seemingly insignificant contributions, but Morgan himself will never forget his own journey.

Projected Stats – Morgan
Points Rebounds Blocks Steals Turnovers Minutes
3.5 3.0 0.2 0.5 0.8 10.0
Career Stats
2012-13 4.6 4.3 0.1 0.4 0.9 15.9
2011-12 7.3 5.6 0.3 0.6 1.6 24.4
2010-11 9.2 5.4 0.5 0.6 1.5 24.0
Total 7.0 5.1 0.3 0.6 1.3 21.4
61.3 FG%, 54.2 FT%
2013 NCAA Tournament Stats
2012-13 2.0 2.2 0.0 0.2 0.3 7.2
62.5 FG%, 50.0 FT%

Predicting Michigan: The wings

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013


(Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports)

Michigan was led over the past two seasons by Trey Burke, a score-first point guard who quickly evolved from an unheralded Ohio Mr. Basketball winner to a top-10 NBA Draft pick. With Burke’s loss, and the loss of Tim Hardaway Jr.’s 14.5 points per game, head coach John Beilein will need to find a way to replace that scoring.

Instead of looking at the lost scoring as a problem, however, Beilein continues to view it as an opportunity for players to step up and lead the way. Burke and Hardaway combined to take more than 45 percent of Michigan’s field goals attempts a year ago and scored slightly less than 44 percent of Michigan’s points; if the 196 points scored over the course of two exhibition openers have been any indication, though, Michigan should be just fine in the scoring department.

But with a change at point guard to a freshman who will look to pass first, the Wolverines will rely heavily upon the 2, 3, and 4 wing positions to do a lot of the heavy lifting. Here’s how things will shake out:

Projected Starter: Nik Stauskas

Stauskas added some bulk in the offseason and is prime for a sophomore leap (MGoBlue.com)

Stauskas is the wing player that Beilein has dreamed of having since first coming up with his unique system. The 6’6” Canadian is an absolute sniper from deep who can fire off his quick shot from just about anywhere on the court over anyone at any time. And while Stauskas did struggle a little bit later in Big Ten season and in a few NCAA Tournament games, an offseason spent in the weight room and on the half court in his backyard should pay big dividends.

The sophomore claims to have increased his vertical leap by some six inches while putting on 16 pounds of muscle without losing his surprising first-step burst and shooting stroke. If true, Stauskas will easily contend for scoring leader on the team and will again be a nightmare for opposing coaches.

Most players make their biggest overall jump forward in the transition from freshman to sophomore year, as the game slows down for them, coaching concepts are more easily absorbed, and the grind of the season is nothing new, and Stauskas should be no different.

For Stauskas, the offseason should have been a time to reflect on the past season and ensure consistent confidence in his stroke.

Beilein clearly loves a money shooter, and Stauskas should lead the team in three-point shooting percentage again (and this year I will not bet against him), but his driving ability could be the difference in Stauskas being a very good contributor and an All-Big Ten type.

A renewed focus on rebounding and defense will also be key if Stauskas is to make a splash on the national scene, and his increased measurements will be extremely beneficial there. In the first two exhibitions, he has also done a little bit of ball-handling, and while I don’t anticipate too much of that as the season goes on, versatility is always a good sign.

If Michigan is to make another run this year, Stauskas will be key. The minutes and the scoring will be there. Will everything else come together too?

Projected Stats – Stauskas
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Turnovers Minutes
13.5 3.5 1.0 0.5 1.0 33.0
Career Stats
2012-13 11.0 3.0 1.3 0.6 1.1 30.5
46.3 FG%, 44.0 3pt%, 85.0 FT%
2013 NCAA Tournament Stats
2012-13 8.7 1.7 1.8 0.7 0.8 29.3
42.5 FG%, 37.5 3pt%, 75.0 FT%

Projected Starter: Caris LeVert

Caris LeVert came to Michigan as a gangly 6’5″ pole weighing about 170 pounds. Most people projected him to redshirt simply because he was too skinny to go through the grind of a college basketball season, but John Beilein and Co. saw something in him on the defensive end of the floor that was valuable enough to give the freshman from Columbus some minutes.

Beilein couldn't keep LeVert off the floor last season and he's in line for a huge leap this year (MGoBlue.com)

In those spot minutes, LeVert was certainly no model of consistency. He was usually decent on defense, but he lacked coordination on the offensive end of the floor and was more often than not a liability. As a young freshman, he was not close to the level of readiness displayed by a few of his older freshmen teammates.

But LeVert gave it his all, knocked down a few shots, and turned heads with a solid eight-point, four-rebound, two-assist performance in 21 minutes against Syracuse in the Final Four.

A few months later, LeVert still looks the part of a young, skinny, maybe-not-ready-for-the-big-time college kid. Heck, he’s now even sporting braces.

On the court, though, some things have noticeably changed. Whereas LeVert often looked like a bowl of Jell-O contained in human form last year, the sophomore now looks calm and contained on the floor. Instead of his head seemingly whirling around at rapid speeds, LeVert clearly knows what’s going on this year. His shot has gained consistency and his body has gained some 20 pounds and one inch over the offseason.

The coaching staff has consistently raved about LeVert’s overall improvement and has praised his new-found pace. So while Stauskas’s improvements have yet to be on full display, LeVert is already clearly a far better player than his freshman self.

One more distinct advantage LeVert has in earning minutes is his length. Last year, defense got him on the floor. This year, his disruptive presence on that end should keep him on the floor. In fact, Beilein acknowledged as much after the preseason win over Wayne State.

“(LeVert) is gonna play a lot of minutes,” the head coach said.

Last year was Caris’s opportunity to learn the game and Michigan’s style in spurts. This year, Beilein seems to think he’ll be playing so much that the bigger concern is going to be finding time to rest him.

Most people would have been skeptical of that quote just before the summer, but after seeing LeVert dish out 10 assists in the first exhibition game and record 16 points in 28 minutes two nights ago, it’s clear that the Pickerington Central product is ready to shine.

Projected Stats – LeVert
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Turnovers Minutes
8.0 3.0 0.5 3.0 1.2 25.0
Career Stats
2012-13 2.3 0.8 0.2 1.1 0.3 10.8
47.5 FG%, 54.3 3pt%, 83.3 FT%
2013 NCAA Tournament Stats
2012-13 1.3 0.7 0.2 1.3 0.7 8.0
72.2 FG%, 90.0 3pt%, 33.3 FT%

Projected Starter: Glenn Robinson III

There’s been a lot of talk ever since Michigan fans breathed a collective sigh of relief on April 18 – the day both Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary announced that they would return for their sophomore seasons in Ann Arbor – of Glenn Robinson sliding down to the three position and McGary moving to the more perimeter-oriented four spot. The idea behind these moves would be for both players to be able to showcase a more diverse skillset for NBA teams.

Robinson III came back for his sophomore season and could play himself into a high first round pick in next year's NBA draft (MGoBlue.com)

Truthfully, though, I think John Beilein is going to do what is going to help Michigan win the most games, and right now, it seems that Michigan will operate better with Robinson at the four and one big down low. Perhaps things will change when McGary returns from his lower back injury, but that will be my assumption in the early going.

The good news for Robinson is that the two through four positions in Michigan’s offense are almost interchangeable. The difference, of course, comes defensively, but with Robinson’s chiseled 6’6”, 220-pound frame, manning up against the opposition shouldn’t be too difficult.

Regardless of what happens, Robinson will shine offensively. He made headlines recently when he maxed out Michigan’s vertical leap testing device at 12’3” and has already showcased a refined jumper and aggressiveness in the Wolverines’ two exhibition games that was rarely seen over the course of last season.

If LeVert has been crowned most improved already, Robinson is at least trailing closely behind. After an effortless 33-point outing against Concordia that saw the Indiana native score from all over the floor, Robinson poured in a quiet 15 against Wayne State on 5-of-10 shooting from the field and looked very good in making four of his five free throws.

The knock on Robinson all of last year was his lack of aggression and his inability to create for himself. And despite tying Stauskas as the third-leading scorer, Robinson always seemed to quietly go about his business throwing down alley oops and cleaning up a couple misses down low.

This year, look for Robinson to make a little more noise, even if he isn’t scoring 20 points every night. As long as he can make defenses respect his shot and his slashing ability, he should highlight a team chock full of talented wings.

Defensively, Robinson will also be called upon to mix it up with guys who can play inside and out, so his attention to the scouting report will be crucial, but his athleticism should make him, at the very least, an average defender.

Projected Stats – Robinson III
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Turnovers Minutes
14.0 6.0 1.5 1.3 1.3 35.0
Career Stats
2012-13 11.0 5.4 1.0 1.1 0.8 33.6
57.2 FG%, 32.4 3pt%, 67.6 FT%
2013 NCAA Tournament Stats
2012-13 12.7 5.5 1.2 0.8 1.0 36.5
64.6 FG%, 33.3 3pt%, 76.9 FT%

Primary Back-up: Zak Irvin

The freshman out of Fishers, Indiana has already been profiled and talked about at length, but he will be the one spelling each wing position.

After struggling a little bit in the exhibition opener, Irvin got his feet under him against Wayne State and looked the part of a high-quality sixth man. With three straight first half threes and a couple pretty mid-range jumpers, Irvin’s shot looked much more fluid after just one game. A final tally of 13 points is surely something Michigan fans could get used to.

