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Height of sincerity: A defense of John Beilein

March 31st, 2016 by Sam Sedlecky


Beilein and Spike(Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)

Earlier this week, the University of Michigan announced that Spike Albrecht, fresh off a senior year in which he was only able to play nine games and thus was granted a redshirt, would transfer out of Ann Arbor to play basketball elsewhere next season. With that came the official end of the 2012 recruiting class’s “Fresh Five” era at Michigan, and a collective sigh across the Michigan fan base.

(As an aside, it’s worth noting that not a single player from that touted class will play a full college career at Michigan, as Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, and Mitch McGary left early, Caris LeVert played the equivalent of only two conference seasons, and Albrecht will transfer. That’s an even worse hit rate than the famed Fab Five, which saw two players – Jimmy King and Ray Jackson – play four full seasons in Ann Arbor and two more – Juwan Howard and Jalen Rose – complete their junior years.)

All seemed well and good until it was pointed out that the Big Ten restricts graduate transfers from playing immediately at another member institution. Shortly after that, it was revealed that Michigan coach John Beilein would restrict Albrecht from not only transferring within the Big Ten conference, but also to any other opponent on Michigan’s schedule in the next two seasons, according to MLive’s Brendan Quinn.

From there, all hell broke loose. Talks of Albrecht being a victim of an archaic NCAA system flooded social media, and critics of the restriction policies pointed out once again that the millionaire coaches have all the power while the peasant players – the ones who actually create the product that lines the pockets of coaches and administrators across the country with cash – are merely pawns of the system.

Perhaps the most outspoken of all the voices heard was Yahoo!’s Pat Forde, who presented Albrecht’s situation as the “height of hypocrisy” in a scathing column attacking both Beilein and the college basketball system as a whole.

Before I address these arguments, however, I wanted to make one point clear: every college basketball player seeking a transfer is doing so for his own reasons. To throw every single transfer into a basket and cover it with a single blanket is to ignore the uniqueness of each individual’s situation. So while I will defend Beilein’s reasoning to a certain extent in this case, I am not saying he is infallible when it comes to transfers; in fact, I was quite outspoken myself in his refusal to allow former Wolverine Max Bielfeldt back for a fifth season in Ann Arbor while also trying to prevent him from transferring to certain schools.

Now, on to this individual case. Instead of responding to Forde’s column with a winding essay of my own, I decided to break his arguments down into three points and address them one-by-one.

From my perspective, Forde’s issues boil down to the following:

1. Not allowing Albrecht to transfer within the Big Ten is “massively hypocritical” on Michigan’s part
2. Spike was “recruited over” and “has been told there is no scholarship for him at Michigan”
3. Rich, greedy coaches are allowed to move about freely from school to school without consequence while poor players are restricted from choosing where they wish to play

I’ll respond to these in order.

1. The supposed hypocrisy

Beilein and Spike 2(Melanie Maxwell, The Ann Arbor News)

Oh, the hypocrisy!

Let’s get Forde’s smelliest garbage – the idea that Michigan and John Beilein are being hypocritical by restricting Albrecht’s options because Jake Rudock just led the Wolverines’ football team to a solid season in his fifth year after transferring from Iowa – out of the way first. Yes, it’s true that Rudock left Iowa for Michigan and had a mostly excellent season as quarterback of the Maize and Blue, in what just so happens to be the most important position on the field. But according to my records — and, you know, Michigan’s schedule — the Wolverines did not play Iowa in Rudock’s lone season in Ann Arbor, so Iowa was never harmed by the transfer.

Now, it might take the intellect of a first grader to realize this, but as far as I know, Beilein does not run the football program at Michigan. To blame Beilein for being hypocritical when he was not even involved in one end of the equation is like blaming an eighth grade algebra teacher for a seventh grader failing biology. Sure, go ahead and argue that the conference is acting hypocritically, but don’t blame the coach that has never signed, and to my knowledge never even pursued, a transfer from another Big Ten university while at Michigan.

Even then, though, the Big Ten is not changing any policy. Rudock and Bielfeldt – who ended up playing his fifth season of basketball at Indiana – had to apply for a special waiver through the conference.

