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Archive for the ‘Season Preview’ Category

Their time is now: 2015-16 Michigan basketball season preview

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

UM BBall(

A few years back when I was just a young college student in the then-miniscule Maize Rage, Michigan was coming off John Beilein’s miserable first season in Ann Arbor. No one thought much of the young Wolverines’ chances in Beilein’s second year either, but that didn’t stop them from believing in themselves.

The song that blasted throughout the Old Crisler Arena* before games that year was one that could be applied to just about any team playing any sport, but it seemed to carry extra weight for Michigan that season.

The first few lines went something like this:

“Go hard, today
Can’t worry bout the past cause that was yesterday
I’ma put it on the line cause it’s my time
I gotta stay on my grind cause it’s my time.”

It’s certainly not one of the best songs of the last decade, but it always gives me chills when it unexpectedly comes on the radio or blares out of some party’s speakers.


The Wolverines had to forget about the struggles of their first season under their new head coach, and though nearly every outsider doubted them, they grinded out one of the most memorable basketball seasons of my life, earning their way to a berth in the Big Dance and upsetting Clemson in the first round before bowing out to an over-powering Oklahoma squad.

You won’t hear Fabolous’s “My Time” any time soon at the new Crisler Center, but the message once again holds weight in Ann Arbor.

When I was walking down the Crisler tunnel to pick up my press pass earlier this week, getting the same tingly excited feeling I always do at the start of the college basketball season, an usher greeted me with a warm smile at the credentialing table and quipped “another season, huh?” in a mostly blasé tone.

Yes, it’s just “another season”, but it’s a season of renewed opportunity for the Michigan Wolverines. It’s a season of not worrying about the past and working to make the most out of an extremely talented and deep roster. In many ways to me, it’s also a season that represents the end of a mini-era.

That’s not to say that the Wolverines’ last chance to win the Big Ten and make the Final Four hinges on this year alone; nay, the future certainly appears bright under Beilein and a handful of talented sophomores and juniors.

But it wasn’t until this season’s senior class was in its first year that the Maize and Blue truly found its way back on the college basketball map with a magical run through the NCAA Tournament that ended in heart-breaking fashion in the championship game.



The only two members of that storied five man class who hung around long enough to see their time as seniors arrive are Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht. Their old classmates have all gone on to the bright lights and superstardom of the NBA, leaving two of the unlikeliest heroes carrying the team back in Ann Arbor.

If Michigan can make another deep run in the postseason this year, Albrecht just might break Jordan Morgan’s total games played record at the University, which would be quite the consolation prize for the under-sized point guard who will likely be the sole 2012 recruit to not play at the next level.

The past for those two, of course, has been a bit of a bumpy ride. Three seasons ago saw the wondrous tournament run, the year after that saw Michigan fall just a basket short of another Final Four appearance, while last season saw the Wolverines stumble early on in the non-conference before the wheels completely fell off with LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr. missing a significant portion of the season with foot injuries.

There’s always a silver lining, though, and it seems to be shining brightly so far. As a result of the season-ending injuries, a number of freshmen were forced into big minutes and played about as well as could be expected. One of those freshmen, Aubrey Dawkins, seems to be a shoo-in to start this year after coming on strong in February on the offensive end, while Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman has the potential to be a lock-down defender. Kameron Chatman is another sophomore that will be competing for minutes after struggling to find his way last season, while Ricky Doyle and D.J. Wilson are big men that appear primed for breakout seasons. Duncan Robinson, a sophomore transfer from the DIII level, should also shoot his way into plenty of action.

Perhaps no player looked better carrying the decimated Wolverines teammates, however, than Zak Irvin. Now a junior, Irvin blossomed from being a knock-down shooter his freshman season to an all-around offensive threat to close an otherwise disappointing campaign a year ago.

Match this depth up with somewhat proven commodities in LeVert, Walton, and Albrecht and you could be staring at another offensive juggernaut in Ann Arbor. Defensively, there may be some questions, but John Beilein has always been one to out-score with offensive fireworks.

A new season has dawned, and things are looking up for Michigan. It might not all go according to plan, as last year clearly did not. It might not look like the runner-up team from these seniors’ freshmen year. But it most certainly will be fun. Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht deserve a wonderful sendoff, and the supporting cast will grind hard to make sure it happens.

After all, their time has come.

*Unless it was the 2009-10 season – either way, the song still applies

Top Five Scorers Top Five Rebounders
Caris LeVert Caris LeVert
Zak Irvin Ricky Doyle
Derrick Walton Jr. Derrick Walton Jr.
Aubrey Dawkins Mark Donnal
Spike Albrecht D.J. Wilson
Top Five Assists Top Five Three-Point Shooters (%)
Derrick Walton Derrick Walton Jr.
Caris LeVert Spike Albrecht
Spike Albrecht Duncan Robinson
Zak Irvin Zack Irvin
Kameron Chatman Caris LeVert
Most improved player: D.J. Wilson
Most valuable freshman: Moritz Wagner
Most valuable player: Derrick Walton Jr.
Final record: 27-10 (12-6 Big Ten)
Conference finish: 2
Postseason: NCAA Tournament, Elite Eight

Michigan basketball 2015 season preview: The seniors

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

Spike and Caris(Melanie Maxwell, The Ann Arbor News)

While we’re in the midst of football season – a season of rebirth and return of the Michigan of old – college basketball is here! With the year now underway, let’s take a look at the most experienced of the Wolverines – the seniors.

#2 Spike Albrecht
Class Senior Spike headshot
Major General Studies
Measurements 5’11”, 175
Hometown Crown Point, Ind.
High School Northfields Mount Hermon (Mass.)
Position(s) Guard (1, 2)
Committed April 6, 2012
Fun Fact Earned nickname “Spike” after he wore baseball spikes everywhere as a kid
Career Stats
Pts Reb Ast Stl TO Min FG% 3Pt% FT%
2012-13 2.2 0.8 0.7 0.3 0.4 8.1 47.5 54.5 83.3
2013-14 3.3 1.1 2.0 0.5 0.4 14.7 40.4 38.7 77.8
2014-15 7.5 2.3 3.9 0.9 1.3 32.0 40.4 36.5 91.3
Career 4.1 1.4 2.1 0.6 0.7 17.2 41.5 39.9 81.4

Career Highs: 18; Rebounds: 6; Assists: 9 (twice); Steals 4: Turnovers: 4; Minutes: 47
Favorite Big Ten Opponent: Michigan State

Career to Date: Spike Albrecht came to Ann Arbor as the over-shadowed no-name prospect in a class replete with a trio of stars who all moved on to the NBA after two seasons. After failing to earn any major college interest while playing for his hometown high school in Northwest Indiana, Albrecht decided to take a prep year in the elite New England Prep School Athletic Conference, where he played against the likes of Mitch McGary and plenty of other top-notch prospects. And though the under-sized point guard held his own – even earning MVP honors in a major tournament – he went largely unnoticed.

When it came time to choose a school, Albrecht’s options were Appalachian State and no one else. But Albrecht didn’t want to play outside of Division I; following a conversation with his father, he decided that he’d go to Indiana University to be a regular student.

That is, until John Beilein stepped in with the unlikeliest of offers – an offer that, reportedly, Beilein thought would potentially make or break his career.

The rest, as they say, is history that many of us are aware of. Albrecht has never been a star player – outside of a first-half outburst in the National Championship game his freshman year – but he’s been a steadying force for three seasons. He’s a guy that can be called upon to run the offense efficiently, make smart passes, and not turn it over. Albrecht will never be a world beater because of his lack of size and elite athleticism, but he makes up for it with heady play. Every coach would love to have a veteran point guard to bring off the bench who knows the offense like the back of his hand, will knock down a good deal of threes, and doesn’t try to do too much. That is Albrecht in a nutshell.

Now back for his senior season, Albrecht is still getting back to full strength after a pair of offseason hip surgeries (he’s the oldest guy on the team at 23, but managed to play through the pain last season) following a junior year in which he was asked to carry much of the load later on with Derrick Walton and Caris LeVert sitting out injured. He has likely seen his last career start barring further injuries, but should prove to be an invaluable spark off the bench and will undoubtedly be a leader both on and off the floor. For a kid who will most likely be the only recruit of his five-man class to not be drafted into the NBA, that’s just fine.

Area to Improve: Defense

I know, I know – Spike Albrecht is never going to be a plus player defensively, but if he can just be average in man-to-man defense, he’ll see a lot more of the floor. John Beilein loves the leadership, confidence, and shooting that his veteran guard brings to the game, but quick opposing players will make it difficult to play Albrecht big minutes night in and night out. With strong positioning, Albrecht can at least minimize his defensive deficiencies and bring his playing time from a floor of around 15 to around 20-25.

Stat Predictions: 6.0 points (45.0 FG%, 41.0 3-PT%, 88.0 FT%), 2.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists in 20 minutes per game

#23 Caris LeVert
Class Senior Caris headshot
Major General Studies
Measurements 6’7″, 205
Hometown Pickerington, Ohio
High School Pickerington Central
Position(s) Guard/Wing (2, 3)
Committed May 11, 2012
Fun Fact Nickname is “Baby Durant”
Career Stats
Pts Reb Ast Stl TO Min FG% 3Pt% FT%
2012-13 2.3 1.1 0.8 0.2 0.3 10.8 31.5 30.2 50.0
2013-14 12.9 4.3 2.9 1.2 1.7 34.0 43.9 40.8 76.7
2014-15 14.9 4.9 3.7 1.8 2.2 35.8 42.1 40.5 81.0
Career 9.5 3.2 2.4 1.0 1.3 25.8 41.9 38.9 76.6

Career Highs: Points: 32; Rebounds: 11; Assists: 9; Steals: 4 (three times); Turnovers: 5 (three times); Minutes: 42
Favorite Big Ten Opponent: Wisconsin

Career to Date: Much like classmate Spike Albrecht, Caris LeVert was a very late addition to Michigan’s 2012 recruiting class after the coach he originally signed with, John Groce, left Ohio University for the University of Illinois. Groce wasn’t interested in bringing his former commit to the Big Ten, but his peer, John Beilein, saw something in him and decided to take a flyer on the young, lanky shooter.

In the years that followed, LeVert has made that look like a fabulous decision on his coach’s part. Once a gangly, stick-thin, and off-balance freshman that resembled a bowl of Jell-O more than he did a basketball player, the senior has blossomed into one of the best wings in the country. The Columbus native is an excellent shooter and a deceptive athlete. LeVert is comfortable driving to the rack and finishing or squeaking through two defenders and finding an open teammate for an easy finish. He’s a terrific finisher in the open court and a quiet leader, but also a top NBA prospect that will look to back up his own decision to return to school for one last season in Ann Arbor.

Following a junior year that was already headed down the wrong path and eventually cut short by injury, LeVert will look to bring his team back to the land of the Big Dance – a tournament in which LeVert has already experienced runs to the Championship game and the Elite Eight.

He’s added the requisite weight for a third straight offseason and appears to be fully healthy. Now, the ball is in LeVert’s court – can he seize one last season of opportunity?

Area to Improve: Decision making

I am not accusing Caris LeVert of being a bad decision-maker or a ball hog, but there were times last season when it felt like the then-junior was trying to do a bit too much. He had talent around him in the form of Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin, Spike Albrecht, and company, but often dribbled a bit too much and bore too much of the load before going down with a foot injury. This season, LeVert needs to display a comfort level with deferring to his more-than capable supporting cast – a cast that now not only includes the aforementioned veterans, but also a group of sophomores that got plenty of live action a year ago.