For the freshman, it will be all about consistency this year. Irvin has all the tools to be a very good defender and a diverse scorer, but he needs to realize that Michigan has a bevy of riches on the offensive end and pick his spots wisely.

His dribble-drive game already appears to be more advanced than Robinson’s and right there with that of Stauskas and LeVert, so it will be hard to keep him off the floor for long stretches.

Projected Stats – Irvin
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Turnovers Minutes
9.5 3.0 1.5 1.0 1.5 21.0

Bottom Line: Michigan’s team, as some vintage Beilein squads have done in the past, will rely on an offensively-gifted group of wings. With three returning sophomores that ooze potential and seem to have all taken their games to the next step over the offseason, the Michigan Wolverines should be just fine.

The big question will be how well the 6’6” projected starting trio can defend, but in most cases, they should be able to out-score the competition rather than look for the grind-it-out victories. With a pair of table setters running the floor, athleticism in bunches, and pure shooting strokes, Michigan’s wings are the real deal. Irvin, the Mr. Basketball of basketball-crazed Indiana, is merely the icing on the cake for what should be a powerhouse Maize and Blue unit.

Predicting Michigan: The point guards

Monday, November 4th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

Over the course of John Beilein’s tenure in Ann Arbor, Michigan has gone from starting some combination of Kelvin Grady, C.J. Lee, and David Merritt at point guard to becoming a de facto Point Guard U with the likes of Darius Morris and Trey Burke leading the team over the past three years. Nobody is mistaking Beilein for John Calipari, of course, but the way Beilein has developed his floor generals, as opposed to hand-picking them, has certainly turned some eyes in the college basketball world. After Morris left following an incredible sophomore season and Burke quickly developed into the best player in the nation before departing after two years as well, Beilein finds himself in a familiar position, but this time has some leeway.

Let’s take a look at how the point guard position will shake out for this year’s edition of the Michigan Wolverines.

Projected Starter: Derrick Walton, Jr.

We’ve already taken an in-depth look at what Walton should be able to provide in his first season of college ball, but the exhibition opener over Concordia really confirmed what most have expected thus far. Walton is a very quick player with the ball in his hands who will be looking to create for others before looking to shoot himself. He will never be the same player that Trey Burke was in Ann Arbor, but Walton clearly has the potential to make a similar impact, and with the talent of this Michigan team, it should be felt instantly. Beilein continues to stress the opportunity created by the departures of Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Walton should be distributing a lot of assists as he learns the ropes and adjusts to a faster and more physical game. When no teammates are open and defenses start focusing on shutting down the passing lanes, however, Walton can also drain the long ball or drive to the hole, as he did in scoring 11 points Tuesday night.

Fortunately for Michigan, this is not the first time that a Michigan team enters a season with an inexperienced lead guard. Darius Morris had a year under his belt before taking the reins, but he had played just 24 minutes per game his freshman season before taking over while Trey Burke assumed the starting point guard spot in his first regular season game and never looked back. Assistant coach Lavall Jordan has proven adept at developing young guards, and Walton should be the next valuable protégé.

Projected Stats – Walton
Points Assists Steals Rebounds Turnovers Minutes
6.0 4.0 1.5 2.5 2.0 25.0

Primary Back-up: Spike Albrecht

The difference at point guard this season is Spike Albrecht, the late addition to the 2012 recruiting class who was offered primarily in case reports of Trey Burke leaving after just one year ended up being true. Alas, Burke was convinced otherwise and Albrecht, the guy who claims to go mostly unrecognized on campus because of his average size, was afforded the chance to learn from one of the best for a whole season.

Spike's performance in the NCAA Tournament allows the point guard position to remain solid despite losing Trey Burke

Spike Albrecht’s numbers will not pop out to anyone, and he will most likely spend the majority of his career at Michigan watching from the sidelines, but he is an invaluable part of Michigan’s program. Every team would love to have an experienced backup who can come in for a couple minutes here and there and be solid, which is exactly what Albrecht is.

On rare occasions, like the night of the national championship game last season, the starter will be in foul trouble, or perhaps injuries will cause some shuffling, but when that time has come in the past, Albrecht has stepped up and shown what he is capable of doing, scoring 17 first-half points against Louisville and making some forget about Trey Burke being on the bench for the majority of a half.

Albrecht certainly enjoyed that time in the limelight, making Sportscenter highlights and giving a shout-out to Kate Upton on Twitter, but he knows his role on the team. He didn’t come to Michigan expecting to be a house-hold name. He came expecting to help his teams accomplish great goals.

To date, the script couldn’t have gone any better for the son of a former bitty-ball legend. This season, if all is well, Albrecht will again back-up a hotshot point guard, enter the game to give Walton a breather from time to time, make a few shots, dish out a few assists, take care of the ball, and be happy to be a part of something bigger than him.

Last season, with no minimum shots required, Albrecht was actually the team’s best three-point shooter, and while a few more shots this time around will likely see that percentage drop a little bit, Albrecht will have the green light when he’s open and will make a good number of them.

Beilein does not hold back in his praise for Spike and unsurprisingly gave him the starting nod in the first exhibition of the year, in which Spike notched a quiet five points, four assists, two rebounds, and a turnover. Still, both Beilein and Albrecht are aware of the player’s limited ceiling. Albrecht will never be a bona fide defender, scorer, or creator, but if he can put forth full-hearted effort, Michigan fans will be happy with the results.

This year, expect a year of practice against Burke to pay dividends for Albrecht and a few more girls to flutter their eyebrows while walking by the boyish-faced Spike on the Diag. But most of all, expect to be happy with Albrecht’s contributions. Those contributions won’t be great, and oftentimes they will go unnoticed, but a back-up point guard who flies under the radar is usually a back-up point guard who is doing his job.

Projected Stats – Albrecht
Points Assists Steals Rebounds Turnovers Minutes
3.5 1.5 0.5 1.2 0.8 10.0
Career Stats
2012-13 2.2 0.7 0.3 0.8 0.4 8.1
47.5 FG%, 54.3 3pt%, 83.3 FT%
2013 NCAA Tournament Stats
2012-13 6.0 0.7 0.5 1.0 1.0 12.8
72.2 FG%, 90.0 3pt%, 33.3 FT%

Secondary Back-ups: Caris LeVert, Nik Stauskas

Both LeVert and Stauskas will be examined more closely in the wing preview to come, but Beilein has been more open to discussing the variety of lineups at his disposal this season than in years past. At 6’6″, LeVert and Stauskas afford Michigan the chance to go very big and assuredly offer Beilein an opportunity to run the length-heavy 1-3-1 zone defense that has been mostly an apparition over the past couple seasons. Perhaps uninformed commentators will finally be right on occasion when talking about Michigan being a zone team then, but I still don’t expect to see either the zone or someone other than Walton and Albrecht at the point often.

For the most part, a change-of-pace with a wing running the offense will be used as a wrinkle and will perhaps occasionally be deployed against bigger teams; unless the true point guards are really struggling or go down to injury, however, this shouldn’t be a significant part of Michigan’s season.

Bottom Line: To be completely honest, Michigan’s point guards will probably not be looked at as an invariable strength, and that is fine for John Beilein. Pundits around the basketball world continue to question Michigan until Walton can prove himself as the heir apparent to Trey Burke, and many will continue to doubt Michigan’s chances as they realize that Walton will not fill up the scoring column like his predecessor.

But all Beilein needs is for his point guards to facilitate the show this time around. There is plenty of offense to go around on this Michigan outfit, and shots will be at a premium with potential stars like Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas, and others littering the lineup. Walton and Albrecht will be more than happy to do that facilitating and should be able to take advantage from not being the opposing team’s focal point too.

So while most may not look at the Wolverine point guards this time around as the foundation of the team like they were in the past, Michigan will be just fine with Walton and Albrecht being the conductors of a well-tuned symphony.

2013-14 Michigan basketball player preview: Zak Irvin

Saturday, October 26th, 2013


(Kelly Kline)

To wrap up our 2013 Michigan basketball (scholarship) freshman previews, we will finally take a look at the top-ranked player of the class, Zak Irvin. While this class may not have the numbers or names of last year’s, it certainly addresses Michigan’s needs across the board with a point guard, a wing, and a big, all of whom are nearly consensus 4-stars, and is topped off by Irvin, a big-time scorer in high school who has played with someone who is already a top player in the Big Ten.

#21 Zak Irvin
Measurements 6’6″, 200

Hometown Fishers, Ind.
High School Hamilton Southeastern
High School Stats (2012-13) 26.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists
AAU Eric Gordon All-Stars
Projected Position(s) Wing
Committed July 31, 2011
Major Suitors IU, Purdue, Xavier, Butler, MSU, Illinois, Miami Fl.
Chance of Redshirt 0 percent
Recruiting Rankings
Rivals 4-star – Overall: 24, Position: 6
Scout 4-star – Overall: 59, Position: 12
ESPN 5-star – Overall: 22, Position: 6, State: 1, Grade: 91
247 4-star – Overall: 35, Position: 9, State: 1, Grade: 97
247 Composite 4-star – Overall: 29, Position: 7, State: 1

Background: The recruitment of Zak Irvin didn’t go much different from Glenn Robinson III’s, or that of many other Michigan players, when all was said and done. Irvin was a somewhat unheralded recruit from the suburbs of Indianapolis once again flying under the radar through his sophomore year before committing to Michigan in the summer before junior year started. Time and again, it seems that Beilein’s eye for talent early on in the process is the difference maker in securing commitments from players who develop into stars over time, but credit is also due to consistently tremendous work ethics from the players and the Michigan coaching staff’s ability as a whole to form tight bonds with guys they truly covet right from the beginning.