Furthermore, while it’s clear that Beilein has attempted to block his former players from transferring within the conference or to other future opponents, he has never fought extensively to prevent it after that waiver was granted. Indeed, the coach has lost two former players to future conference opponents in Evan Smotrycz (Maryland) and Bielfeldt, and a third, Laval Lucas-Perry, to a team on Michigan’s upcoming schedule (Oakland).

It’s also worth noting that this is not exactly a new issue. Beilein has made his policy very clear in the past – a policy that, according to Quinn, Albrecht was fully aware of – and is far from being alone in trying to avoid playing against athletes to whom he has spent years coaching up and teaching his intricate system. In fact, it was just a few seasons ago when Bo Ryan vehemently fought to prevent his redshirt freshman Jarrod Uthoff from transferring to Iowa, where the future star hailed from.

2. Spike’s scholarship was effectively pulled out from under him

Beilein and Spike 3(Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports)

While Forde’s ridiculous argument regarding hypocrisy is exactly that, this argument is even more outrageous to me. Let’s first forget about the fact that Forde never even interviewed Albrecht for his hot take laden article, but rather relied on a single second-hand source in the form of Spike’s father for all his information.

To say that Albrecht was “recruited over” shows a complete lack of understanding of the situation, so I will do my best to recap. Throughout his junior season, Albrecht played through pain in both of his hips, opting to withhold surgery until the offseason. Once the offseason came around, the rising senior from Crown Point, Ind. immediately underwent surgery on both of his hips to correct issues that his father has also experienced. Doctors and the Michigan basketball program alike, from Beilein to Albrecht himself, seemed confident that, with some intense rehab, Albrecht would be ready to go by the start of his senior year (approximately eight months after surgery).

Unfortunately, all did not go according to plan. Albrecht’s pain affected his play in a major way, and soreness and stiffness reportedly followed him around like a Stage Five Clinger. During halftime of Michigan’s game at SMU, Albrecht informed coaches that he did not feel well enough to return in the second half, and a decision was made soon thereafter to shut it down for the remainder of the season.

At the time, Michigan announced that Albrecht was “retiring”, but there always seemed to be an underlying sense that he could return if things progressed positively. Fast forward to earlier this week, and Albrecht’s competitive attitude led him to extend his college career.

By all accounts, there was simply no way for Beilein to anticipate this situation. Seeing the developing state of his roster heading into this past season, Beilein went ahead last year and recruited a point guard by the name of Xavier Simpson to come in with the class of 2016 to presumably back up a senior Derrick Walton. At the time Simpson committed to Michigan on September 9 and later signed his Letter of Intent to play at Michigan on November 11, all parties expected Albrecht to play out his career in Ann Arbor. That, of course, changed in the following weeks, but by no means was Albrecht deliberately “recruited over”.

Additionally, there’s strong reason to believe that Albrecht himself did not even directly inquire about the possibility of returning to Ann Arbor for his redshirt senior season. In one report from Quinn on MLive.com, Albrecht said “I know there’s a slim shot of a spot opening up” and that his conversation with Beilein was “tough on both of us” and “difficult” for Beilein. He went on to say that Beilein would consider bringing him back if an additional scholarship opened up, but that Albrecht wanted to get his name out on the transfer circuit with spots starting to emerge elsewhere. In a similar report from The Michigan Daily, Albrecht was quoted as saying “I know the scholarship situation I’m going to be in and that there’s probably not a likelihood of me being able to come back” to Beilein.

To me, that sounds like the decision to transfer was 100 percent Albrecht’s call. Beilein did not force Spike out like he arguably did with Bielfeldt before. He even presumably agreed to assist Albrecht in acquiring an extra year of eligibility by preserving his redshirt. Whether Albrecht is transferring due to concerns over playing time next season or for other unknown reasons is beside the point here, as it appears pretty clear that Albrecht was never explicitly told that he would not be able to return to Michigan.

It’s also widely known that Albrecht is a favorite of Beilein’s despite being undersized and outmatched athletically by nearly every opponent – something that has seemed to fly under the radar as people pile on Beilein for being a monster.

3. Coaches are rich and powerful, players are powerless peasants

Beilein and Spike 4(Melanie Maxwell, The Ann Arbor News)

I’ll agree with the basic argument Forde (in solidarity with many other pundits) presents here. It’s true – big-time college basketball coaches make millions of dollars on the backs of their players while the players get nothing more than a free education, free coaching, gear, and a stipend in return (no, we will not be getting into the drawn-out amateurism argument here). Coaches are also free to pick up and change schools or retire on a whim, while players are often restricted from transferring to certain schools or forced to sit out a season in order to adhere to NCAA rules.