Stat Predictions: 15.0 points (44.5 FG%, 40.5 3-PT%, 83.0 FT%), 5.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.3 steals, in 33 minutes per game

Michigan basketball 2015 season preview: The juniors

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

Irvin-Walton(Melanie Maxwell, The Ann Arbor News)

While we’re in the midst of football season – a season of rebirth and return of the Michigan of old – college basketball is surprisingly just around the corner. Michigan Basketball tips off their own season later this week with a team that is looking to prove that last year’s mediocrity is firmly in the past. As usual, we will begin to preview the season looking at the newest and youngest players first before finishing with the seniors (they exist this year!). Today, let’s take a look at the juniors.

#34 Mark Donnal
Class Junior Mark Donnal headshot
Major Sport Management
Measurements 6’9″, 240
Hometown Monclovia, Ohio
High School Anthony Wayne
Position(s) Center (5)
Committed June 15, 2011
Fun Fact Brother, Andrew, plays football at Iowa
Career Stats
Pts Reb Ast Stl TO Min FG% 3Pt% FT%
2013-14 Redshirt
2014-15 3.4 2.1 0.1 0.6 0.3 10.7 52.2 36.8 71.0
Career 3.4 2.1 0.1 0.6 0.3 10.7 52.2 36.8 71.0

Career Highs: Points: 13; Rebounds: 7; Assists: 1 (four times); Blocks 2: Turnovers: 2; Minutes: 26
Favorite Big Ten Opponent: Ohio State

Career to Date: Mark Donnal has been in Ann Arbor for a couple years already, but we still have a pretty limited idea of just who he is or who he can be after he redshirted his freshman year and saw limited minutes last season backing up both Ricky Doyle and Max Bielfeldt. But we do know that Donnal has potential, as evidenced by his spot in the starting lineup at the beginning of last season after supposedly holding his own in practices during his redshirt year, and another shot at starting in last week’s exhibition game.

Out of high school, Donnal was pegged as an inside-out threat who was just as comfortable knocking down a three-pointer as he was finishing off a post move; in fact, I would argue that his perimeter game was perhaps a bit more advanced than his inside game when he arrived at Michigan. So far, however, it’s clear that John Beilein sees his junior as purely a center, though Donnal has looked relatively shy and unassertive on the court while Doyle has looked more comfortable and stronger in the paint. The outside shot has been there at times, with Donnal shooting a respectable 36.8 percent mark from deep on a small sample, but I’d still like to see more pick-and-pop opportunities moving forward.

This season, it’s critical that Donnal improves his game in all facets, as the loss of Bielfeldt leaves a good deal of available time at the five position. He has built his body up to college size and has the shot to threaten a defense that leaves him open behind the arc, but if his timidity continues on the court, Donnal could certainly see his minutes taken by younger players like D.J. Wilson or possibly Moe Wagner.

It’s certainly too early to write Donnal off completely, but it’s also clear that he must show improvement, and early on. Recently, Donnal’s class listing on the team’s official website was changed from redshirt sophomore to junior, a sign that perhaps a fifth year may not be in order if big changes don’t happen. Beilein has praised Mark Donnal’s strides during the summer, however, and I do believe he will start the first couple of games this year as the coach works to up his confidence level in order to have two solid options down low.

Area to Improve: Confidence

I’m a firm believer in Mark Donnal’s game. He is now big enough to bang in the post with opposing bigs, he’s been a solid rebounder in the paint, he has range out beyond the three-point line, and his athleticism is more than enough to cope. But Donnal has also shown a tendency to shy away from his shot and to be altogether too passive on the floor. If he can boost his confidence level and play with a fire in his game, Mark Donnal could hold down a starting spot for the entire season and play 20 minutes a game. If his confidence woes and passivity continue, however, Donnal may find himself on the bench more often than not. He would also do well to trust his athleticism, his feet, and his positioning on defense in order to avoid a foul rate that has been far too high in his career.

Stat Predictions: 4.5 points (56 FG%, 36 3-PT%, 78 FT%), 2.7 rebounds, .5 blocks, 0.3 assists in 13 minutes per game

#21 Zak Irvin
Class Junior Zak Irvin headshot
Major Sport Management
Measurements 6’6″, 215
Hometown Fishers, Ind.
High School Hamilton Southeastern
Position(s) Guard/Wing (2, 3, 4)
Committed July 31, 2011
Fun Fact High school teammate of former MSU star Gary Harris
Career Stats
Pts Reb Ast Stl TO Min FG% 3Pt% FT%
2013-14 6.7 1.3 0.4 0.2 0.4 15.4 43.4 42.5 71.4
2014-15 14.3 4.8 1.5 1.0 1.5 36.3 40.2 35.5 69.7
Career 10.2 2.9 0.9 0.6 0.9 25.1 41.3 38.3 70.1

Career Highs: Points: 28; Rebounds: 12; Assists: 6; Steals: 3 (three times); Turnovers: 4; Minutes: 49
Favorite Big Ten Opponent: Iowa

Career to Date: Zak Irvin came out of Hamilton Southeastern as the school’s second straight Mr. Basketball winner after Gary Harris, the former Spartan, won the same award at the same school. Many expected Hamilton Southeastern to take a big step back after its star player graduated in 2012, but Zak Irvin was waiting in the wings and stepped up in a big way. Similarly, Irvin was there at the end of last season to pick up the slack left by injured stars Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, posting a string of excellent games to close out an otherwise disappointing season for the team as a whole.

Irvin’s freshman year was a great campaign from a personal standpoint, as he played his sit-in-the-corner-and-shoot role brilliantly with 62 triples in 37 games, but struggled at times being more of a go-to player in his sophomore year. It wasn’t a terrible season by any means, but Irvin couldn’t get his shot going as well as a year before, he was still not the offensive creator many expected him to become, and he often took ill-advised shots when more of the offensive burden fell on his shoulders – that is, until the last six or so games of the season, in which Irvin looked like a completely different player, putting the ball on the floor, finding the open cutter for an easy lay-in, and knocking down his looks from deep. Those last six games saw Irvin at three or more assists each time too, something he only accomplished four times in 63 games prior.

If Irvin can continue on that path – being a dynamic playmaker and distributor as opposed to just being a knockdown sniper – he will be an absolute star and Michigan will be extremely difficult to guard. A more passive Irvin, however, means fewer things to worry about in the scouting report for opposing defenses.

The only hurdle in Irvin’s way now is an off-season back injury that required surgery. The native Hoosier is starting to ease his way back into drills, but he is not at full-go yet and was held out of an open practice and an exhibition game last week. John Beilein has indicated that there’s a chance Irvin suits up and sees the floor during Friday’s season opener against Northern Michigan, but I think it’s more likely that he sits out one more game and gives it a go next Monday before a big game the following Friday versus Xavier.

Area to Improve: Aggression

Irvin has shown that he has it in him to be a triple threat player – shooting, driving, and passing, in order of strength for him – but he needs to show that on a consistent basis. Zak Irvin needs to be a primary concern for every defense the Wolverines go against, not just when he’s the only scoring concern on the floor. The only way to ensure this happens is if Irvin thinks he can be terrific every night on the floor, and backs that optimism up with aggression on the floor.

Stat Predictions: 15.0 points (44.0 FG%, 40.2 3-PT%, 74.0 FT%), 4.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.0 steals, in 30 minutes per game

#10 Derrick Walton Jr.
Class Junior Derrick Walton headshot
Major Sport Management
Measurements 6’1″, 190
Hometown Detroit, Mich.
High School Chandler Park Academy
Position(s) Guard (1)
Committed Nov. 16, 2012
Fun Fact State of Michigan Gatorade Player of the Year (2013)
Career Stats
Pts Reb Ast Stl TO Min FG% 3Pt% FT%
2013-14 7.9 3.0 2.9 0.6 1.5 26.7 42.9 41.0 79.3
2014-15 10.7 4.7 3.0 1.2 1.8 33.3 34.6 35.8 83.3
Career 8.9 3.6 2.9 0.8 1.6 29.0 39.4 38.7 81.2

Career Highs: Points: 22; Rebounds: 10; Assists: 9; Steals: 4; Turnovers: 5; Minutes: 40 (three times)
Favorite Big Ten Opponent: Northwestern

Career to Date: A few years back, John Beilein was on the recruiting trail looking to reel in his next point guard after Trey Burke. On the first day he could offer then-juniors in high school, Beilein offered three prep stars a spot on his team. One, Monte Morris, ended up at Iowa State, where he has blossomed into a dynamic pass-first point guard. Another, Demetrius Jackson, blew up late last season at Notre Dame, nearly leading the Fighting Irish to a historic victory over Kentucky in the Big Dance.

The third, Derrick Walton, was on the same track to stardom at Michigan before a foot injury put a significant dent in his sophomore season just five games in. Walton, while not a superstar as a freshman, was named to the All-Freshman Big Ten team after doing a very good job leading the Wolverines to the Elite Eight, and starting all but one game on the way. He played within his limitations (though not many existed), deferred when it was the right choice, and knocked down threes at an impressive 43 percent rate. Walton’s quickness as a true freshman proved devastating in wins at Michigan State and Ohio State, and his rebounding ability has always stood out for an undersized point guard.

The start of his sophomore season saw Walton building on a successful rookie year, with four of five games in double digits, at least four rebounds in each of the first five games and four assists in two of them, and just four turnovers in those five games as well. Then a late injury struck against Villanova, and Walton’s season started spiraling downhill. He still performed admirably at times, to be sure, but it was painfully obvious that Walton’s foot injury never fully healed, and every aspect of his game was negatively impacted. The quickness and speed that allowed Walton to blow by defenders in the half court and on the fast break was gone, at times making Walton look like he was going in half motion; the burst off the floor for a mid-range jumper or an open layup was sapped; and the pain clearly lingered on with every step and hop. After struggling through the foot injury well into Big Ten play, Walton was finally shut down for the season with 12 games remaining when he injured his other foot from over-compensating for his original injury.

This season, Walton is fully healthy and poised to build on the progress he showed early on last year. If history is any indication, a point guard like Walton should see significant improvements after a freshman year under Beilein, and though his sophomore year was cut short, the true junior now has a great opportunity to make the leap a season later.

Area to Improve: Bounce Back

Walton is perhaps Michigan’s most complete player relative to the position he plays. He’s an excellent passer with good court vision from the point guard spot, he has proven to be a very good spot up shooter, he’s serviceable on defense, and he can certainly run the pick-and-roll game that Beilein covets. Unfortunately, we’ve only seen that on full display during a freshman year in which Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III took much of the offensive spotlight. This season, Walton just needs to bounce back from his injury with great confidence and fill an important role on this offense – one in which he will be asked both to facilitate and to score.

Stat Predictions: 12.5 points (45.0 FG%, 44.1 3-PT%, 87.8 FT%), 4.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.0 steals, in 30 minutes per game

Michigan basketball 2015 season preview: The sophomores

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Sophomores(Melanie Maxwell, Ann Arbor News)

While we’re in the midst of football season – a season of rebirth and return of the Michigan of old – college basketball is surprisingly just around the corner. Michigan Basketball tips off their own season later this week with a team that is looking to prove that last year’s mediocrity is firmly in the past. As usual, we will begin to preview the season looking at the newest and youngest players first before finishing with the seniors (they exist this year!). Starting today, we will take a look at the returning players by class, beginning with those with just one year under their belts.