This time around, there was a reason many coaches outside of Ann Arbor didn’t think much of Irvin early on, however. His teammate, Gary Harris, was a five-star recruit playing in the same backcourt as Irvin and was thought to be a big reason for Irvin’s big numbers. Sure, the understudy was getting plenty of time playing in front of scouts and was scoring plenty, but most believed his numbers were a product of Harris drawing the majority of the defense’s focus.

With his overall offensive game Irvin has the potential to make up for the departure of Tim Hardaway Jr. (Bloomington Herald-Times)

In time, Harris moved on to star as a freshman at Michigan State and Hamilton Southeastern became Irvin’s team outright. With all eyes on him and immense pressure surrounding him to perform without the help of his good friend, Irvin defied the odds and led his team to a 17-4 record on his way to winning Indiana’s Mr. Basketball and Gatorade Player of the Year honors.

Before this tremendous senior season, though, Irvin really started to turn eyes on the AAU circuit playing for the Eric Gordon All-Stars, where he was the leader of a team loaded with D1 prospects and was often called upon to man-up on the opponent’s best offensive threat.

With prototypical size for a John Beilein wing and lengthy arms, Irvin has often separated himself in the rankings with his defense, which is a welcome note for a Michigan team that has had struggles on that side of the court for a few seasons running. Recently, there have even been rumblings that Beilein is tinkering with his players and lineups and could be looking at times to throw out five Wolverines with 6’5″-plus height and incredible length, which would seem to suggest a heavy emphasis on defense yet again.

But regardless of what happens on that side of the floor, Irvin oozes potential on offense. Unlike most five-star players, Irvin is not outstanding in any one area, but he is very good at just about everything offensively, including rebounding. Irvin’s size and shot are reminiscent of Tim Hardaway, Jr., the player he will most likely resemble the most when he steps on the floor in Ann Arbor, but Irvin should be able to put the ball on the deck and slash a little better than Hardaway was able to early in his career. He gets good lift and has solid mechanics from the outside and midrange but is not afraid to “mix it up”, as he put it in an interview I did with him this spring, in driving to the hole either.

Offensively, his game seems to be the perfect complement for classmate Derrick Walton, who will certainly be finding Irvin all over the floor throughout their time together in Maize and Blue.

Beilein and his fellow coaching staff have stressed in recent practices that defensive effort and success will be the first factor to get the young players on the floor, but it will be hard to ignore the potential impact both Irvin and Walton can have in pouring in points. Luckily for everyone, it seems that all of the freshmen are picking up on Michigan’s defensive and offensive concepts quickly and should be in line to receive early playing time.

For the freshman out of Fishers, a starting spot in the lineup is certainly not out of the question, but there will undoubtedly be plenty of competition coming from Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Robinson at the wing positions. And while Walton might have a clearer path to more minutes from the start, Beilein has shown in the past that he is not afraid to play freshmen, and Irvin will most definitely get his time to shine, He will also have a chance to, like most of Michigan’s players, prove to opposing coaches that perhaps their evaluation skills could use some work.

Video:

What He Will Provide:

  1. 1. Scoring Balance: From day one, Irvin should be able to put the ball in the hoop at the college level. He will not be as great a shooter as Stauskas and not as great an athlete or finisher as Robinson, but he will simply find a way to score points. With a plethora of scorers already on the roster at Michigan, there won’t be a need for Irvin to hit double digits every night, but he should come close to averaging around that number and should find a comfort zone like he was able to playing alongside Gary Harris for a few years in high school. The best asset of Irvin’s game is his ability to score anywhere on the floor. As long as he is smart with the ball and doesn’t take too many ill-advised looks, he will have his chances.

    Irvin may struggle with consistency and confidence early on (Andrew Duvall, HC Sports Daily)

  2. 2. Length and Rebounding: It wasn’t long ago that a sub-6’5” Zack Novak was playing the four position at Michigan and guarding guys who often towered over him. Now, Michigan will be a team who can create size mismatches with a bevy of versatile and lengthy wings. Irvin should fit right into the Beilein’s stable at the two and three spots and should be a plus-rebounder as well with his solid length and athleticism. Manny Harris was, at times, a very good rebounder from the wing position, and while he has been gone for a few years now, Beilein loves when he can rely on players outside of the four and five spots to get after it on the defensive glass and occasionally get an easy offensive put-back as well. As stated previously, Irvin’s length and lateral quickness should also make him a good defender right away with the potential to be lockdown in a couple seasons.

What He Will Have to Work On:

  1. 1. Consistency: Most of the practice reports early on have been very positive about Michigan overall, but few have mentioned Irvin standing out at all. When Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Trey Burke were being acclimated as freshmen, reporters were raving about their abilities before the first game, but there has simply not been much talk of Irvin impressing. I’ve heard from a few trusted sources that his shot has been a little off and that he merely looked “good”. Obviously this is nothing to get overly worked up about, especially with the talent Michigan has at the wing spot, but it’s a bit concerning that Irvin isn’t making as big of a mark as he probably could.
  2. 2. Getting Bigger: At 6’6” and 200 pounds, Irvin is not terribly undersized, but he will need to get stronger. As he said in the interview, Big Ten basketball is extremely physical, and though some rules changes may make it difficult for defenders to get away with too much, Irvin will need to put on some pounds. It is especially crucial for the younger players to be strong enough, as the grind of a whole season will wear many out.
  3. 3. Confidence: Irvin himself pointed out that he often struggled with getting down on himself in high school when he wasn’t having a good game, but noted that his confidence improved significantly last season. Still, he will need to make sure he keeps a level head, because down games are bound to happen in a tough league like the Big Ten, and low confidence is the biggest factor in forming cold streaks.

Burning Question: How many minutes can Irvin earn his freshman year?

As noted many times, Irvin has all the tools to be an extremely successful Big Ten player – he just needs to work on putting everything together with consistency and confidence. If he is able to defend well and make smart shots, Irvin could find himself starting early on and playing well over 20 minutes a game. On the other hand, if he struggles with his shot early and lets it get to his head, Stauskas, LeVert, Robinson, and company will eat up the minutes at the two and three positions.

Regardless of how he plays, Irvin certainly fills a needed role with Hardaway, Jr. off to the NBA and should easily earn upwards of 10 minutes per game. A nice string of games early on, though, and Irvin should be in line for Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors.

Projected Stats: 9.5 points, 3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1 steal, 1.5 turnovers in 21 minutes per game

2013-14 Michigan basketball player preview: Derrick Walton Jr.

Thursday, October 24th, 2013


(Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)

Over the past two years in Ann Arbor, Trey Burke became a household name after bursting onto the scene his freshman year following Darius Morris’s departure to the NBA. Burke was an unknown going into his freshman year, but quickly turned heads before ultimately racking up a bevy of individual honors, including the Naismith College Player of the Year award, in a sophomore season that ended in the National Championship game. Now, another freshman will be called upon to fill perhaps the biggest crater in this Michigan team’s lineup. Let’s take a closer look at him today.

#10 Derrick Walton Jr.
Measurements 6’1″, 185

Hometown Harper Woods, Mich.
High School Chandler Park Academy
High School Stats (2012-13) 26.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 7.3 steals
AAU Michigan Mustangs, Super Friends
Projected Position(s) Point Guard
Committed August 1, 2011
Major Suitors MSU, UConn, ND, Purdue, ISU, IU, Xavier, UT, FSU, Det.
Chance of Redshirt 0 percent
Recruiting Rankings
Rivals 4-star – Overall: 37, Position: 8
Scout 4-star – Overall: 36, Position: 7
ESPN 4-star – Overall: 30, Position: 8, State: 2, Grade: 89
247 4-star – Overall: 67, Position: 14, State: 2, Grade: 94
247 Composite 4-star – Overall: 45, Position: 10, State: 2

Background: In the summer of 2011, when high school juniors were being recruited heavily, evaluated closely, and finally offered in June, Michigan identified three point guard prospects – Monte Morris, Demetrius Jackson, and Derrick Walton, Jr – as being worthy of an offer. Since John Beilein has taken over in Ann Arbor, it has become increasingly evident that his offense thrives most when an outstanding point guard is leading the way, and one of these three would be next in line.

With three seemingly high-quality players and people all in position to take one available slot in the Michigan recruiting class, Wolverine fans argued heavily over minor details to determine who was the most desirable. A couple of suspenseful weeks following the June 15, 2011 offer date that Beilein and staff adhered to, however, and Walton was the one to commit. Some fans rejoiced, others shrugged, but all had to accept it.