But let’s discuss a couple facts that are not pointed out in Forde’s article. The example that Forde gives to embody this argument is that if Beilein retired and Tom Izzo decided to take over as head coach at Michigan, “(Izzo) would be welcomed with open arms in about 30 seconds” without restrictions or having to sit out a season. Besides this being maybe the worst example ever given in the history of mankind, it also fails to acknowledge that players and signed recruits are almost always given a no-holds-barred release from their “contract” if a coach leaves his post. If Beilein were to retire or unexpectedly take a different job next year, his players and recruits would be allowed to leave Michigan – and even follow him to his new destination if desired.

This argument also fails to address another crucial fact. Sure, the player in this situation is being restricted from going anywhere in the country, and thus one could argue that he is hurt by the inability to transfer to the school that offers him the best opportunity. But what about his former teammates? In this case, if Albrecht were allowed to transfer to another Big Ten school or a different future opponent, does that not hurt Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin, and company? What happens if Albrecht went to Indiana and provided a full scouting report to his new coach and teammates, complete with inside information on Beilein’s system and certain tendencies of his former teammates? Is that not inhibiting Michigan’s current players from having a fair shake?

Now yes, every team scouts its opponents extensively, and Tom Crean is very familiar with Beilein’s system by now. A former college basketball player argued with me that even if Albrecht were able to provide play names to his new Big Ten team, conference opponents would have already scouted Michigan enough to know certain plays and individual tendencies. But in my book, any bit of an advantage helps, and allowing one player the chance to provide a full scouting report against his former team seems a bit one-sided to me.

And though Beilein’s comments have been largely dismissed, I’ll put forth his argument again: Does it really hurt a player that bad if he only has 330-some different schools to transfer to as opposed to 350 schools? Albrecht can still play for any number of big time programs throughout the country. He can still finish his college career in the tropics (Hawaii, Florida Gulf Coast) or in the tundra (UW-Green Bay, Maine). He can choose to play close to home for a highly respected program (Notre Dame, Butler) or far away for a program on the rise (Southern California). He can continue his education at an outstanding academic institution (Stanford) or take it easy on the books (IUPUI). Heck, if he’s feeling up for it, Spike could even play for any of the four teams left standing that we’ll all be watching this weekend.

That doesn’t sound so bad to me.

Albrecht, Doyle to transfer from Michigan

March 29th, 2016 by Justin Potts


Spike-Doyle(Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports)

On Monday, the Michigan football team gained two commitments. By Tuesday afternoon, the basketball program lost two members of its team. Senior Spike Albrecht and sophomore Ricky Doyle both announced their intentions to transfer.

Albrecht will seek a grad-year transfer, something that Max Bielfeldt did after last season. Bielfeldt landed with Indiana, where was named the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year and helped the Hoosiers to the Sweet 16. Albrecht will hope for a similar role and success wherever he lands.

The Crown Point, Ind. native played in just eight games this season after having offseason hip surgery. He shut his season down early enough to preserve a redshirt. Over his career, Albrecht started just 19 games, but played a pivotal role as the backup point guard. He averaged 3.9 points, 1.3 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game. However, during his junior season, he made 18 starts and averaged 7.5 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 3.9 assists.

Albrecht’s legacy will forever be remembered for his breakout performance against Louisville in the 2013 national title game. Coming off the bench in relief of national player of the year Trey Burke, Albrecht scored 17 points on 4-of-5 three-point shooting, helping to build a big first half lead. Try watching these highlights without getting goosebumps.

Unfortunately, Michigan lost the game, but Albrecht cemented his legacy with a tweet to Kate Upton following the game.

Doyle has two years of eligibility remaining and will be eligible to play at his new school after sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer rules. According to Doyle’s high school coach, Doyle felt the system wasn’t the right fit for his skills.

The Cape Coral, Fla. native started 20 games over the past two seasons, averaging 4.9 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. However, his minutes and production fell off this season. After averaging 18.2 minutes, 6.1 points, and 3.2 rebounds during his freshman year in 2014-15, Doyle averaged just 12.2 minutes, 3.8 points, and 2.0 rebounds this season while losing the starting job to Mark Donnal.