#12 Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman
Class Sophomore MAAR headshot
Major Undecided
Measurements 6’4″, 185
Hometown Allentown, Pa.
High School Catholic Central
Position(s) Guard (1,2)
Committed April 19, 2014
Fun Fact Dad is coach at Muhlenberg College (D-2)
Career Stats
Pts Reb Ast Stl TO Min FG% 3Pt% FT%
2014-15 4.5 1.7 0.9 0.6 1.0 19.0 41.9 29.3 93.3
Career 4.5 1.7 0.9 0.6 1.0 19.0 41.9 29.3 93.3

Career Highs: Points: 18; Assists: 4; Steals: 3; Rebounds: 8; Turnovers: 4 (twice); Minutes: 47
Favorite Big Ten Opponent: Michigan State

Career to Date: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman was one of a couple recruits in his class that flew under the radar and struggled to generate much college interest before John Beilein swooped in at the last minute with an offer. It’s become somewhat of a Beilein trademark at this point, with the likes of Spike Albrecht, Caris LeVert, Aubrey Dawkins, Stu Douglass, Zack Novak, and others sharing a similar path. And like some of those before him, Rahk (as he’s called by teammates) was asked to take on a much larger role than what might have been expected before the season started with injuries to two of Michigan’s top guards.

For the most part, Rahk acquitted himself in that expanded role. He’s somewhat old for his class at 21 years of age and displays a calm demeanor on the court despite the first name he carries, and Rahk affords some flexibility to the Wolverines backcourt with a skill set that could see him run the point or the off-guard position.

In nearly 20 minutes per game last season – minutes that for the most part did not come until Big Ten season – Rahk showcased great quickness, plus handles, and an aggressive style of man defense that has been missing in many of Beilein’s Wolverine squads. He nearly took down Michigan State single-handedly in East Lansing with a cool 18 points and had a standout defensive performance on future lottery pick DeAngelo Russell of Ohio State in one of the few big victories of last season. This year, Rahk will almost assuredly see his minutes average dip with the return of Derrick Walton and Caris LeVert, but he has a skill set that is unique to this team and could see more time against teams with ultra-athletic and dangerous scoring guards. With his size, Rahk can match up well with a number of different opponents.

Area to Improve: Consistent Shooting

Rahk’s shooting numbers last season were lower than what you like to see out of a rotation player, and he’ll have to improve his shot selection and stroke to truly compete for minutes with Derrick Walton and Spike Albrecht in his path. I do think the poor shooting percentages were largely a product of some early season jitters (Rahk would regularly throw up wild shots in which it didn’t appear that he could see the hoop) and a stroke that needed some refining, but he will need to shoot consistently better this go-round. Beilein has already seemed to work some magic with the sophomore’s long ball form, so I do think Rahkman will have a spot in the rotation – albeit not a huge one.

Stat Predictions: 3.0 points (43 FG%, 34 3-PT%, 85 FT%), 1.5 rebounds, 1 assist, 0.5 steals, in 8 minutes per game

#3 Kameron Chatman
Class Sophomore Chatman headshot
Major Undecided
Measurements 6’8″, 215
Hometown Portland, Ore.
High School Jefferson H.S.
Position(s) Wing (4)
Committed October 1, 2013
Fun Fact Left-handed
Career Stats
Pts Reb Ast Stl TO Min FG% 3Pt% FT%
2014-15 3.6 2.5 0.7 0.4 0.9 15.2 31.8 26.3 67.7
Career 3.6 2.5 0.7 0.4 0.9 15.2 31.8 26.3 67.7

Career Highs: Points: 13; Rebounds: 9; Assists: 3 (twice); Steals: 4; Turnovers: 3; Minutes: 30
Favorite Big Ten Opponent: Rutgers

Career to Date: As a high four-star recruit with prototypical size for the 4 position in John Beilein’s offense, Kameron Chatman immediately graded out as a rotation player during the last offseason in the coaching staff’s eyes. Chatman began the year in the starting lineup playing big minutes, but his production on the court left much to be desired. After injuries created plenty of unexpected available minutes and some fellow sophomores saw their minutes increase seemingly by the game, Chatman found his own playing time shrinking. In fact, the 30 minutes he played in the season opener against Hillsdale ended up being his most of the entire year, and of the nine times Chatman saw at least 20 minutes, five of them were before Big Ten play began.

The biggest flaw in Chatman’s game was his dismal shooting. He was billed as a do-it-all offensive player with an easy left-handed stroke and range out beyond the three-point line along with a smooth finishing ability around the basket. None of that translated to the college game early on for Chatman, however, and with every missed shot seemed to come more frustration and less confidence. By the time the season came to a close, classmates Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins were consistently seeing 30 minutes per game while Chatman was just as likely to see seven minutes as he was 20.

The good news for the tall southpaw is that he’s just a sophomore with plenty of time to prove himself. And he presumably still has all the tools that saw him courted by a number of top programs around the country.

The bad news is that if his game doesn’t take a significant step forward this year, Chatman is likely to be buried even further down the bench with the depth that Michigan figures to have. Beilein has options aplenty at Chatman’s 4-spot, and whoever hits shots and plays solid defense is going to rise to the top.

Luckily, Chatman did seem to be putting things together better later on in the season, displaying some good ball-handling ability, a strong grasp on rebounding, plus passing, and a couple nice finishes around the hoop that evaded him earlier on. Now’s the time for him to start doing that on a consistent basis, and perhaps no one’s future will be as clear based on this season’s breakdown than Chatman.

Area to Improve: Shooting

Beilein’s system is predicated on shooters – or at least the threat of the open guy hitting triples. If you can knock down shots consistently, you’ll probably find your way into the coach’s heart and rotation – and especially so at the four position, where the Wolverines always look to space and stretch the floor. Last year, Chatman simply could not find the bottom of the net often enough to merit big-time minutes. His shooting stroke has apparently improved significantly this offseason, and Chatman’s natural left-handed stroke does play well into the offensive setup, but a couple missed open looks in any game and Chatman will likely be headed to the bench to watch Zak Irvin and company take over.

Stat Predictions: 2.0 points (41 FG%, 31 3-PT%, 70 FT%), 1.2 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.5 steals, in 5 minutes per game

#24 Aubrey Dawkins
Class Sophomore Dawkins headshot
Major Undecided
Measurements 6’6″, 205
Hometown Palo Alto, Calif.
High School New Hampton Prep (N.H.)
Position(s) Guard/Wing (2, 3, 4)
Committed April 28, 2014
Fun Fact Dad is Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins
Career Stats
Pts Reb Ast Stl TO Min FG% 3Pt% FT%
2014-15 7.0 2.1 0.4 0.3 0.6 20.7 47.8 43.8 87.0
Career 7.0 2.1 0.4 0.3 0.6 20.7 47.8 43.8 87.0

Career Highs: Points: 31; Rebounds: 5; Assists: 2 (three times); Steals: 2 (twice); Turnovers: 2 (four times); Minutes: 49
Favorite Big Ten Opponent: Rutgers

Career to Date: A couple years ago, Aubrey Dawkins was playing his final season of prep basketball at New Hampton in New Hampshire while searching for interest from college programs. Much like Abdur-Rahkman, Dawkins simply could not get the calls and offers he was looking for. But unlike Rahk, Dawkins did not play high school in small town Pennsylvania – he played in perhaps the most prestigious prep league in the country for New Hampton and, oh yeah, his dad just so happens to be Johnny Dawkins, a former All-American at Duke and the current head coach at Stanford. And despite a solid shooting stroke and undeniable athleticism, Dawkins was left deciding between Dayton and, well, pretty much no one else.

That is, until once again John Beilein stepped in. Seeing Dawkins’ translatable skills and some room in a roster that just lost Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III to the pros, Beilein reached out late in the recruiting cycle with an offer that didn’t take long for Dawkins to accept.

The offer certainly looks like it was a good idea one year into Dawkins’ Michigan career. Dawkins saw very little playing time in the non-conference season before dropping 20 points on eight shots in the Big Ten opener against Illinois and eventually developing into a starter and an integral piece of the offense. By the end of the year, Dawkins was consistently playing 30-plus minutes every night and proved to be quite capable of filling in for his injured teammates.

Dawkins’ shooting stroke was the primary reason for this – he shot a ridiculous 47.4% from deep during Big Ten play – but his athletic finishing ability was also a positive. In perhaps the highlight play of the season, Spike Albrecht had a half-spin, behind-the-head pass to an open Dawkins, who easily skied for the thunderous dunk.

Now, all signs point to Dawkins maintaining his role in the starting lineup even with a healthy lineup after being pegged by John Beilein as the most improved Wolverine from last year to this year. If that is even close to true, Dawkins is primed for a breakout season that should see plenty more triples and a few sky-high throwdowns as well.

Area to Improve: Versatility

Last season, Dawkins was very much a shooter and a finisher, but he didn’t do much else. Going forward, Dawkins will have to develop a couple other aspects of his game if he’s to reach his astronomical potential. He needs to be able to put the ball on the floor and drive more (which he did a couple times in the exhibition opener), he needs to rebound the ball better given his size and athleticism, he needs to be able to create for others, and he needs to upgrade his defense. If Dawkins can do all those things, he will be an All-Big Ten level player and a future contender to be an All-American. Fortunately, he doesn’t need to put it all together this season, as Michigan has a number of other dynamic creators on the team, but there is definitely room for this sophomore to improve his overall game.

Stat Predictions: 11.0 points (47 FG%, 40 3-PT%, 85 FT%), 4.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals, in 28 minutes per game

#32 Ricky Doyle
Class Sophomore Doyle headshot
Major Undecided
Measurements 6’9″, 250
Hometown Cape Coral, Fla.
High School Bishop Verot
Position(s) Center (5)
Committed March 11, 2013
Fun Fact Used to be a decorated club swimmer
Career Stats
Pts Reb Ast Stl TO Min FG% 3Pt% FT%
2014-15 6.1 3.2 0.3 0.4 0.6 18.2 61.2 0.0 60.9
Career 6.1 3.2 0.3 0.4 0.6 18.2 61.2 0.0 60.9

Career Highs: Points: 16; Rebounds: 9; Assists: 2 (twice); Blocks: 3; Turnovers: 2 (twice); Minutes: 33
Favorite Big Ten Opponent: Indiana

Career to Date: As has happened a few times before, Ricky Doyle committed to Michigan under the belief that he would have a year or two to develop as a backup before taking over a starting job as an upperclassman; that all changed when former center Mitch McGary declared for the NBA Draft following what would have been a full-season suspension levied on him as well as Jon Horford transferring to Florida for his senior season.

Enter Doyle, the big center from a small Bishop Verot team down in the Fort Myers area. A traditional back-to-the-basket type big man, Doyle played about as well as could have been hoped to during his freshman season. He certainly was not an offensive superstar or a defensive standout, but he finished around the basket, boxed out consistently, and battled favorably with some much more experienced and polished centers during a freshman year that pitted Doyle against the likes of Rakeem Christmas, Frank Kaminsky, and A.J. Hammons.