At that time, Trey Burke had yet to play a game in college and most still assumed that Walton would come in to back up Burke for a couple seasons before taking over. Alas, Burke’s stock blew up after an outstanding freshman season that nearly saw him leave Ann Arbor before he returned to an even more successful squad last year and then was picked in the top 10 of the NBA Draft.

Walton has huge shoes to fill taking over for Trey Burke

For Walton, the pressure is upon him whether he’s ready or not. His career will undoubtedly be scrutinized under a microscope and compared to Burke’s in every way, because he has already been deemed the heir apparent, the next in the line of great Beilein point guards.

And therein lies the question: Is Derrick Walton, Jr. ready to lead the Michigan Wolverines?

Luckily for him, Walton does not have to carry the load alone. Sophomore Spike Albrecht returns after nearly setting the world on fire in the first half of the national championship game with 17 first-half points and will bring a veteran presence to the locker room despite only having one year under his belt. Albrecht himself committed to Michigan late in the game, when rumors were swirling that Burke would depart after his freshman year, but was afforded the chance to practice with and learn from one of the best point guards to ever play in Crisler Arena for a whole season.

Still, however, many fans have pegged Walton into the starting lineup from day one, and the comparisons to Burke seem to have been mandated at some point along the way. Truthfully, Walton is not the same player as Trey Burke, and probably never will be. He’s not the guy who will be taking and making the vast majority of shots with the shot clock winding down or the player who will be looked upon to score in the first place.

But that isn’t to say Walton and Burke are complete opposites either. Both come in at nearly an identical size and have a calm, quiet swagger to them. Both are savvy ball-handlers with jet quick first steps and an innate ability to draw contact at the rim.

There is one main difference between the two players though, one area where Walton probably excels more than Burke did at the same point in his career. Whereas Burke looked to score as his first option, Walton will generally look to create for others before shooting himself. With the talent this Michigan team has, that is certainly not a bad problem. Walton’s pin-point precision has already been turning heads in practice, and the fact that coaches are raving about his ability to not only hit shooters when they are open, but to also get them the ball exactly where they want to catch it is extraordinary.

Michigan may not be getting as much out of the point guard position in the scoring column this year, but that does not mean they will struggle to put points on the board. With Walton’s presence, expect to see more wired scorers like Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, and Zak Irvin doing most of the damage.

At the same time Walton, though quiet, unassuming, and of the pass-first mentality, has a killer instinct and will score when he has to. His high school numbers speak for themselves, and regardless of the competition level on the charter school schedule, multiple triple-doubles are not easy to come by. The Gatorade Player of the Year, runner-up Mr. Basketball, and First Team All-State honors speak to that.

Derrick Walton, Jr. is and will continue to be his own player. He may make some forget about Burke faster than anticipated. Then again, his play may keep the comparisons coming.

Video:

What He Will Provide:

  1. 1. Deft Passing: It has already been hit on many times, but Walton possesses tremendous feel for the game that is most frequently seen in his excellent court vision and his ability to always find the open man. Not only does Walton excel in the half court set, however; he is more than capable of throwing a three-quarter court pass to a streaking wing on the breakaway too. Burke was a very good passer, but the amount of time he spent creating for himself made that a secondary feature of his game. Walton’s passing game should be on full display from the start.
  2. 2. Scoring when Needed: Most of the time on the court, Walton will be asked to facilitate the offense and find the open shooter on the wing or big man down low. Like Burke, Walton should be adept running the pick-and-roll and spotting an opening in the defense. When called upon, however, Walton is an able scorer and shooter. Early on in his high school career, Walton was often knocked for his broken stroke and inconsistency from downtown, but by the time senior year at Chandler Park Academy hit, Walton had worked on his shot enough to make it a strength. He gets good lift on his stroke and is very comfortable pulling up from the dribble, which will make him very difficult to guard. In time, Walton should also be able to get to the charity stripe five to seven times per night.

    Walton is a pass-first point guard who will look to set up Michigan's shooters (adidas)

What He Will Have to Work On:

  1. 1. Defense: Walton will never be the biggest man on the court and size will never be an asset for him, and like all freshmen, he will have his struggles in guarding veteran point guards. Early on in the season, Quinn Cook of Duke should provide a big test, and Nick Johnson from Arizona would be a scary matchup if Walton is to ever find himself guarding the big junior. Last year, I said that Albrecht would benefit greatly from having to guard Trey Burke in practice every day, and while Spike will likely pass on some tips and pointers that he has learned, Walton ultimately does not have the benefit of going one-on-one with an All-American on a daily basis.
  2. 2. Finishing: Another area Burke probably has the upper hand on is finishing at the rim. Walton will need to gain some muscle before he becomes adept at finishing layups in a rough and tough Big Ten, and some scouting videos of Walton suggest that he had his problems finishing at the high school level. Burke’s uncanny knack for getting the ball to drop put him on another level, and if Walton is to get there, he’ll certainly be putting in more time in the paint.

Burning Question: Will Derrick Walton, Jr. be the starting point guard for Michigan from the onset of the 2013-14 season?

Many would cry blasphemy when seeing this question posed. After all, Walton is nearly a consensus top-40 prospect coming in when the time seems ripe for a pass-first point guard in Ann Arbor. And Spike Albrecht? He was a no-name high school prospect that picked Michigan over Appalachian State and needed to go to prep school to even get an offer from them!

When thinking things through, however, it’s not such a crazy question after all. Beilein has been known to ease players into the starting lineup, much like he did with Matt Vogrich (yes, he started) over Nik Stauskas and Jordan Morgan over Mitch McGary last season. Experience is crucial in college basketball, but being thrown into the fire is also a great way to gain that experience. If I had to guess, I think Spike Albrecht will start the first preseason game before making way for Walton against Wayne State and the rest of the campaign.

Projected Stats: 6 points, 4 assists, 1.5 steals, 2.5 rebounds, 2 turnovers in 25 minutes per game

2013-14 Michigan basketball player preview: Mark Donnal

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013


(Jeremy Wadsworth, The Blade)

Just as we did last year, we will kick off the basketball previews with a look at the incoming freshman class before analyzing the returning positional groups. With Michigan seemingly becoming a younger team each season under John Beilein as more and more players leave early for the pro ranks, freshmen will continue to be called upon to play minutes, and often in very important situations. Of the eight returning scholarship players, only Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford are upperclassmen; the other six all sit with sophomore standing. It’s becoming commonplace across college basketball, and Michigan is no different. So without further ado, let’s begin with the least-highly ranked player in the 2013 Michigan basketball recruiting class.

#34 Mark Donnal
Measurements 6’9″, 230

Hometown Monclova, Ohio
High School Anthony Wayne High School
High School Stats (2012-13) 18.1 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.7 blocks
AAU Indiana Elite
Projected Position(s) Power Forward/Center
Committed June 15, 2011
Major Suitors Butler, Indiana, Purdue (no reported offers)
Chance of Redshirt 50 percent
Recruiting Rankings
Rivals 4-star – Overall: 111, Position: 24
Scout 4-star – Overall: 66, Position: 13
ESPN 4-star – Overall: 89, Position: 23, State: 4, Grade: 82
247 3-star – Overall: 147, Position: 37, State: 4
247 Composite 4-star – Overall: 86, Position: 18, State: 3

Background: Like many Michigan prospects in the John Beilein era, Mark Donnal flew under the radar and committed to the program he felt most comfortable with early in his high school career the day Beilein called with an offer. Following the pattern, Donnal was pretty much an unknown out of the Toledo area until receiving that Michigan offer on June 15, 2011 – the first day coaches were officially allowed to extend offers to the 2013 class – and proceeding to climb the rankings. It’s the same story that happened with Glenn Robinson III in last year’s class and many others before.

Donnal comes to Ann Arbor as an under the radar recruit (Andy Morrison, The Blade)

With Donnal, however, there were never any fireworks on the recruiting circuit. Few, if any, other schools came calling; perhaps they thought he was too much of a tweener or to slow to want or perhaps they simply knew Donnal had found the perfect fit for his game in Ann Arbor and would be wasting time in pursuit.

Only the baby-faced Donnal truly knows what his full recruiting story was, but his style of play certainly leads me to believe that any coach in the country would have been remiss to try to pull this kid out of Beilein’s grasp. Donnal was never the flashy type on the high school court, and his numbers don’t jump off the page, but his fundamentals are, oxymoronically, extremely exciting. Having been coached by Dan Dakich while on the AAU circuit with Indiana Elite, Donnal seems to have learned that style points don’t count in basketball, and his well-rounded game backs that up.

What Donnal will bring to the table is something that Beilein hasn’t had since his days at West Virginia. Inevitably when Beilein is mentioned to unfamiliar outsiders, the first thought is what they consider to be a quirky, heavy-shooting style of offense. The next thing that comes to mind would probably be something along the lines of, “He’s that guy that coaches that Pittsnogle guy.”

In Donnal are shades of that Pittsnogle guy. Standing at a legitimate 6’9″ and boasting a solid 230-pound frame, Donnal possesses a jumper that most guards dream of and a back-to-the-basket game reminiscent of Tyler Hansbrough. In one game I caught during his senior year, Donnal attacked from all over the court, pouring in 34 points on a variety of jumpers, inside moves, and thunderous dunks while also grabbing around 13 rebounds and swatting a shot.