In a statement issued by the program, John Beilein thanked Doyle for his contributions to the program.

“Ricky is a tremendous young man with very high character and plenty of potential to develop into being a fine college player,” said Beilein. “We have enjoyed coaching him over the past two years and wish him nothing but the best.”

The two transfers bring Michigan to even in terms of scholarships available with nine players returning and four freshmen coming in. The incoming freshmen include four-star point guard Xavier Simpson, who will replace Albrecht, and big men Austin Davis and Jon Teske, who will replace Doyle.

New in Blue: 2017 S J’Marick Woods

March 28th, 2016 by Justin Potts


J'Marick Woods(Scout.com)

J’Marick Woods – S | 6-4, 196 | Florence, Ala. (Florence)
ESPN3-star, #25 S Rivals: 3-star, #31 S 2473-star, #30 S Scout: 4-star, #22 S
247 Composite: 3-star, #26 S
Other top offers: Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Louisville, Duke, Kentucky, Penn State

Michigan continued its recruiting momentum with a second commitment before noon on Monday. Florence, Ala. safety J’Marick Woods pledged his commitment to the Wolverines just an hour and 23 minutes after Groton, Mass. running back A.J. Dillon did so.

Scout is the lone recruiting site to give Woods a fourth star at this point as they rank him the 22nd-best safety in the 2017 class. ESPN, Rivals, and 247 all give him three stars. ESPN ranks him as the 25th-best safety, while 247 ranks him 30th and Rivals 31st.

Woods received his Michigan offer last May, and after camping at Alabama last summer, took unofficial visits to Michigan in August and again in October for the Michigan State game. He took another visit to Michigan this past weekend and that was enough to convince him to give a verbal to the Wolverines over Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Louisville, and others.

At 6-foot-4 and 196 pounds, Woods will provide a big presence in the defensive secondary as he’s already bigger than any safety on Michigan’s current roster. Dymonte Thomas is the most comparable in size at 6-foot-2, 195.

247’s Steve Wilfong agrees that Michigan got a good one:

“Woods is a very intriguing prospect for Michigan, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound free safety that is rangy and big playmaking ability, but it’s obvious to say he could develop into a unique and big-time linebacker on the next level. If Harbaugh and company could add Top247 safety Jaylen Kelly-Powell alongside Woods they’d be extremely happy with safety recruiting this cycle. The 247Sports Composite ranks Woods as the country’s No. 26 safety.”

Woods is the eighth member of the 2017 class, joining defensive back Benjamin St.-Juste and linebacker Josh Ross on the defensive side of the ball. The addition of Woods and Dillon propels Michigan’s 2017 class from 14th to eighth in 247’s team rankings.

New in Blue: 2017 RB A.J. Dillon

March 28th, 2016 by Justin Potts


AJ Dillon(Lawrence Academy photo)

A.J. Dillon – RB | 6-1, 230 | Groton, Mass. (Lawrence Academy)
ESPN3-star, NR Rivals4-star, #16 RB 2474-star, #18 RB Scout: 3-star, #41 RB
247 Composite: 4-star, #19 RB
Other top offers: Notre Dame, Florida State, Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, Iowa, Nebraska, Mississippi State

Michigan landed two commitments last week and wasted no time kicking off this week with another. A.J. Dillon, a 2017 running back from Groton, Mass., pledged his commitment to the Wolverines on Monday morning.

Dillon is a four-star according to both Rivals and 247 and the 247 Sports Composite. ESPN and Scout both rate him as a three-star. Rivals ranks Dillon as the 16th-best running back in the class, while 247 ranks him 18th. Scout ranks him 41st and ESPN does not have him ranked yet.

At 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, Dillon has college size already. He’s two inches taller than De’Veon Smith is currently and the same weight. He’s the same height and 20 pounds heavier than Drake Johnson and Kareem Walker. And he’s the same weight but two inches shorter than Ty Isaac.

Scout lists Dillon’s strengths as balance, change of direction, foot quickness, hands, power, size, tackle-breaking ability, toughness and vision. They list his areas to improve as acceleration, breakaway speed, cutback ability, and elusiveness. Brian Dohn expands on that.