This season, Doyle will be asked to do much of the same. If his finishing ability stays at or near the level it was a year ago and his defense does not make people remember him, Doyle will have done his job. The 6’9 center continues to learn the intricacies of the offense, and though he’s not a threat to shoot from farther than 8-10 feet yet, Doyle does well by not trying to do too much.

With Mark Donnal, D.J. Wilson, and maybe even Moritz Wagner available at the five position, Doyle should be able to give it his all in five minute spurts like last season to put in about 20 minutes per game. He may look to improve his defensive presence by trying to block and alter more shots, and we might see Doyle step out to the elbow to pop a few more jumpers this year (a skill that Mitch McGary proved to be incredibly value in a Final Four win over Syracuse), but a fitter and faster Doyle should do just fine. If he gets his rear into an opposing defender, Doyle can pull out a vast array of low post moves, and a face-up jumper would make him that much more difficult to deal with.

At the end of the year, though, Michigan doesn’t need Doyle to be a star. They need him to be himself.

Area to Improve: Conditioning

Ricky Doyle struggled to play long shifts last season because he simply got winded too fast. He was also prone to losing an opposing offensive player while hedging on occasion and could not always recover. If Doyle can improve his conditioning and quickness, he should be that much harder to deal with on both ends of the floor while being able to play longer spurts of time when needed.

Stat Predictions: 7.5 points (63 FG%, 0.0 3-PT%, 68 FT%), 5.5 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.7 blocks, in 20 minutes per game

Michigan basketball 2015 season preview: D.J. Wilson

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

DJ Wilson(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

While we’re in the midst of football season – a season of rebirth and return of the Michigan of old – college basketball is surprisingly just around the corner. Michigan Basketball tips off their own season next week with a team that is looking to prove that last year’s mediocrity is firmly in the past. As usual, we will begin to preview the season looking at the newest and youngest players first before finishing with the seniors (they exist this year!).

#5 D.J. Wilson
Class Redshirt Freshman DJ Wilson headshot
Major Undecided
Measurements 6’10”, 240
Hometown Sacramento, Calif.
High School Capital Christian School
Position(s) Wing, Center
Committed Oct. 6, 2013
Fun Fact Has a 7’3″ wing span
Career Stats
Pts Reb Ast Stl TO Min FG% 3Pt% FT%
2014-15 0.4 1.2 0 0 0.2 4.8 25.0 0.0 0.0
Career 0.4 1.2 0 0 0.2 4.8 25.0 0.0 0.0

Last year’s preview

Career to Date: D.J. Wilson arrived in Ann Arbor last summer as a mostly unheralded freshman coming off of a back injury that slowed him during his high school years. During some scattered minutes on the floor in Michigan’s first five games, Wilson looked mostly like a clueless freshman on the floor, often running around like a headless chicken.

But there were some flashes of potential. Wilson’s impressive 7-foot-3 wingspan allowed him to get beat once or twice and still recover for a block, while his athleticism and shooting stroke turned some heads in practices and warmups.

Early on, however, Wilson suffered a knee injury that sealed his freshman year fate. If it wasn’t already clear before, the redshirt became imminently obvious within a couple games of Wilson riding the bench. The Sacramento native healed throughout the season and finished the year at full strength, but never saw the floor again after the Wolverine’s nailbiter loss to Villanova on November 25. He’d finish the season learning the offense and balling on the practice squad.

Wilson would go on to spend his summer in Ann Arbor training in the now-fabled Camp Sanderson and packing on muscle to his lanky frame. He reportedly gained nearly 25 pounds while adding a crazy seven inches to his vertical leap – all the more impressive considering Wilson was no slouch athletically, especially for his size.

Now, it’s time to see what the real D.J. Wilson can do. He’s received praise from a number of sources close to the team, including John Beilein himself, for making noticeable strides on the court while improving his body. Wilson was also the standout during an open practice on Monday night, showing off a nice bank shot from the elbow during fast break drills while knocking down a couple long shots and grabbing a few impressive rebounds during 5-on-5 scrimmage; nearly all his minutes came at the wing (4) position, but what stood out most was his comfort level in the flow of the game. Minutes will certainly be difficult to come by in a stacked rotation, but Wilson has the tools to earn them if he puts it all together.

What We Know

1. Wilson is versatile: Ask D.J. Wilson to describe his game, and the first thing he will say is that he likes to provide versatility. I don’t think I could come up with a better word myself. Wilson has a solid body for a big man but skills to thrive on the wing. He is quick enough to guard an opposing four but long and strong enough to pester a big man. His shot can stretch out to three-point land, but Wilson is also a terrific athlete for his size and should develop into a good finisher at the rim. During Monday’s scrimmage, Wilson played almost exclusively at the four position, which could be hugely important as Zak Irvin continues to recover from back surgery and projects to at least be limited for a couple weeks. D.J. didn’t disappoint. He looked confident with his outside shot and rarely hesitated – unlike early on last year – and his size really stood out. Wilson could also see time down low in a pinch, however, giving him a good chance to earn minutes regardless of the starting lineup and early rotation.

2. Oozes Potential: Athleticism can go a long way in basketball. That’s doubly true if you are 6-foot-10 with a head of hair measuring well over 7-foot and arms stretching 7-foot-3 across. That’s what D.J. Wilson is working with. And, oh yeah, he is also comfortable shooting from just about anywhere on the floor. Offensively, we’ve already discussed where Wilson could fit in – either at the four or the five slot – but defensively he could have even more potential. On Monday, Wilson played a few possessions at the top of a 1-3-1 zone. That is a hypothetically devastating change-of-pace defense considering opposing offenses also have five fewer seconds to work with on the shot clock this season. I truly think that D.J. Wilson has one of the highest ceilings on this Michigan team. He’s a gifted player that seems to be just figuring out his game; with Beilein, I think there’s a good chance that Wilson comes close to reaching his potential as a killer inside-out threat on offense and a shot-blocking/turnover-creating mad man on defense.

What We Don’t Know

1. So he has potential. Can he reach it? I keep using that word – potential. D.J. Wilson has a lot of it, but at this point, that’s about all he has too. Outside of one short practice open to the public, there are still plenty of questions concerning the redshirt freshman’s ability to fine-tune his play. Those concerns have to be exacerbated a bit considering just how lost Wilson looked on both ends of the floor early last year, but one would think a year of watching and learning will help him get acclimated on the floor and develop chemistry with his teammates. Still, in the end, Wilson needs to turn that potential into results.

2. Can he carve out a niche? Wilson will have opportunities to earn minutes, especially early on this season while Zak Irvin (and to a lesser extent as regards to its impact on Wilson’s minutes, Spike Albrecht) recovers from an offseason injury, but will he be able to seize them and carve out a reliable spot in the rotation? Based off his spot on the first team in Monday’s open practice, Wilson seems to be on the right track, but there is no shortage of talent on this roster and no lack of guys fighting for the same minutes. Wilson could even find himself in the starting lineup at the four if Irvin is not back yet (which seems pretty likely at this time). Kam Chatman, Duncan Robinson, and Moritz Wagner will also be vying for those minutes, however, and Beilein will be sure to experiment plenty while figuring out his best lineups and rotations throughout November. If Wilson slips up a couple times on the wing, those teammates will be happy to eat up the extra minutes. Luckily, Wilson’s versatility should give him a chance to earn minutes at the five as well, but Ricky Doyle and Mark Donnal figure to feature prominently there too.

Burning Question: Has Wilson started to put the complete package together?

The athleticism has always been there, the size is now there, and the shooting and rebounding should be there too, but are the intangibles in place for Wilson to feature as a significant piece this season? It would be impressive to say the least for the once-lost freshman to earn a solid spot in the rotation in his second freshman season, and all signs point to that being a good possibility.

Favorite Big Ten Opponent: N/A

The Last Word: I was very high on Wilson’s game coming out of high school, and though maybe that wasn’t completely wrong, I was clearly off in my prediction that he would be a key piece as a true freshman. Somewhat luckily for my miserable guesses, however, Wilson really didn’t get the chance to fully showcase himself in a shortened year. I’m high on him again this year too, though, and think that D.J. Wilson’s court awareness should begin to match his burgeoning toolkit this season under John Beilein, Jeff Meyer, and Bacari Alexander. I think Wilson will earn a spot in the rotation backing up the four (and I will officially predict that he starts the season opener) even after Irvin’s full return while also seeing spot minutes at center. Wilson just has too many skills to keep off the floor entirely, and I think we’ll see plenty more flashes this go-round mixed in with a handful of head scratchers. Overall, Wilson will be solid – and as Marshawn Lynch knows, that’s a good thing.

Stat Predictions: 5.0 points (50.0 FG%, 35 3-PT%, 70 FT%), 3.0 rebounds, .5 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks in 11 minutes per game.

Michigan basketball 2015 season preview: Duncan Robinson

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

Duncan Robinson(Katie McLean, Ann Arbor News)

While we’re in the midst of football season – a season of rebirth and return of the Michigan of old – college basketball is surprisingly just around the corner. Michigan basketball tips off their own season in two weeks with a team that is looking to prove that last year’s mediocrity is firmly in the past. As usual, we will begin to preview the season looking at the newest and youngest players first before finishing with the seniors (they exist this year!).

#22 Duncan Robinson
Measurements 6’8″, 210 Duncan Robinson headshot
Hometown New Castle, N.H.
High School Phillips Exeter (Williams College)
Stats (2013-14) 17.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 55.7% FG, 45.6% 3pt., 87.8% FT, 1.8 assists, 1.2 blocks, and 1.1 steals in 34.7 minutes per game
AAU Middlesex Magic
Projected Position(s) Forward (Wing)
Committed August 6, 2014
Major Suitors N/A
Chance of Redshirt N/A (already redshirted)
Recruiting Rankings
Rivals N/A
247 N/A
Scout N/A
247 Composite N/A

Background: It’s quite the interesting haul of newcomers that the Michigan Wolverines will be rolling out this year. We’ve already discussed the lone true freshman, Moritz Wagner, on the team this season, who John Beilein lured from a pro career in Germany. The other new name for fans to get accustomed to is Duncan Robinson.

You’ll most likely already recognize Robinson’s face and lanky stature – he has been in Ann Arbor for a full season adhering to the NCAA’s transfer rules – but he was probably the guy sitting on the bench sporting warmups or a shirt and tie that you assumed was a student manager or graduate assistant. This season, Robinson will reveal his true position by wearing a different outfit – an outfit that includes a number.

Duncan Robinson is not the love child of the former Twin Towers duo in San Antonio from the late 90s to early 2000s. He’s a former Division III basketball standout and renowned shooter at tiny Williams College in Williamstown, MA under former John Beilein assistant Mike Maker who found his way to Ann Arbor after earning national Freshman of the Year honors.

Division I head coaches, who almost unanimously passed on Robinson out of prestigious Phillips Exeter, all of a sudden came calling after Maker took the head coaching job at Marist College.

Beilein, always on the prowl for dead-eye shooters at any level, was one of those coaches who came calling. A few conversations between future coach and player and a campus visit later, and the match was too good to pass up. After tearing up the lower levels for a year, Duncan Robinson thought it was time to explore big time college basketball and committed to Michigan on August 6, 2014.