When all is said and done, I think Donnal’s career is going to be an excellent one in Ann Arbor, with a strong chance of being the best player in this year’s class. The rankings might not reflect this philosophy, but the fact that the former Anthony Wayne big man was never talked about on the recruiting road is likely a big part of it.

This year, Donnal joins a packed front court, but I still think he will work his way in for some minutes here and there before taking on a much bigger role next year.

Video:


What He Will Provide:

  1. 1. Scoring Versatility: While last year’s freshman class was packed with guys who simply know how to put the ball in the bucket and this year’s class may be called upon to be more role players, Donnal can certainly score in a variety of ways. His pretty jump shot will keep defenders honest, but Donnal’s post and face-up games are also pretty advanced for an incoming freshman. In a couple years’ time, Donnal will be a player who has a shot from anywhere on the court, and while it might not always be finesse inside, he will develop the strength to challenge defenders. One thing coach Bacari Alexander will like right away is Donnal’s tendency to catch the post feed high and finish high without bringing the ball down, where it becomes vulnerable to defenders’ hands.
  2. 2. Stretching the Defense: If John Beilein coveted one skill over all others in his players, it would be the ability to space the floor and stretch the defense for easier looks. Rarely will you see more than one Wolverine on the court at a time who is not a threat from deep, and with Donnal in the rotation, Beilein will again have the ability to throw out at least four shooters and make the defense pick its poison. As I’ve said before, Donnal’s stroke is incredibly smooth and easily quick enough to get off over just about any defender. We’ve seen Michigan run more and more ball screens over the past few seasons, yet rarely have we seen the pick-and-pop. Donnal will change that in a hurry, something that certainly will have Michigan coaches salivating over.

    Donnal is a versatile scorer for a big man (Jeremy Wadsworth, The Blade)

  3. 3. Rebounding: It’s often very difficult to project rebounding success from the high school to the college level, and particularly in big men because of the relative size differential. Donnal, however, gets after it on the blocks and is already, according to freshman walk-on Cole McConnell, the best leaper in the freshman class. Combine plus athleticism, tenacity, and size and you have a formula for what should be a good rebounder down the line.

What He Will Have to Work On:

  1. 1. Defense: If there’s one area in which almost every freshman struggles, it’s on the defensive end of the court. Donnal doesn’t appear to be a noticeably poor defender, but it’s a safe bet that the big step up in competition from small town Ohio ball to Big Ten ball will open a few holes defensively in Donnal’s game. Donnal possesses solid size right now, but players like Adreian Payne and Adam Woodbury will cause some problems inside and quicker four men could be devastating early on.
  2. 2. Ball-handling: In my scouting of Donnal’s high school game, the big man did turn the ball over three times – two times he was completely pick-pocketed. For the four spot to be an option for Donnal, he will have to improve his handles and be comfortable putting the ball on the floor on occasion. Obviously very few big men can dribble and weave like point guards, but a certain level of competency is a must, especially in a Beilein offense that stresses protecting the rock.

Burning Question: Will Mark Donnal redshirt?

It’s a question that many big men have to deal with, and we’ve seen John Beilein’s staff go different ways on the topic before. Jordan Morgan redshirted as a freshman to add bulk and refine his skill set. Mitch McGary was clearly ready for the college game as a 20-year-old freshman, but he had his struggles as well. Blake McLimans and Max Bielfeldt also both redshirted, as did Jon Horford (due to injury). Guards are usually more college-ready and are less likely to redshirt, but I don’t think Donnal will redshirt because of a raw or lacking skill set.

The reason many project him to sit out this season is the jam-packed front court. With a returning All-American in Mitch McGary and a redshirt senior, junior, and sophomore in Morgan, Horford, and Bielfeldt, respectively, there are a lot of bodies to throw around in the post. More and more, however, people are talking about Glenn Robinson III sliding to the three position and McGary playing the majority of his minutes at the four, as both stated among their desires in returning for another season.

If Beilein sees that as a viable option, lots more minutes instantly become available at the four and five spots – both of which Donnal should be able to back up. If that truly is the case, I think Donnal will beat out Bielfeldt for spot minutes.

Projected Stats: 1.2 points, 1 rebound, 0.5 assists in 7 minutes per game

Michigan basketball schedule primer

Monday, September 30th, 2013


(via UM Hoops)

Football season is in top gear, but with the start of college basketball only about a month away, it is time to start taking a look at the 2013-14 edition of the Michigan Wolverines. After dominating the non-conference schedule last season on the way to a #1 ranking in early January, Michigan had some bumps in the road throughout the Big Ten season before turning it around again in the Big Dance on its way to the National Championship game. The Wolverines have some big shoes to fill in the form of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr., both off to the NBA as first-round draft picks, but a solid returning core and a couple of highly-touted freshmen figure to help Michigan compete again both in the Big Ten and on a national stage. Here we take a quick look at Michigan’s schedule, highlighting three key areas of the season.

Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament

As in years past, Michigan will again participate in a Thanksgiving weekend tournament, this time traveling to San Juan from November 21-24. This tournament will be one of the strongest fields of the Beilein era to date for Michigan with a first-round matchup against Long Beach State followed by Florida State or Virginia Commonwealth (a potential Big Dance re-match); Kansas State or Georgetown will likely be competing for the title on the other end of the bracket if Michigan survives the first two rounds.

Beilein loves to participate in these early season tournaments with this back-to-back-to-back game structure because it gives Michigan a chance to simulate the end-of-year conference and NCAA tournaments in which short-term preparation on little rest is crucial while competing on a national stage, with all games televised on the ESPN family of networks. Perhaps even more beneficial about this tournament is the variety of styles each team employs, giving Michigan a taste of what’s to come. Florida State and Kansas State pride themselves on the defensive end of the court, VCU employs the “havoc” defense and will look to push the ball, and Georgetown prefers a grind-it-out offensive style with a stingy defense as well. None of these teams have superstar players and no one is talking about them now, but by the end of the season, expect at least a couple to be making noise.

Non-conference cupcakes and heavyweights

While the Puerto Rico tip-off should provide Michigan with some solid top 50-100 RPI-type matchups, the rest of the non-conference schedule is full of teams at the extreme ends of the spectrum. Two exhibitions kick off the year before UMass-Lowell travels to Crisler in its first year as a Division 1 program to kick off the season and lowly South Carolina State follows for what should be two snoozers. After that, Michigan makes an early season road trip to Ames to take on the Cyclones of Iowa State, who have lost just three home games over the past two seasons, including two to top-10 outfits. From Ames, Michigan has just three days of rest and preparation before their first game in Puerto Rico, but a game against Coppin State in Ann Arbor should be a nice cool-down after long flights, short turnarounds, and tough games.

Michigan's main non-conference test will be when it visits Cameron Indoor Stadium to face Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge (Streeter Lecka, Getty Images)

The next week again sees Michigan on the road, this time traveling to the vaunted Cameron Indoor Stadium to take on freshman phenom Jabari Parker and Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge before another warm up against Houston Baptist at home.

One week later, the big boys keep on coming, as preseason favorite Arizona kicks off a home-and-home at Crisler on December 14. Sean Miller is one of the best in the business at combining recruiting, player development, and Xs and Os coaching, and some individual matchups this game brings are absolutely mouthwatering. Arizona super sophomores Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski welcome in freshman stud Aaron Gordon to form a loaded frontcourt that should give Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson, and company a real test down low while heady junior guard Nick Johnson will look to slow Michigan’s talented backcourt.

After more than two weeks at home, Michigan then hits the road one last time in the non-conference to take on a solid Stanford team at the Barclays Center in the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational on December 21, a matchup Beilein is looking forward to for the pro-Michigan New York City alumni base, before rounding out the year at home against Holy Cross a week later.

Certainly there are a lot of big names listed here, and the nation will be watching to see if Michigan can adequately replace the two lost stars, but I like the challenges this schedule presents. The two early cupcakes will help Derrick Walton get his feet wet at the point guard position and will begin to establish a consistent rotation, but there will be no avoiding the tough stages either, with games at notably difficult venues on the campuses of Iowa State and Duke, neutral games in the holiday tournament and Stanford, and a home tilt with Arizona that should all go a ways in preparing Michigan for the grueling Big Ten and the tournaments to follow. I also like the fact that, outside of the Puerto Rico tip-off, there is adequate rest time between the tough games. Iowa State, Duke, and Arizona are all separated by about two weeks while the Stanford game takes place after a whole week of rest at home and nearly two weeks before the Big Ten season kicks off.

The grind of the Big Ten

As has been the norm over the past few years, the Big Ten again figures to be one of the toughest conferences in the nation, with around seven teams projected to make the NCAA Tournament. Michigan figures to compete for the title again, but it will certainly be a difficult task.

Michigan only gets Ohio State once this year and it's in Columbus (AP)

The single plays this time around will be Northwestern and Penn State, both of whom Michigan will only play at home, and Ohio State and Illinois, whom Michigan will play on the road. This is not the most ideal situation for the Maize and Blue, but it is not terrible either, as both Northwestern and Penn State will win their fair share of conference home games and Ohio State will be very tough regardless of location. Illinois is probably the most disappointing, as a trip to Assembly Hall is never easy while Michigan has owned Illinois at home lately.

Michigan State will of course be the big home draw this year on February 23 while Indiana once again bookends the regular season at the Crisler Center after a Sunday afternoon game in Bloomington on February 2.

One nice part of this year’s Big Ten schedule is the lack of back-to-back away games, which only happens once to Michigan this year on February 8 and 11 at Iowa and Ohio State, respectively, but even that difficult stretch is followed by Wisconsin five days later at home and Michigan State a whole week after that in Ann Arbor. That is likely the toughest four-game skid on the schedule, with the Hawkeyes, Buckeyes, Badgers, and Spartans all likely to find themselves in or near the top 25 all year long.

We will have plenty of scouting and analysis on the rest of the conference to come, and there will definitely be no pushover games in the Big Ten, but the schedule is about as balanced as possible this time around, giving Michigan a very real chance at the Big Ten title if things fall into place.

Maize and Go Blue staff roundtable

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013


Just a few days from the start of the season, the time has come to put our predictions to paper. Or the internet, where they will forever live, serving as a reminder of the surge of optimism that perpetually springs just before the don of a new season. All the usual suspects – Justin, Chris, Sam, Josh, and Katie – will give their predictions, as will the newest member of our staff, Derick, who you have read in our preseason Predicting Michigan series. You can view all of our staff bios on the Meet the Staff page.

With introductions out of the way, let’s get down to business.

What are you most excited about this season?

JUSTIN: I’m excited about the return to the Michigan football of old. Denard Robinson will forever be remembered as a great Michigan football player, but as was apparent he had his limitations and Al Borges was never able to fully implement his offense.

Back when Rich Rodriguez was announced as the new head coach to replace Lloyd Carr, there was a lot of excitement over the kind of offense he could bring to Ann Arbor, the likes of which none of us had ever seen. The Michigan brand of football had gotten a little stale during the latter part of Carr’s tenure, so we were excited for something new. Well, we all know how that turned out and now a return to smash-mouth Michigan football with mammoth offensive linemen and tall, rangy wide receivers sounds more appealing than ever. It’s funny how perspective changes.

Most of us are looking forward to getting back to the Michigan football we all remember

There will still be some pieces of spread mixed in, but with Devin Gardner behind center Borges’ offense will be able to thrive. It will take a little time to be sure, with a young interior line and group of receivers, but I’m excited to see the return to Bo and Mo and Lloyd’s brand of football.

CHRIS: Seeing how the offense will look with Devin Gardner as the starting QB and a stable of quality running backs, including the return of Fitz Toussaint from a major injury, and a group of young, top recruits.

JOSH: Having a legitimate passing threat under center and getting back to real Michigan football. It’s been far too long since we’ve seen that style and been good at it (2006). To me Michigan football is a smash mouth running game and a tough defense, I think we get one step closer to resembling the teams of yesteryear.

SAM: Besides football being back? Well, to start off, I’m excited about the potential of the offense to put up some points with Devin Gardner leading the way, a crowded yet talented corps of running backs, a tight end that can make any defender look foolish, two bite-sized receivers with hands made of glue, and an actual, tangible depth chart on the offensive line that doesn’t read “PANIC” after the starter goes down. I think Al Borges is finally starting to see an offense on the field close to the one he envisioned when joining Brady Hoke in Ann Arbor two seasons ago, and the results should start to show. Denard Robinson was an other-worldly talent, but his skill set simply did not match up with what the New Michigan is looking to do – pound the ball behind a physical offensive line and take deep shots down the field when the safeties are forced to cheat up. Gardner certainly has the physical abilities to run the system to near perfection, and if he starts up where he left off last season, the Wolverines should light up the scoreboard.

As a special aside, I also want to give Dennis Norfleet a quick shout-out as the lead punt and kick returner. Norfleet is probably the single most exciting player on the roster, and I think it’s about time Michigan scored on special teams. Look for that to happen within the first two weeks of the season.

DERICK: The return of a potent passing attack to the offense. As Denard Robinson moves on to the NFL, Brady Hoke and Al Borges will try to move back in the direction of a physical offensive style. Quarterback Devin Gardner will lead the 2013 Michigan offense with a revamped passing attack. During his starts at the end of 2012, Gardner proved that he has an accurate arm and can extend plays with his legs. Receivers like Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo and Amara Darboh figure to have big seasons with Gardner under center.

KATIE: Seeing what Devin Gardner can do, and if he finds a go-to in Gallon or Funchess.

What worries you the most entering the season?

JUSTIN: My main concern is the inexperience on the offensive line and at receiver. Returning to a power running game is great, but you have to have interior linemen that can open holes for your backs. Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield are solid bookends, but how quickly will Graham Glasgow, Jack Miller, and Kyle Kalis gel? The opener against Central Michigan will be a good dry run, but we’ll get our first real indication in Week 2 against Notre Dame’s ferocious defensive front.

At receiver, the loss of Amara Darboh to injury is a big blow. Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo are well established, but the offense needs a guy like Darboh who can play the Junior Hemingway/Adrian Arrington role. A lot of pressure will fall on Jehu Chesson to step up, which I think he’s more than capable of doing. I’m not sold on Jeremy Jackson and Joe Reynolds, who have had three years to step up and still haven’t done so.

The young offensive line worries us the most (John T. Greilick, Detroit News)

CHRIS: How an inexperienced group of players on the offensive and defensive lines will mature and get better throughout the season.  With three new starters on the offensive line, and essentially three new starters on the D-line, I believe this to be the key to how good of a season that the Wolverines end up having.

JOSH: Lack of known commodities on the line, receiver, and running back. A LOT of talented, but inexperienced, kids on this roster at key spots could mean for some serious growing pains early on. With Notre Dame coming to town in Week 2 this more than worries me, even though I am not sold on ND being nearly as ‘good’ as they were last year.

SAM: This might be wacky, but I am going with the offense again, and specifically Gardner. While he possesses all the tools to excel in Borges’s offense, I’m still a little wary of crowning the redshirt junior as the savior of the program, the one who will bring Michigan full circle. I know it’s been a long time since the spring of 2011 and 2012, but Gardner’s struggles in the spring games of those two years will always be in the back of my head.

With his big arm, pinpoint precision, and capable legs, Gardner can be great, but I’m a little skeptical of his decision-making. I’ve seen him scramble and throw an ill-advised bunny one too many times to rest easily this week of the season opener, and I am worried that his success over the last five games of last season were partially a product of opposing defenses having very little information on him. With a full offseason to break down tape, opposing coaches have certainly found new ways to try to attack Gardner, and any hesitancy on his end early on could signal trouble in Ann Arbor.

Again, there is no doubting Gardner’s potential, and I do think he will have a very good year; I am just not quite ready to bring both feet onto the bandwagon.

DERICK: The youth on the interior offensive line. While Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield will be solid at the tackle positions, the rest of the offensive line is a question mark. Two talented recruiting classes will battle to fill the remaining three spots. Too much youth can be an issue on either line, but fortunately Michigan has Lewan to lead the young players and help make up for any mistakes. If the line can protect Gardner, the offense should be potent.

KATIE: Some of our offensive line is young. That, coupled with an unsure running game.

Who will be the breakout player on offense this season?

JUSTIN: Darboh was going to be my pick, so the obvious choice now would be Chesson. But I’m going to go a little out of the box and say Jake Butt. Last year, I correctly picked Devin Funchess, so I’ll stick with that position which Borges absolutely loves. With Darboh out, I could see Borges utilizing the tight end position even more, and Funchess is the known commodity as far as opposing defenses are concerned. That could free up Butt for some open looks much like Funchess got last year, although he likely won’t get as many targets because of, well, Funchess.

CHRIS: Derrick Green- I know that this is the easy pick considering his highly regarded status as one of Michigan’s top signees ever, but this guy is good.  His size and speed are unparalleled for a freshman running back and he’ll have the opportunity get a large amount of playing time given the uncertainty in the Michigan backfield.  With a couple weeks left in fall camp, it appears that Fitz Toussaint is taking control of the top spot, however the offense will feature more than one guy running the ball.  I like Green’s chances to have an excellent season.

We're excited about the potential of Jehu Chesson (Leon Halip, Getty Images)

JOSH: So many options and it seems like a cop out to go with Gardner or Funchess, so I’m going to stick with a first year starting wide receiver, Jehu Chesson. He’s a tall, fast guy that can take the top off the defense and open things up underneath for Gallon, Dileo, and Norfleet. He’s had a year in the system and from what I’ve read he seems to be an incredibly humble and hardworking kid. Not sure he’s Mario Manningham 2.0 yet but he’s got the size and speed to fill that type of role.

SAM: I already alluded to some of his mismatch-making in regards to why I’m excited about the offense this year – I think Devin Funchess is a guy you will see turn heads this year. The sophomore out of Farmington Hills set the world on fire early on in his debut season, catching touchdowns in weeks two and three against Air Force and Massachusetts and recording multiple catches in three of the first four games, but he kind of fell off the map as the season wore on. Over the last nine games of the season, Funchess never recorded a multiple-catch outing, and his highest yardage output over that same span was just 29.