Now, the time has come to make the unlikely and unusual jump official. When the Wolverines tip off the season in early November, Robinson will be suited up – this time in a uniform – and ready to play.


What He Will Provide

Shooting, Shooting, and more Shooting: There’s not a whole lot of mystery or surprise in Duncan Robinson’s game – he’s projected to be mostly Just a Shooter in the Big Ten. And that’s not a bad thing, especially when John Beilein is on the bench. Zak Irvin did little more than shoot the deep ball his freshman year, Nik Stauskas had some variety to his game but was deadliest from three his first season, and Michigan cornerstones Stu Douglass and Zack Novak were also proficient shooters who rarely created their own offense; each of these players had significant positive impacts on the basketball program, and Robinson has a chance to do the same. Duncan Robinson has reportedly broken a number of Stauskas’s shooting records from practice and is being encouraged by Beilein and staff to hunt for shots rather than to hesitate when he has at least one eye on the basket and his hands on the ball. Luckily for this team, shooting is one of those skills that translates as well as anything on the basketball court. A great quarterback or a great power forward at a lower level school could struggle mightily in making a jump like this, but Robinson has the size and the jumper to provide value. On the same note, however, if Robinson ever goes cold for an extended period of time, his minutes will likely dry up – and fast.

Microwave Depth: Stop me if you’re heard this already – Michigan has a very deep team this season. After going through a number of years in which barely seven players were viable options to get minutes and a season last year in which two walk-ons saw meaningful time together on the floor, the Wolverines have a bevy of options across all five positions. Robinson should provide some versatility in his role of bringing instant shooting off the bench, something that other back-up candidates at the four position – Kam Chatman, D.J. Wilson, and Mo Wagner – aren’t as proficient in. If Michigan trails big in any game or needs a big three at the end of a contest, Robinson would likely be asked to at least stand in as a viable option to knock it down from deep. In this offense, anyone that can come in cold and heat up instantly will see some minutes.

What He Will Have to Work On

Defense: By all means, defense seems like the most likely thing to keep Robinson off the floor. While the height of the rim and the size of the ball don’t change from DIII to DI, the talent level of opposing players changes greatly. Duncan Robinson seems like an able enough athlete with decent size and a good wingspan, but his quickness is not seen as a strong suit at this time. And while Robinson has beefed up a bit while attending Camp Sanderson over the past year, he will likely get pushed around on occasion by bigger, stronger, and more athletic fours. If his defense leaves quite a bit to be desired, the newcomer will likely spend a majority of his time on the bench yet again this season.

Creating Offense: I know, I know…I’ve already said that Duncan Robinson is expected to be little more than a catch-and-shoot type player at this level. And I stand by that. But to reach his peak potential, Robinson will eventually have to diversify his game a bit. We saw Nik Stauskas go from great shooter to great all-around offensive threat, and Zak Irvin seems to be on a similar path in this offense. Robinson would be wise to work on other parts of his game other than making it rain with his eyes closed. He needs to be able to confidently put the ball on the floor to utilize the shot fake that Beilein preaches about, and Robinson probably needs to at least be competent running the pick-and-roll and passing the ball if he’s to reach All-Conference levels. Another thing to pay attention to is Robinson’s ability to get his shot off. His stroke is clean and quick, but he admitted last offseason that he definitely noticed the increased difficulty in pulling the trigger against more athletic competition. If his shot is getting consistently blocked or altered, Robinson could be in trouble.

Burning Question: How many minutes can Duncan Robinson earn this season

Duncan Robinson has a pretty obvious role on this team. With seasoned players like Derrick Walton, Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin, and Spike Albrecht all returning and all capable of creating offense, Michigan doesn’t need another bona fide playmaker, and Robinson could provide valuable minutes off the bench if he maintains his reputation as a consistent knock-down shooter. But poor defense and rebounding could really hinder his ability to see the floor. There is no shortage of options across the board, and particularly at the 3 and 4 spots that I could see Robinson getting any time at, so if he shows significant weaknesses or simply can’t handle the ball at all, he’ll be replaceable.

Stat Predictions: 1.8 points, 1 rebound, .8 assists, .5 steals in 5 minutes per game

Bottom Line: Duncan Robinson provides a skill set that John Beilein loves, but I think he’s a year away from competing for significant minutes at Michigan. The step up in competition should be eased by his year of practice, but Robinson is just not big or strong enough yet to compete defensively, and the bevy of players available will make it very difficult to carve out 15-20 minutes a game. Of all the players on the team, Robinson perhaps has the biggest range of outcomes. I think his ceiling would be at the level of a senior Jon Diebler – a terrific shooter with just enough offensive diversity to scare his defender – while Robinson’s floor is at the level of Matt Vogrich – by all means a terrific practice shooter but a guy who never really got it going in games.

Head full of doubt, road full of promise: Michigan preview 2015

Monday, August 31st, 2015

Harbaugh(Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

With tremendous excitement surrounding the Michigan football program I felt it was fitting to spice up this year’s season preview. So instead of a simple paragraph and score prediction for each game, I’m pairing each game with an Avett Brothers song. In my opinion, they’re the best band out there right now, and certainly one of the most talented.

Growing up in the Midwest, it was hard to find someone that didn’t like country music, but that was me. Even now, I don’t. But while Barnes & Noble sells the Avett Brothers’ albums in the country section, they’re so much more than that. Their Americana blend of bluegrass, country, punk, folk, rock, and ragtime creates a unique sound the keeps getting better, even while every other band on the planet is beating banjos to death.

Sure, the Avett Brothers have nothing to do with Michigan, but they will visit Ann Arbor on Nov. 6 to perform at the Hill Auditorium. Since we’re fans of their music, Sam and I paired an Avett Brothers song with each game on Michigan’s schedule.

Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise

There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light
In the fine print they tell me what’s wrong and what’s right
And it comes in black and it comes in white
And I’m frightened by those who don’t see it 

When nothing is owed, deserved or expected
And your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected
If you’re loved by someone you’re never rejected
Decide what to be and go be it

There was a dream
And one day I could see it
Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it
And there was a kid, with a head full of doubt
So I’ll scream till I die or the last of those bad thoughts are finally out

Heading into the 2015 season we get a perfect dichotomy of doubt and promise. Michigan fans are battered and bruised after the last seven years, most recently a 5-7 season that had one of the worst offenses in program history. That offensive ineptitude — which spans the past two seasons –leaves us weary of getting our hopes up. We’ve heard it before. Brady Hoke would walk from San Diego to Ann Arbor if he had to to turn things around. Doug Nussmeier would be a huge upgrade from Al Borges.

But on the other hand, Harbaugh does, in fact, bring with him a track record of program turnarounds, and while most don’t expect a championship overnight, we can finally start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Promise abounds with a roster full of talent just waiting to be developed.

On Thursday, senior guard Kyle Kalis shed light on that notion:

“We’re definitely grasping more of how to play the offensive line, technique, footwork, stuff that we never would really practice or have a knowledge of before,” Kalis said. “Coach Harbaugh is awesome, and the way coach (Drevno) coaches us, it’s just working. We’ve had days where we’re rolling guys 10 yards off the ball, and that never happened before. It’s not that we couldn’t do it, it’s just we didn’t know how to do it.”

But how soon will it pay off? It all starts on Thursday in Utah.

Week 1 at Utah The Strangest Thing

The strangest thing that came to me was last night in my sleep
I dreamt you never left
I looked up to thank the moon
And saw a set of lights
A set of red tail lights

I said to myself
I thought that I would never change
but when I woke that night
the strangest thing had come to me, I finally was awake
I slept for seven years

What happened back there?
Nothing has gone like we planned
All of our dreams, they have fell by the way
The true love I once had is dead

And forever our song we will sing

What a strange journey the last seven years have been. Nothing has gone like we planned. Rich Rodriguez was brought in to modernize Michigan football, but after three years we realized a complete rehaul was never needed. Perhaps a tuneup could have sufficed. Brady Hoke came in to bring us back, but four years later, we’re still looking up at Columbus.

Jim Harbaugh’s return to Ann Arbor still feels like a dream to many of us. He’s been dubbed the prodigal son, the savior of Michigan football, but as his first game approaches it’s starting to feel like the Michigan football of old never left.

What happened those last seven years? The love we all shared is dead. But we haven’t stopped singing The Victors.

While all signs point to Harbaugh turning things around, he’s only had a month to work with them so far, so there will surely be growing pains. Unfortunately, Utah is a competent team to face in an opener, especially on the road in an elevation Michigan players aren’t accustomed to. Sure, the Utes lost both coordinators this offseason, but they still have head coach Kyle Whittingham and they return quarterback Travis Wilson and a good running back in Devantae Booker. The defense will still be solid even with a 72-year-old coordinator whose last coordinator job was with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2001-02. Too many questions abound for Michigan on the road.

Utah 26 – Michigan 23

Week 2 vs Oregon State Backwards with Time

Folk always told me that my heart would grow
The older the man, yeah, the stronger the stone
Am I losing my mind?
Am I growing backwards with time?

Some say with age that a purpose becomes clear
I see the opposite happening here
Are we losing the fight?
Are we growing backwards with time?

The last time Harbaugh graced Michigan Stadium in a real game the Wolverines lost to Minnesota. But a week later he led Michigan to a 26-24 win over seventh-ranked Ohio State to capture a share of the Big Ten title. Now, 29 years later, he makes his return to the Big House an older man, leading the team he once captained. It’s almost unheard of in major college football for a former star return to his Alma mater as head coach. But when the team hits the field on Sept. 12 Harbaugh will receive a heroes welcome.

Oregon State is headed for a rebuilding year after losing the school’s and Pac-12’s all-time career passing leader, Sean Mannion. Storm Woods is a good running back that will benefit from offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin’s run-heavy system, but the OSU defense returns just two starters from last season. Harbaugh will pick up his first win in the Big House since Nov. 1, 1986.

Michigan 35 – Oregon State 17

Week 3 vs UNLV Will You Return?

I open my door and here’s what occurs
A pretty little gal with pretty little curls
Leans to the side, leans on my mind

I don’t want to live, but I sure don’t want to die
I’m stuttering again and tellin’ her goodbye
Oh m-m-my, goodb-b-bye

Will you come again? It’s hard to say
I surely hope so
Will you come again? It’s hard to say
I surely hope so

The only cupcake on Michigan’s schedule this season is UNLV. Sorry, Rebels, I’m not sending you a box of cupcakes. UNLV went 2-10 last season with wins over FCS Northern Colorado (13-12) and Fresno State by a field goal in overtime. That’s how close they were to a goose egg.

Flashy local high school coach Tony Sanchez was brought in to resurrect the program, and although he doesn’t have pretty little curls, he has a lot of work to do to bring the Rebels up to a competitive level. Michigan will breeze through this game as Harbaugh will look to send a message to the rest of the Big Ten that he’s not here to mess around. Michigan will then beg UNLV to come again, as they provide a bit sexier of a cupcake matchup than the traditional September yawners against Eastern, Western, and Central Michigan.

Michigan 56 – UNLV 13

Week 4 vs BYU – Please Pardon Yourself

How do I know when it’s time to stop?
Runnin’ from the things I do, being things I’m not
Oh I have tried, but I just changed my mind
Every night that falls, every morning light

How do I know that you will never stop?
Knowin’ me, and trustin’ me, and loving’ me a lot
Oh I have tried, but I just changed my mind
Every night that falls, every morning light

When Lloyd Carr retired, Michigan tried to be something it’s not. They brought in an offensive coach with a flashy style to completely change the program. But when that didn’t pan out, they brought in Brady Hoke to transition back to who they used to be. And when that transition didn’t work, Harbaugh was hired to bring them fully back to the teams of Bo, Moeller, and Carr.