His potential is both clear and vast, however. A whopping 33 percent of Funchess’s 15 receptions last season went for scores, and his 6’5″, 235-pound frame (now with added muscle!) is enough in itself to make defensive coordinators toss and turn at night. In Borges’ offense, tight ends are called upon to block quite often, and blocking is unfortunately the biggest area Funchess needs to improve upon, but his added weight should help him see more snaps and, in turn, more targets this year. His monstrous hands make him an obvious red zone target, and his overall length and athleticism should get plenty of run over the middle and on broken plays where Gardner will be seeking a safety valve. Look for Funchess to at least double his catches in 2013 while recording 600-plus yards and eight scores.

DERICK: I’m going to go with Jehu Chesson now that Darboh is out. I really think that the second receiver behind Gallon is poised to have a big year behind him and Funchess in the passing attack. Gardner should be able to spread the ball out and use his entire receiving core, so if Chesson can step in and take over a big role that I believe Darboh was destined for he can pick up important offensive production that Michigan lost with Roundtree graduating.

KATIE: I would like to see Derrick Green rack up yards as a freshman, like Hart did, and make the next few years look even more enticing.

Who will be the breakout player on defense this season?

JUSTIN: The obvious pick here is James Ross, but in my opinion, he already had a semi-breakout at the tail end of last season. He’s due for big numbers this year. But I’m going to say a guy not many people are talking about: Raymon Taylor. He was thrust into the starting role last season when Blake Countess went down with a season ending knee injury and performed admirably, probably even better than J.T. Floyd. Now, with Countess back and grabbing all the attention, Taylor has locked down the other starting corner spot. He made a big interception against Notre Dame and followed that up with another the next week, and I think it’s safe to say we can expect more from him this season now that he has 11 starts under his belt.

CHRIS: Frank Clark- Even though he played in all 13 games last season, he only started the final four.  In those four games, he had excellent performances, including a huge one against Ohio State.  This season he will be counted on to man one of the defensive end positions and to be one of the defensive leaders.  He is an excitable player who will be counted on to anchor a defensive line which has only one true returning starter, and that player, Quinton Washington, only started 10 games.  Clark must quickly become a force to reckon with if the Wolverines want to win versus better competition.

With Jake Ryan out, James Ross III and Frank Clark need to step up

JOSH: I’d love to say Dymonte Thomas, I think he’s going to be really good, but everyone else probably will say that too, so I’m going to go with Blake Countess. He had a great freshman year then missed all but a few plays of last season. With almost a full year to recover and hone his craft. I don’t think we’re looking at Ty Law or Charles Woodson type play but he seems poised to make a name for himself as another great Michigan defensive back.

SAM: Funchess is a tremendous breakout candidate on offense because of all the physical attributes he possesses, but on the defensive side of the ball, my pick for breakout player will thrive for the exact opposite reasons. James Ross III, another true sophomore, from nearby Orchard Lake, is not the biggest guy on the field, but his instincts and grit will one day make him a great linebacker at Michigan. At 6’1″ and 220 pounds, Ross is certainly not a prototypical Big Ten backer, and at barely 19 years of age, “Biggs” is younger than ideal as well, but he has heart and quickness in bunches.

With only 21 solo tackles and 15 assisted tackles last season, Ross has hardly scratched the surface. I love his ability to quickly diagnose the play and react accordingly without hesitation. Yes, sometimes such an aggressive style has and will lead to getting burned on play action, but with more experience will come better decision-making. A James Ross that correctly reads every offensive play is a James Ross that no running back or quarterback wants to face. The second year man is a sure tackler, a solid cover man, and the embodiment of a football player. Look for him to rack up 10 tackles for loss this year on his way to being the second-leading tackler on the team.

DERICK: Frank Clark. The new start at defensive end could be a jump start for Frank Clark’s career. The 6’2″ junior contributed on the line at times during his sophomore season, and figures to play a much bigger role in 2013. It is crucial that Michigan gets pressure on opposing quarterbacks without blitzing linebackers this season, because the secondary has remaining questions. If Clark can be an effective pass rusher it could make a huge different for Michigan.

KATIE: James Ross III. Not that he didn’t have a breakout freshman year, but I’m expecting him to have matured more and be someone who will make a big impact at the linebacker position.

What is your prediction for the season? What will Michigan’s record be? Who will Michigan lose to? What bowl game will Michigan make?

JUSTIN: Great recruiting classes by Hoke the past couple of years have turned up the excitement level big time. But let’s not forget Hoke’s first full class is still sophomores. I think we’re a year away from competing for a national championship, but that doesn’t mean a Big Ten title is out of the question. However, it’s not going to be easy. If Michigan had Ohio State’s schedule, a spot in the Big Ten title game would be a no-brainer, but the November stretch of at Michigan State, home against Nebraska, at Northwestern, at Iowa, and home against Ohio State is going to be brutal. There’s no margin for error prior to November, which means Michigan has to win at Penn State, which I think they will.

Two of the three top contenders in the Legends division, Michigan State and Nebraska, don’t even have to face Ohio State, so they have the easier path the to Legends division title. That means those two games are critical for Michigan. Lose one and the Ohio State game is a must-win. Lose both and Michigan probably won’t make it to Indianapolis.

I think the Ohio State game will be a must-win regardless. I think the only way a rematch happens (without being undefeated) is if Michigan beats Michigan State and Nebraska, but falls to Northwestern…which is exactly what I think will happen. I see Michigan undefeated heading into East Lansing. State just doesn’t have the offense this year, so a win there and a win the following week against Nebraska will leave Michigan 9-0 as they travel to Northwestern. That’s the game that will trip Michigan up coming off of two big wins. Michigan will then beat Iowa and fall to Ohio State, finishing 10-2. Northwestern will also lose to Ohio State and two of the three against Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Nebraska, finishing 9-3. A win over Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game will fittingly send Michigan to Pasadena for the 100th Rose Bowl where Michigan will lose to Stanford, finishing 11-3 overall.

A trip to the 100th Rose Bowl would only be fitting for the team that won the first one ever

CHRIS: In all reality, the Wolverines have the chance to go 12-0, and I’m not only saying that because every team has a chance to do that each year.  However, Team 134 will need to avoid the pitfalls of some tough games, especially once the November schedule hits.

Prior to Michigan’s first November game against MSU, they need to be 7-0, and I think they will be.  The only tough game during that stretch is Notre Dame, but the game is at home, under the lights, and I believe that the Irish will take a step back this year compared to the 2012 team.  MSU will be a decent squad this year if they can break in new starters for half of the positions on both offense and defense.  Michigan’s offensive and defensive line play will have to be stout by this game, otherwise there could be trouble.  Plus, MSU will be looking for payback after last year’s heartbreaking, last-second loss.

After that, Michigan gets Nebraska at home.  I don’t expect the Huskers to be a very good team this year, especially on defense, where they only return four starters from a defense which wasn’t particularly good last season.  They do return Taylor Martinez at the QB position, who is a streaky passer and a good runner when he gets the opportunity.  Michigan will need to take advantage of a weak offensive line and contain Martinez to win this game, as well as watch out for a potential let-down following the MSU game.

After that comes the game that worries me the most- At Northwestern on Nov 16.  They return 15 starters on both sides of the ball, plus both starters in the kicking game.  They have two good QBs in Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, each of which will attack the Michigan defense with different styles.  They also have stud running back Venric Mark returning, who is the top returning player at that position.  The defense will be good as well, with three returning starters in a secondary which struggled at times last season.  I see a couple of keys for Michigan which will allow them to win this game: good defensive line play and a quality game plan by Greg Mattison which will confuse three new starters on the offensive line; and a quick re-focusing by the players after two tough games.  Ryan Field can be a tough place to play, especially if the game is played with a noon EST kickoff.  That’s 11am Central time, and if the Wolverines don’t come focused and ready to play, an upset could happen.

The comes Iowa at their place.  Should be a win.

Then, The Game.  Ohio State will likely come to the Big House 11-0 and looking for a spot in the Big Ten Championship game and a potential BCS National Championship appearance.  The Buckeye offense will be good and will put up a lot of points this season.  Michigan’s defense will be tested by the large number of weapons which Ohio State can attack with.  Defense is another story, however.  They only have four returning starters on this side of the ball, although the spots will be filled by quality, yet unproven, recruits.  With the weapons on Michigan’s offense, this has the potential to be a shoot-out, with the team that wants it the most coming out on top.

I expect this Michigan team to finish the season 10-2 or 11-1.  There’s that potential loss to Northwestern hanging out there, but I think that Brady Hoke will ensure that the team is ready to play against a quality Big Ten opponent.  I don’t think that Michigan has the overall experience and talent yet to beat Ohio State.  While I do think the game will be close, Ohio State will have too much for the Wolverines.  With this being said, there is potential for a Michigan-OSU rematch in the Big Ten Championship.  For this to happen, Michigan cannot lose any other conference games, especially to opponents on their side of the Division.  If the two teams rematch, Michigan will win and take the Big Ten crown for 2013 and play in the Rose Bowl.

The Big Ten Championship game could very well be a Michigan-Ohio State rematch

JOSH: I can honestly see this team going undefeated or losing four games again. There is just too much uncertainty at key positions to make a good prediction, but I’ll venture one anyway. There are too many toss-up games on the schedule for me to feel confident about a largely young and inexperienced team. Notre Dame, MSU, Nebraska, OSU, and you can’t count out Northwestern. 9-3 (6-2), no B1G title game appearance and Outback Bowl again.

SAM: I have Michigan going 9-3 in the regular season and finishing in first place in the Legends Division before heading to the Big Ten championship game, where they will face off with Ohio State before heading to a bowl game somewhere where it’s warm. The schedule is not extremely difficult, but Michigan is still probably a year away from competing on the national level. I see the Wolverines dropping two of the four of Notre Dame, at Penn State, at Michigan State, and at Northwestern, and one to the Buckeyes. After finishing out the regular season, I think Michigan will lose again to Ohio State in Indianapolis before winning their bowl game to finish at 10-4 overall.

If you are thinking, “isn’t this the guy that wants back-to-back matchups with Ohio State?” The answer is yes, I am. Unfortunately this is the wrong year to potentially have that come up. The Game should be a classic, but I think Michigan’s defense will be just a step behind Ohio State’s offense and the Scarlet and Grey will take the cake. Regardless, there is plenty to look forward to this season, and there’s a reason they play the games. Maybe, just maybe, the Maize and Blue will prove me wrong.

DERICK: 11-3, B1G runner-up, BCS at-large. Michigan could definitely go into The Game at the Big House with a 10-1 record. The loss of Everett Golson makes the Notre Dame game very winnable for the Wolverines, but the gauntlet of Michigan State, Northwestern, Nebraska and Iowa will be difficult to endure without a loss. If Michigan can go 3-1 through that game I think they can split with OSU (since the Buckeyes will likely be playing in the Big Ten Championship game) and likely win the game at home and get a Sugar Bowl bid if the SEC sends their champion to the National Championship Game. The bowl game will be difficult, obviously, and could be the third straight game against a top-5 team for Michigan. After a strong start to the season, I think the final few weeks could be tough.

KATIE: A 9-3 regular season finish and 6-2 in the Big Ten.

2013 opponent preview: Ohio State

Friday, August 23rd, 2013


The final opponent preview also happens to be the final opponent of the season, Ohio State. Previously, we previewed AkronCentral MichiganUConnMinnesotaIowaIndianaPenn StateNorthwesternNebraska, Michigan State, and Notre Dame.

Overview

When Urban Meyer took over a floundering Ohio State team following a 6-7 season, excitement soared through the roof about the possibilities he could bring. But even the most die-hard Buckeye fan didn’t see an undefeated season coming that soon and the sanctions left behind by his predecessor kept the Bucks from a shot at the national championship. In year two, however, with essentially ten returning starters on offense, including a leading Heisman candidate, most in Columbus are expecting another unbeaten season.

Offense

Meyer was fortunate to inherit the perfect quarterback for his system and now Braxton Miller enters his second season in that system looking to take Meyer to new heights. The junior signal caller improved on a rocky freshman campaign with 2,039 yards passing and a 58.3 percent completion rate to go along with 1,271 yards on the ground last season. His 28 total touchdowns trailed only Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez and Penn State’s Matt McGloin in the Big Ten.

Braxton Miller enters the season with Heisman-level expectations (Darla Dunkle-Hudnell, The Buckeye Times)

The next step is to continue to improve as a passer, which he has done throughout the spring. At times in 2012, he was quick to pull the ball down and run. Meyer wants Miller to run, but he also has to walk the fine line of keeping him healthy.

The good news is he has plenty of help in the backfield with virtually all of the production from last season returning. Senior Carlos Hyde was supposed to be the main man, coming off a near-1,000-yard year. Only Wisconsin’s Montee Ball had more rushing touchdowns than Hyde’s 16. He said this spring that his goal is to get to that 1,000-yard mark. However, a summer bar incident left him suspended for the first three games, which will likely put the 1,000-yard mark out of reach, but shouldn’t hurt the Buckeyes.

Spelling Hyde for the first three games will be Rod Smith and Bri’onte Dunn, who combined for 348 yards and four touchdowns on 57 carries, although Smith is suspended for the opener. Incoming freshman Ezekiel Elliott will also get a chance to see the field. The X-factor is Jordan Hall, who was supposed to be Ohio State’s starting back last season, but missed most of the year with foot and knee injuries. He will fill the Pivot position in Meyer’s offense – the one made famous by Percy Harvin at Florida – and Meyer has high hopes for him, provided he can stay healthy.

The receiving corps also returns its top players, led by senior Philly Brown and junior Devin Smith. Brown led the team with 60 catches for 669 yards, while Smith led the Bucks with six touchdowns and added 618 yards on just 30 receptions. The former Ohio state high school high jump champion led the Big Ten with 20.6 yards per catch.

There wasn’t much production from the group outside of Brown and Smith. Tight end Jake Soneburner was the third-leading receiver with 16 catches for 269 yards, but he’s out of eligibility. Evan Spencer was the only other Buckeye with more than 10 receptions and will need to step up. Sophomore Nick Vannett and junior Jeff Heuerman will replace Stoneburner at tight end.

Four starters return on the offensive line and all are seniors, giving Ohio State perhaps the most experienced line in the conference. Left tackle Jack Mewhort is the lynchpin. He was named to the All-Big Ten second team last season and has started 25 straight games. Next to him is Andrew Norwell, while Corey LInsley is back at center and Marcus Hall holds down the right guard spot. Linsley was honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2012. The only question mark is right tackle, where Meyer has to find a replacement for Reid Fragel. Sophomore Taylor Decker has the inside track, but Chase Farris is in the mix as well.

Defense

Defensively, Ohio State has a lot more holes to fill. Only four starters return, only one of which in the front seven. It’s no secret that the defense was the weak point for the Bucks in 2012, though it did improve as the season went on. Now, with so many replacements, it will need to solidify earlier in order to keep the winning streak alive.

Schedule
Date Opponent
Aug. 31 Buffalo
Sept. 7 San Diego State
Sept. 14 @ California
Sept. 21 Florida A&M
Sept. 28 Wisconsin
Oct. 5 @ Northwestern
Oct. 19 Iowa
Oct. 26 Penn State
Nov. 2 @ Purdue
Nov. 16 @ Illinois
Nov. 23 Indiana
Nov. 30 @ Michigan

The entire defensive line will be new, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be talented. Sophomores Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington – both five-star recruits in the 2012 class – will bookend the line. In the spring game, both showed why coaches and fans alike have reason for excitement, recording a combined seven sacks. Inside, juniors Michael Bennett and Joel Hale are slated to start, though Bennett needs to recover from a groin injury that held him back last season.

Junior Ryan Shazier is the only returning linebacker, coming off a season in which he recorded the second most tackles in the Big Ten. He’ll retain the Will position, but the others are up for grabs. Last season, Meyer couldn’t find anyone to fill the middle spot until fullback Zack Boren switched over. He’s gone and Meyer will likely look to junior Curtis Grant to step up. Grant has yet to live up to his five-star status as a recruit. At the Sam, sophomore Joshua Perry should start, but he’ll be pushed by sophomore Luke Roberts. David Perkins, who would have been in the mix, left the team in May.

Three-fourths of the secondary returns intact, led by junior corner Bradley Roby and senior safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant. Roby turned down the NFL to come back for what will likely be his swan song, however, like Hyde and Smith, he faces a suspension to start the season. He’s a true shutdown corner, but he’ll need some help on the other side of the field after the departure of Travis Howard. Junior Doran Grant should step into that role, but Arche Griffin’s son, Adam, as well as incoming five-star Eli Apple, will push for playing time.

Special Teams

Drew Basil made 8-of-11 field goals a year ago and is back for his senior year. He will add punting duties as well after Ben Buchanan’s departure. Rod Smith and Devin Smith should handle the kick return duties, while Brown and Hall are likely to split the punt return job.

Outlook

With a non-conference slate featuring four teams with a combined 2012 record of just 20-28, no Michigan State or Nebraska on the schedule, and only conference road trips to Northwestern, Purdue, and Illinois, the likelihood is strong for the Buckeyes to bring a 23-game winning streak into Ann Arbor on Nov. 30. Anything but a Big Ten championship and a spot in the national title game will be considered a letdown for this rabid fan base, and it would take a massive implosion to keep them from winning the Leaders.

What it means for Michigan

The final game of the season is never an easy one when these two teams are involved and this year the stakes could be as high as they have been in years. There’s a good chance Ohio State will be unbeaten, or at the very least already have the Big Ten Leaders division and a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game wrapped up. Depending on how the first half of November goes, Michigan may need to beat the Buckeyes to secure a spot in the title game, which would then result in a rematch a week later.

Michigan beat Ohio State two years ago in Ann Arbor, and led at halftime in Columbus last season before being held scoreless in the second half and dropping a heartbreaker, 26-21. There’s no question these two teams are equally talented. Ohio State may have a more explosive offense – although that remains to be seen – and Michigan should have the better defense. Regardless, it will be the kind of duel the fans of the two teams were used to seeing before the Rich Rod era derailed things a bit.

The good news is that although Michigan is technically breaking in a new starter at quarterback this season, he played the whole game in Columbus last year so this won’t be his first rodeo. In the friendly confines of the Big House, where Brady Hoke has yet to lose, Michigan has the edge.