But while the Michigan of old is what fans long for, the one thing it could never seem to stop was a mobile quarterback, and that’s exactly what BYU will bring to town on Sept. 26.  Before Taysom Hill suffered a season-ending leg injury in the fourth game of 2014, he averaged 219 passing yards per game with a 66 percent completion rate and 107 rushing yards per game with 13 total touchdowns. He runs the similar zone read offense as what Rodriguez had success with in 2010 with Denard Robinson. But he’ll have to do it without three-year starting running back Jamal Williams, who will miss the season for personal reasons.

Four games into the season, and coming off of big wins against Oregon State and UNLV, Harbaugh will have the Wolverines gaining confidence each week. The defense isn’t what we’re worried about, and with experience coaching mobile quarterbacks, Harbaugh will find a way to slow down Hill, leading to a close Michigan win.

Michigan 23 – BYU 20

Week 5 at Maryland The Perfect Space

Okay part two now clear the house
The party’s over take the shouting and the people,
get out!

I have some business and a promise that I have to hold to
I do not care what you assume or what the people told you
Will you understand, when I’m too old of a man?
Will you forget when we’ve paid our debts,
who did we borrow from? Who did we borrow from?

I wanna have pride like my mother has,
And not like the kind in the bible that turns you bad
And I wanna have friends that I can trust
that love me for the man I’ve become and not the man that I was.

Part one of Michigan-Maryland was an embarrassment to the Maize and Blue, making a winning record nearly impossible last season and giving the Big Ten newcomers the first bragging rights. Part two should be less embarrassing as Maryland returns the lowest production from last season in the entire conference. Only 29 percent of last season’s total offense, 36 percent of last season’s touchdowns, and 44 percent of last season’s total defense.  That certainly doesn’t guarantee a victory for Michigan, but in the conference opener, Harbaugh’s squad will show the Terps they’re not the same team as last year.

Michigan 33 – Maryland 17

Week 6 vs Northwestern I Wish I Was

I wish I was a flame dancing in a candle
Lighting up your living room high on the mantle
I could bring some romance without any scandal
And then when you were done you’d just put me out

I wish I was a tune you sang in your kitchen
Putting your groceries away and washing your dishes
I could roll around your tongue and ease the tension
And then when you were done you’d just quiet down

The last three meetings between Michigan and Northwestern have been nothing but torture for Northwestern coaches, players, and fans alike. In 2012, Roy Roundtree made a circus catch on a Devin Gardner hail Mary to set up a game-tying field goal in the closing seconds. Michigan won in overtime. In 2013, Michigan strung together the most improbable of final-second field goals, featuring a Drew Dileo slide-into-place hold. Michigan again won in overtime. Last season, Michigan won an ugly 10-9 affair that no one wants to relive. Michigan holds a 56-15-2 all-time record against the Wildcats, including wins in four of the last five during the last seven years. In other words, Northwestern wishes they were Michigan.

This season, Northwestern figures to be a middle of the pack Big Ten squad, breaking in a new quarterback — redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson — and hoping for a winning record. Michigan will be coming off of a convincing road win to open Big Ten play and continue that momentum with another convincing win, this time not taking it right down to the wire.

Michigan 31 – Northwestern 15

Week 7 vs Michigan State Murder in the City

I wonder which brother is better
Which one our parents loved the most
I sure did get in lots of trouble
They seemed to let the other go
A tear fell from my father’s eye
I wondered what my dad would say
He said, “I love you and I’m proud of you both,
In so many different ways”

If I get murdered in the city
Go read the letter in my desk
Don’t bother with all my belongings
Pay attention to the list
Make sure my sister knows I love her
Make sure my mother knows the same
Always remember there was nothing worth sharing
Like the love that let us share our name

Michigan State has benefited more than anyone from Michigan’s downturn the past seven years, and if you ask those in East Lansing, they’ve replaced Michigan as the state’s top program. They’ve mastered the art of using manufactured controversies as motivation, ever since the Little Brother comment during Lloyd Carr’s final season, and have won six of the past seven meetings since then.

Whichever way they want to spin it, they have a long way to go before they catch up to Michigan in the family pecking order, but the upper hand may continue for another season. Connor Cook figures to be one of the top two quarterbacks in the conference, and possibly the first one taken in next year’s NLF draft, and while the Spartans have to replace running back Jeremy Langford and their top two receivers, they do return the third-most defensive production in the Big Ten. That spells trouble for Michigan’s still improving offense. Expect a defensive battle in this one with Michigan State pulling out a close one.

Michigan State 20 – Michigan 16

Week 8 at Minnesota – The Greatest Sum

This and who I used to be
don’t matter much at all to me
The pit you dug to plant your feet’s
a far cry from my destiny
Not even the clouds
Not even the past
Not even the hands of God
could hold me back from you

Dark and lonely is the ride
the devil always by my side
Though no match for what lies between
a thought of you, your trust for me
Not even the sun
a bullet from a gun
No nothing that this world could bring
Or anything someone could do
Could hold me back from you

What was lost in the Shane Morris concussion aftermath of the game that sealed Brady Hoke’s fate last seasonwas the loss of Michigan’s most beloved rivalry trophy to the Gophers. The Little Brown Jug has resided in Ann Arbor 76 of the 101 years it has been in use, including 30 of the last 33 years. Michigan even managed to hold onto it during Rich Rodriguez’s 3-9 season in 2008 and the first three years of the Hoke regime. But a 30-14 loss last season allowed allowed Minnesota to regain control.

Minnesota was one of the Big Ten’s surprise teams last season, going 8-5 overall and 5-3 in the conference, and aims to prove this year that it wasn’t just a fluke. With 54 percent of its total offense and offensive touchdowns back and 62 percent of its defensive production, the Gophers still figure to be a formidable foe. And Michigan has to travel to Minneapolis to get its beloved jug back. Coming off a loss to Michigan State, Michigan won’t let anything stop it from taking it back.

Michigan 30 – Minnesota 21

Week 9 vs Rutgers Talk on Indolence

Well I’ve been locking’ myself up in my house for sometime now
Readin’ and writin’ and readin’ and thinkin’
and searching for reasons and missing the seasons
The Autumn, the summer, the spring, the snow
the record will stop and the record will go
Latches latched, the windows down, 
the dog coming in and the dog going out
Up with caffeine and down with a shot
Constantly worried about what I’ve got
Distracting my work but I can’t make it stop
and my confidence on and my confidence off
And I sink to the bottom and I rise to the top
and I think to myself that I do this a lot
World outside just goes it goes it goes it goes it goes it goes…
and witnesses it all from the blinds of my window

I’m a little nervous ’bout what you’ll think
When you see me in my swimming trunks
And last night in New York I got raging drunk
Remember one time I got raging drunk with you

Last season was full of disappointment, but the loss at Rutgers may have been the one that drove us to drinking. A week after the Minnesota loss and ensuing concussion debacle, Michigan visited Rutgers for the first time in school history looking for a win to at least somewhat ease the pain. Instead, Michigan’s defense made quarterback Gary Nova look like Tom Brady and the Wolverines suffered a third straight defeat, dropping to 0-2 in Big Ten play for the first time since 1967.

When Rutgers comes to Ann Arbor on Nov. 7 for the first time ever, Michigan will need a win to keep its claim of not having a losing record against any Big Ten foe. Nova is gone, but Rutgers returns its entire running game and the Big Ten’s leading returning receiver. The defense has some experience up front but has to replace three starters in the secondary. Rutgers is looking at a potential step back from last year’s surprising 8-5 finish. If Michigan loses to Rutgers again, we’ll be getting raging drunk with you. But it won’t happen.

Michigan 38 – Rutgers 17

Week 10 at Indiana Love Like the Movies

Now in the movies they make it look so perfect
and in the background they’re always playing the right song
And at the ending there’s always a resolution
But real life is more than two hours long

So you want to be in love like the movies
But in the movies they’re not in love at all
And with a twinkle in their eyes
They’re just saying their lines
So we can’t be in love like the movies

Indiana wants football like the movies where Hoosiers can win state titles or walk-on Rudys get carried off the field to a crowd chanting their name. If football were like the movies, perhaps Indiana have more than one winning season in the last 20 years or more than one win over Michigan since 1968. But alas, it’s not and Indiana is destined for another Big Ten cellar-dwelling season.

Quarterback Nate Sudfeld is the one bright spot, returning from an injury. But running back Tevin Coleman is gone along with his 2,062 yards and 15 touchdowns. The leading returning rusher is backup quarterback Zander Diamont, who filled in for Sudfeld when he went down. Most of the receiving corps is also gone, leaving Sudfeld with a bevy of unproven receivers to throw to. The Indiana defense returns the second lowest production in the Big Ten (53 percent) from a unit that couldn’t stop anybody last year.

Sorry Indiana, this isn’t a movie. Behind UVLV, this is the closest thing to a sure bet for Michigan.

Michigan 52 – Indiana 13

Week 11 at Penn State – I Never Knew You

Well I guess it’s kind of funny how
I loved you so way back when
You say I wouldn’t know you now
Well I didn’t even know you then

We change a lot
And no one here can stop
That train before
It gets to where it’s going 
At all

Well I guess it’s kind of funny how
I loved you so way back when
You say I wouldn’t know you now
Well I didn’t even know you then

I heard about the company you’re keeping
And for someone who didn’t have much interest
In keeping us apart

For four decades Michigan and Penn State were known commodities. Stable, historic, winning programs. But now they’re hard to recognize. Michigan is on its third coach since 2008 and Penn State is on its second since 2012. Until 2008, Michigan dominated the series, winning nine in a row from 1997 to 2007. But Penn State captured four in a row before Michigan won 18-13 last fall.

This year’s meeting is in State College where Michigan has lost the last three trips. Penn State brings back the second-most offensive production (81 percent) and touchdowns (64 percent) in the Big Ten, most notably quarterback Christian Hackenberg who has been plagued by poor offensive line play the past two seasons. If that improves, Penn State will have a much improved offense. The defense should be among the Big Ten’s best, despite losing the Big Ten’s leading tackler, Mike Hull.

By this time in the season, Michigan should be much tougher than it was when the season started, but a road game in November the week before Ohio State spells loss for the Wolverines.

Penn State 26 – Michigan 23

Week 12 vs Ohio State Vanity

I’ve got something to say
But it’s all vanity, it’s all vanity
I found a tune I could play
But it’s all vanity, it’s all vanity

Call off the guards
Call off the search
Their heads are chopped off
They’re running in circles
They’re running in circles

While Michigan State has been the biggest beneficiary of Michigan’s downturn the past seven years, Ohio State is a close second. A national championship last season and wins in nine of the last 10 meetings have left the Buckeyes full of conceit. Seriously, is there a more vain fan base out there? They still worship the coach that put them on probation and the saddest part of all is that, despite a one-year falloff, it worked to their benefit. They got an even better coach.

Unfortunately, not much is going to change this season as they enter as the unanimous No. 1 team in the nation and favorite to win the Big Ten. They return the most offensive production (88 percent) and touchdowns (83 percent) and defensive production (74 percent) in the conference. The only good news is that they have to come to Ann Arbor, but they’ve won four of the last five in the Big House.

J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones are as good as any quarterbacks in the conference and Braxton Miller transitions his talent to receiver. Running back Ezekiel Elliott is a Heisman Trophy favorite and the defense is full of talent and playmakers. Unless Michigan’s offense is light years better than it’s expected to be, Michigan doesn’t have much of a shot in this one. But that’s why they play the games.

Ohio State 38 – Michigan 24

M&GB season preview roundtable 2015

Friday, August 28th, 2015

Harbaugh Michigan(Getty Images)

The last Friday before the first game week is traditionally when we put forth our season previews in roundtable form. That day has come and it’s time to put our predictions in ink. We won’t fully revisit last season’s predictions because, well, why would anyone want to? But our record predictions ranged from 8-4 to 10-2 and we all know how that went. Here’s to hoping this year is a bit more accurate.

What are you most excited about this season?

Justin: Of course the main source of excitement entering this season is Jim Harbaugh. He has nearly made Michigan fans forget about a 5-7 season and turned what would have been a long, painful offseason into the most exciting in recent memory. But what I’m most excited about this season is seeing a well-coached team play up to its full potential.

One of the areas Brady Hoke succeeded was recruiting, and although he missed on several big targets during his four years, he left the team well stocked in terms of talent. He just had trouble developing that talent to its potential. That’s an area Harbaugh has always excelled at, from San Diego to Stanford to San Francisco. I don’t expect a Big Ten title this year, but I do expect to see a well-prepared team that gets better as the season goes along, which will be a nice change of pace from the last seven years.

Derick: It looks like it’s a full go for the former five-star after an injury-riddled freshman campaign, and his move to safety, along with possible snaps on offense and returning kicks, should give us our first full look at what he can do. If he plays to his ceiling, Peppers could be the best player on both sides of the ball for Michigan this season.

Sam: I’m sure everyone can summarize their excitement in one word: Harbaugh. It’s still yet to hit a lot of Michigan fans, including this one, that one of the premier football coaches at any level of the game is now in Ann Arbor, and it will be a site to behold when Harbaugh joins the team running onto the field at Rice-Eccles Stadium. After four years of relative incompetency on the sidelines, the Wolverines will be well-coached, well-prepared, and hungry.

Josh: Competent coaching. I liked Brady Hoke but as time went on it became very clear that he and his staff were way in over their heads and just not cut out for big time college football. Harbaugh and his staff all have high level college and/or NFL experience and a proven track record. If Harbaugh’s past stops are any indication, and I think they are, we won’t be complaining about lack of development or lackluster play-calling. This staff will identify, develop and place their players in the best position available to succeed.

What worries you the most entering this season?

Justin: The non-conference schedule worries me most. Not Oregon State or UNLV, but the opener at Utah and then the fourth game against BYU. Both are very good opponents that could beat Michigan, and those two games will go a long way toward the success of this season. I expect Michigan to gain strength as the season progresses, but no one really knows what to expect next Thursday. So many questions abound offensively, most notably at quarterback. If Michigan can survive Utah and BYU, a very good season awaits. But lose both of those and they’ll have to pull off an upset to get to seven or eight wins.

Derick: The passing game. With the questions at quarterback and the glaring lack of a dominant receiver, Michigan’s passing game could be in for another ugly year. Either Jake Ruddock or Shane Morris will take the reins, and though they can’t be worse than Devin Gardner was last season, there are only a few reliable targets to throw to. Jake Butt will have to finally put together a complete season, and Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson will have to make plays downfield.

Sam: There are questions all over the offensive side of the ball, which is certainly not a good sign after Michigan struggled to move the ball in recent seasons, but I think Jake Rudock and the offensive line will be solid enough considering the perceived strength of the defense. What worries me most, however, is the schedule. The season opener will be a battle in a hostile stadium in Salt Lake City, BYU always seems to have a great offense, Michigan State and Ohio State figure to be strong yet again, and Minnesota and Penn State are on the rise and should prove to be formidable road tests.

Josh: I’m still very worried about the offense in general. While we can all assume Rudock is the QB the fact remains that there are no proven game changing play-makers on this roster. What we’ve seen from De’veon Smith and Derrick Green doesn’t exactly instill confidence, maybe Ty Isaac steps up but reports out of camp don’t seem promising. If Drake Johnson was 100 percent I’d feel much better, as he was the only running back that has shown enough to think he could be the No. 1 guy.

At receiver we have two guys with experience, and neither have really lit it up. Maybe Drake Harris or Brian Cole or Grant Perry step up, but they are all unknowns at this point and that is the problem. There is potential on this offense but no one has shown they are the man yet. Until a couple of them prove that this offense could be very pedestrian and unlikely to have the firepower to keep up with higher scoring teams.
Who will be the breakout player on offense this season?

Justin: While I think Jake Butt will have a huge season in Harbaugh’s offense, I see him as an already proven commodity and not worthy of breakout player consideration. That said, Drake Harris has to be the obvious choice here as the preseason hype continues to build. Michigan has lacked a game-changer at receiver the past couple of seasons, and Amara Darbor and Jehu Chesson are running out of time to step up. Harris missed his senior season at Grand Rapids Christian and then a hamstring injury kept him out of his freshman season a year ago. Provided he can stay healthy, he has the size — 6-foot-4, 174 pounds — and talent — he caught 91 passes for 2,015 yards as a junior — to be a star in the Maize and Blue.

Derick: I look for Jake Butt to break out as Michigan’s most reliable target over the middle this season. He should finally have a more accurate quarterback to get him the ball this season, and he’s playing for Jim Harbaugh, who pumps out NFL-caliber tight ends like an assembly line. Butt has had his moments over the past two seasons, but he’s never even put up 250 yards in a year. I think that’ll change in 2015.

Sam: After nearly two full years off the field, Drake Harris seems to finally be healthy and right in the mix at the wide receiver spot. Harris, a redshirt freshman from Grand Rapids, has all the physical tools and a full set of skills to be an excellent downfield threat or move-the-chains type of pass catcher. If his hamstring holds up and his blazing speed is still there, I think he could potentially emerge as the number one threat at a position of need for Harbaugh’s offense.

Josh: Jake Butt. We all know Harbaugh loves the tight end and now that Jake Butt is healthy he should be in for a monster year. Unlike Devin Funchess, Butt is a decent blocker so he can be lined up on the line, and has the athleticism to line up on the outside, in the slot or maybe in the backfield. Harbaugh and Co. are going to have a field day with Butt. Couple that with Rudock’s reputation, fair or not, for taking the safe, easy throw and Butt is primed for a huge season. I would be shocked if he didn’t lead the team in receptions and receiving touchdowns.

Who will be the breakout player on defense this season?

Justin: Last year’s pick, Jourdan Lewis, enjoyed a successful season as the team’s best defensive back and is poised for an even better season this fall. But how can I pick anyone other than Jabrill Peppers? We had to wait a full year for this, since he only made it a couple of games last fall. But now, with a full year in the program and a coaching staff that will allow him to thrive — potentially in all three phases of the game — his time has come.

Derick: Jourdan Lewis is going to put on a show this season. He burst onto the scene as Michigan’s top cornerback in 2014, and now he’s primed to take the next step as a shutdown defensive back. It’s a bit of a thin secondary behind Lewis heading into the season, so he’ll need to be everything Blake Countess wasn’t during his encore.

Sam: Michigan’s defense looks like it could be excellent on paper, and I think the addition of D.J. Durkin as the new coordinator will boost an already great unit that boasts a terrific linebacker corps, a potentially dynamic safety in Jabrill Peppers, a star-in-waiting in Jourdan Lewis, and a number of stout defensive tackles. Defensive end, however, remains a question mark, making my breakout defensive player pick, Taco Charlton, all the more important. Like Harris, Charlton has the body and raw potential to be excellent, but he needs to get his technique down to be a consistent threat to pressure the quarterback.

Josh: I wish I could pick someone other than Jabrill Peppers but I can’t. He’s just a freak athlete and by all accounts appears to be capable of not only playing multiple positions but playing them well. Depending on where he plays he’s either gonna be a big hit playmaker or a shut down corner. Either way, this should be the guy that takes this defense from good to great.

Michigan will win the Big Ten if…

Justin: Braxton Miller gets hurt. Wait, then J.T. Barrett. And maybe Cardale Jones too? Oh, I give up. Michigan won’t win the Big Ten this season, but by season’s end will look much more like a conference title contender heading into the offseason. Disclaimer: I would never wish a player to get hurt, and I certainly hope it doesn’t happen again.

Derick: the running game is dominant, the passing game is adequate, the defense doesn’t drop off dramatically and Ohio State secedes from the conference to join the SEC. Michigan was a hot mess when Jim Harbaugh got to town, and one year isn’t going to be enough to turn that around. A Big Ten title will be the goal in Year 3 of this regime. Until then, look for obvious improvement across the board and set realistic expectations.

Sam: dogs fly? In reality, I don’t really think Michigan has a legitimate shot at a Big Ten title this season with two top-10 teams in their division and four very challenging conference games. The only way they have a chance is if they win all but one Big Ten game (requiring wins in three of Michigan State, Ohio State, @Minnesota, and @Penn State) and MSU or OSU unexpectedly slips up elsewhere.

Josh: East Lansing and Columbus sink into the center of the Earth. Seriously. Unless both Michigan State and Ohio State don’t show up (in the literal sense, as in they stay at home) to Ann Arbor and Michigan plays perfectly all season I don’t see how this is even something to ponder.

What is your prediction for the season? Record, who will Michigan lose to, and what bowl game will Michigan play in?

Justin: I think we’re looking at a 9-4 team when all is said and done. Losses to Utah, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Penn State. All four losses will be competitive and it will be clear that Michigan isn’t the pushover it has been in recent years. An Outback Bowl win over an SEC squad will heighten expectations heading into 2016.

Derick: I’ll say Michigan goes 9-4, though that might be a bit generous. Utah will be a good test right out of the gate, and I think Michigan will go through some growing pains and drop the opener. The Michigan State and Ohio State games are both at home, but I don’t give Michigan much of a chance in either of those contests. Michigan State plays with the physicality Michigan aspires to attain and Ohio State is one of the deepest teams in the country at all positions, not just quarterback. I also think the Wolverines drop the Nov. 21 game in Happy Valley, with the home game against Ohio State looming. Penn State is an elite defensive team and Michigan’s offense is a complete unknown, so I’ll give the edge to the Nittany Lions.

A late September home game against BYU will be a tough test for Michigan heading into the Big Ten season, and the Golden Gophers won’t be a pushover in Minnesota, coming off an eight-win season. But if Michigan can pull out both of those games and finish the regular season with eight wins, I think they’ll get an invite to the Outback Bowl and beat up on an overrated SEC team. I like Harbaugh’s chances after a month of preparation and a full season of coaching up his players.

Sam: While I don’t think Michigan will win the Big Ten, I do think it will be a very solid season overall, with a 9-3 regular season finish, losses to Michigan State, at Penn State, and Ohio State, and a bowl win in the Gator Bowl (TaxSlayer Bowl) for a 10-3 final record.

Josh: There are two trains of thought when it comes to Michigan’s recent lack of success. One is that these kids weren’t as good as their recruiting rankings suggest and they are just a bunch of busts. The other is that they’ve been victims of a losing culture and very poor coaching. I fall on the inept coaching/losing culture side and while I know Harbaugh will bring us back to the Michigan of old it’s going to take time, likely a few years. Rome wasn’t built in a day, or so I hear.

Right now I think this is a borderline seven or eight win team, the defense should be very good but the offense has a lot to prove and while there may be ‘potential’ I’ll believe it when I see it. The fact that neither of two former five-star running backs (or anyone else for that matter) have separated themselves from the pack and the one consistent commodity (Drake Johnson) is recovering from his second torn ACL concerns me. I think it’ll be better than last year (Rudock isn’t going be a turnover machine) but unless someone like Drake Harris or Ty Isaac step up and just dominate it’s not going to be explosive by any stretch.
Losses will come to Utah, MSU and OSU with another between the “toss-up games” BYU, Minnesota and Penn State. The fact that Minnesota and Penn State are on the road really worries me and but I think we’re still looking at a 8-4 season with a decent pre-New Year’s bowl because it’s Michigan and Harbaugh. However, I wouldn’t be completely surprised if this team got to nine or 10 wins (not including the bowl game).

Predicting Michigan 2015: The special teams

Thursday, August 27th, 2015


Blake O'Neill(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)

Previously: Quarterbacksrunning backswide receiverstight endsoffensive linedefensive linelinebackers, secondary

Michigan will welcome back most of its offensive and defensive starters in 2015, but the special teams stars will see a huge turnover.
Matt Wile, who went 15-of-21 in field goal attempts last season, and Will Hagerup, who averaged 42.9 yards per punt, both graduated and left two starting kicking spots open. Returner Dennis Norfleet is also absent from the roster after being dismissed by Jim Harbaugh.

Here’s a look at the guys ready to step up as special teams leaders.


With Wile’s departure, and little left behind him on the current roster, Michigan needed to fill the empty kicker position from the outside. Enter, Andrew David. The Ohio native is one of the top kicking recruits in the 2015 class and enters his freshman season after handling both field goals and kickoffs in high school.

David’s calling card is his elite leg strength, which will be key in his winning the kickoff job as a true freshman. His field goal accuracy left something to be desired in high school, but if he can sort that out with coach John Baxter, he’s got the leg power — he made a 58-yard field goal at Massillon (Ohio) High School last season — to be one of the top kickers in the Big Ten.

If David struggles, walk-ons Kenny Allen, Ryan Tice, and Kyle Seychel will duke it out for the starting job. Only Allen, who booted a 51-yard punt against Central Michigan in 2013, has seen the field for the Wolverines.


The open punting position was up for grabs this offseason until Michigan landed Weber State graduate transfer Blake O’Neill. The Melbourne, Australia native averaged 44.1 yards per punt last season in the FCS and should run away with the starting job this season.

To put O’Neill’s final season at Weber State in perspective, only 14 FBS teams averaged more than 44.1 yards per punt last season, and only Ohio State and Minnesota ranked higher in the Big Ten. If he picks up where he left off, Michigan will have a one-year upgrade at punter.

Career Stats – O’Neill
Year Punts Yards Average Long TB FC In-20 Blk
2014 62 2,737 44.1 71 8 17 25 1
Totals 62 2,737 44.1 71 8 17 25 1
*At Weber State


The battle for the starting return job is one of the most intriguing heading into the mountains of Utah. Michigan averaged a terrible 19.9 yards per kick return and 6.8 yards per punt return last season, neither of which cracked the top 80 in the country.

The player with the most upside is clearly Jabrill Peppers, who was an elite returner in high school. Peppers is perhaps the best all-around athlete on the team and Harbaugh even hinted during the offseason that he could be a three-way player. He’s got elite speed, quickness and vision and would be a home run threat every time he catches the ball.

If Peppers only gets one of the jobs, it’ll likely be as punt returner, where he was excellent in high school and would have more open space to make a big play.

Another option is cornerback Jourdan Lewis, the fastest defender on the team and a standout in the secondary last season. Lewis returned just one kick for six yards last season, but has the athleticism to be a solid returner if Michigan goes in that direction. His ceiling is much lower than Peppers’ however.

Predicting Michigan 2015: The secondary

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015


Jabrill Peppers(Leon Halip, Getty Images)

Previously: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers

The unit with the most room to improve on Michigan’s defense under Jim Harbaugh is the secondary, which has been a weakness over the past few seasons. With the departure of both preseason starting cornerbacks from last season, Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor, there’s room for new guys to step in and make some noise under the new regime.

Luckily, there’s plenty of depth at both cornerback and safety for the Wolverines. A few younger players stepped in and played heightened roles during the 2014 season and figure to hold the reins heading into Week 1 against Utah.

Here’s a look at how the secondary will line up.

Probable starters


Jourdan Lewis looks to build on a breakout season in 2014 (

While the cornerback group might not have the depth of the safeties on paper, two rock solid starters should give Michigan a big lift against the pass. Jourdan Lewis was clearly the defense’s most improved player last season and burst onto the scene as the most consistent cornerback on the roster. Lewis has elite speed to go along with good hands and instincts, and by the end of the season he was matching up with opposing No. 1 wide receivers.

Lewis started seven games and picked up 39 tackles and two picks. He was Michigan’s best defense against downfield passes and broke up six passes. If he can build on his fabulous sophomore season, he’ll be the leader in the Michigan secondary.

Across from Lewis will be Stanford transfer Wayne Lyons, who played parts of four seasons for the Cardinal. Lyons injured his foot after two games as a freshman, qualifying for a medical redshirt and allowing him to transfer to Michigan as a graduate student.

Lyons enjoyed a decorated career at Stanford, playing 41 games at cornerback and appearing on the Lott IMPACT Trophy watch list prior to the 2014 season. He picked up 30 tackles as a senior and broke up three passes. He recorded 4.5 tackles for loss, forced two fumbles, and picked off two passes as a junior in 2013.

Lyons was recruited by Harbaugh in 2011 when he committed to Stanford and will rejoin his coach in Ann Arbor for his final college season. Lyons will likely win a starting job after Countess decided to transfer for his final season.

Harbaugh and his staff have a handful of options at secondary, though one of the starters will certainly be the dynamic Jabrill Peppers. Peppers, the best pure athlete on the team, was moved to safety this offseason after struggling to stay healthy as a true freshman. He played in only three games and recorded eight tackles, but the flashes of his ability have Michigan fans eager for his true coming out party.

Peppers joined Michigan as a five-star recruit who dominated his senior season at Paramus Catholic High School under Coach Chris Partridge. Peppers was a star on offense and defense in high school, but was recruited as a defensive back. In two years at Paramus Catholic, Peppers picked up 134 tackles, seven picks, and two sacks.

If Peppers stays healthy, he’ll likely be the best player on the Michigan defense.

At free safety, Jarrod Wilson returns from a fine junior season in which he recorded 50 tackles and two pass break-ups. At 6-foot-2, Wilson has size to go with his quickness and his ball skills have gotten better throughout his career. Wilson was huge for Michigan last season with the struggles at corner. If the Wolverines improve in front of Wilson this season, he’ll have more reign to force turnovers and break up passes.

Projected Stats – Lewis
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
40 2.0 4
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
25 42 14 56 0.0 1.5 0 8 2
Projected Stats – Lyons
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
45 2.0 3
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
43 81 46 127 0.0 4.5 3 7 3
Projected Stats – Peppers
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
50 3.0 4
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
3 6 2 8 0.0 0.0 0 0 0
Projected Stats – Wilson
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
40 1.0 2
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
36 56 52 108 0.0 3.0 1 4 2

Returning contributors

Michigan returns only one other cornerback who played a major role during 2014, Channing Stribling. Stribling played 10 games as a backup corner last season, making seven tackles. He has been a decent rotational guy in two college seasons, but will be asked to play a larger role as an upperclassman. Stribling is tall for a cornerback and is fast enough to stick with Big Ten receivers. His playmaking ability isn’t up to par with the likes of Lewis or Lyons, but he can hold his own.

Safety is a different story for Michigan in terms of depth. Delano Hill started five games for Michigan last season and made 21 tackles. He’s only six feet tall, but Hill is a great tackler and stands out as a security blanket downfield. Hill’s value lies in his versatility. He was used to cover both receivers and tight ends in 2014 and has a good nose for the ball. He’ll be on the field for a ton of snaps this season.

Right there with Hill is redshirt junior Jeremy Clark, who played in 11 games and made 18 tackles in 2014. Clark is huge for a safety – 6-foot-4 – and shares strengths with Hill. He’s a great tackler, a hard hitter and has good speed for his size. Clark is strong in the run-stopping game as a safety and can match up with any position player on the offense.

Dymonte Thomas also played a big role in 2014, playing in 10 games and making 27 tackles. He’s got the highest ceiling in this group of defensive backs after coming to Michigan as a five-star recruit. Thomas is fast and athletic, which allows him to stay with receivers downfield and play physical with ball carriers in front of him.

Hill, Clark, and Thomas give Michigan a ton of depth at safety and lift much of the weight off the cornerbacks’ shoulders. A.J. Pearson is another name to watch in the rotation, though he didn’t get much time last season. He could fill in anywhere in the secondary.

Projected Stats – Stribling
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
25 0.0 1
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
23 20 3 23 0.0 0.5 1 0 0
Projected Stats – Hill
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
22 0.0 1
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
20 14 7 21 0.0 0.0 0 0 0
Projected Stats – Clark
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
20 1.5 0
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
19 10 8 18 0.0 0.0 0 1 0
Projected Stats – Thomas
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
25 1.0 1
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
23 24 10 34 0.0 0.0 1 0 0

New faces

Michigan brought in two new cornerbacks this spring, led by Alabama native Keith Washington. Washington is defined by his elite speed in the secondary and will use it to make plays on the ball. If Washington can stick with receivers at the college level, he’ll be a dangerous corner when the ball is thrown to his side of the field.

Tyree Kinnel comes out of high school with just as much upside as Washington, though he doesn’t possess his elite speed. Kinnel is a sound tackler and can defend both the run and the pass.

Both true freshmen will get a chance to earn playing time in 2015, as Michigan’s cornerback group isn’t as deep as others. They’ll have to prove they can effectively cover Big Ten-caliber receivers to get a chance.

Meet the rest

Terry Richardson – senior, 5’9″, 174 from Detroit, Mich. (Cass Tech), 14 career games played
Travis Wooley – senior, 6’0″, 195 from Sault Sainte Marie, Mich. (Sault Area), no career stats
Matt Mitchell – sophomore, 5’10”, 179 from Dexter, Mich. (Dexter), no career stats
Brandon Watson – sophomore, 5’11”, 189 from Wilmington, Del (Eastern Christian Academy), no career stats
Reon Dawson – junior, 6’2″, 175 from from Trotwood, Ohio (Trotwood-Madison), no career stats
Francois Montbrun – junior, 5’10”, 183 from Ishpeming, Mich. (Westwood), no career stats
Anthony Dalimonte – junior, 5’9″, 176 from Bloomfield Hills, Mich. (Brother Rice), no career stats
Shaun Austin – senior, 6’1″, 202 from Plymouth, Mich. (Plymouth), no career stats