“Dillon is a rugged, tough, between-the-tackles runner who is difficult to bring down on first contact. He is thick and strong in the lower body, and tackles often bounce off of him. He has good vision and quick feet. He is able to make subtle moves and change direction in short space. He is best moving up the field and is a downhill runner. He secures the football well and he can break tackles. He does not have breakaway speed, but that does not matter. His ability to find the hole and get through it, and to run in traffic, stand out.”

247’s Clint Brewster also has high praise for Dillon:

“Dillon has college-ready size at 6-foot-1, and around 230-pounds. He’s got a nice frame and a chiseled body type. Dillon’s a hard-charging downhill running back that really pounds the rock. He doesn’t waste time hitting the hole and can move the pile. He plays with an old-school ruggedness that would fit well in a downhill running scheme like Michigan’s. Dillon’s got a real fluid jump-cut and nice maneuverability to get skinny through the hole when he needs to.”

The Lawrence Academy star has averaged 9.3 yards per carry while rushing for 3,255 yards and 47 touchdowns in the past two seasons, according to 247. He picked Michigan over offers from Notre Dame, Florida State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Mississippi State, and Virginia Tech, to name a few. He received his Michigan offer on Jan. 27 and visited Ann Arbor last weekend, sandwiched in between visits to Notre Dame and Wisconsin.

Dillon is the second running back in the 2017 class, joining three-star Covington, Ga. back Kurt Taylor. He’s the seventh member of the class as a whole, the fifth of which on the offensive side of the ball.

2015-16 Michigan basketball season review: A season of what-ifs

March 23rd, 2016 by Sam Sedlecky


UM BBall(MGoBlue.com)

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. A year after struggling to a .500 record while two potential stars watched from the bench nursing injuries, Michigan was supposed to bounce back this season. This would finally be the season that John Beilein had some seasoning in his team, with senior leaders that had been to the National Championship before and a pair of juniors who played key roles on an Elite Eight team the following year.

The Michigan Wolverines entered the 2015-16 basketball season primed to show what their healthy, veteran squad could do in a college basketball landscape that lacked any team that clearly stood head and shoulders above the rest.

Senior Caris LeVert was returning from injury after deciding to forego a likely guaranteed NBA paycheck for an opportunity to prove himself.

Fellow senior Spike Albrecht was also coming back after a junior season that saw him sometimes spectacularly lift a shorthanded team to victories that should have never been possible – and he was also supposed to be healthy and ready to roll with a pair of new hips.

Junior Derrick Walton, like LeVert, entered the season at 100 percent after missing the majority of his sophomore season with an injury. And classmate Zak Irvin was back to show everyone that his end-of-year evolution from Just A Shooter to All Around Threat was real.

Sprinkle in a promising group of sophomores that included an eye-popping athlete in Aubrey Dawkins, a quiet but creative playground-style baller in Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, and a promising big man on the rise in Ricky Doyle, and it looked as if the 2014-15 season could be just a blip on the timeline of a dominant five-year run for Michigan basketball.

Alas, sometimes the world of basketball is a cruel place.

Perhaps Irvin’s offseason back injury and ensuing surgery should have been a bigger omen than it was perceived to be at the time.

If that wasn’t, then a couple early drubbings at the hands of Xavier and UConn would prove to be all the foreboding necessary.

Sure, Michigan bounced back with an impressive win over Texas and managed to squeak into the NCAA Tournament with a few big time conference home wins and a heart-pounding win over Big Ten champion Indiana in the conference tournament – the season’s unquestionable highlight – but the season certainly didn’t meet some lofty expectations.

A nail-biter victory over Tulsa in the First Four of the Big Dance preceded a season-ending loss to Notre Dame that could not have been a better microcosm. After jumping out to a 12-point halftime lead behind crisp offense, hot shooting, and an efficient fast break attack, the Wolverines faded just as fast in the second stanza with defensive miscues, a brutal scoring drought, and a lack of a killer instinct.

UM BBall 2(MGoBlue.com)

Unfortunately, the team we all thought was going to help us forget last season ultimately became almost a mirror image of that group.

LeVert, an All-American candidate who looked every bit the part in the non-conference, went down at the end of Michigan’s first Big Ten game and missed all but 10 minutes of the rest of the season.

Albrecht, a vocal leader, an excellent passer, and a tremendous shooter, shut it down much earlier on after realizing that his hips had not healed nearly enough to allow him to play effectively or pain-free.

Walton remained healthy for the most part, and his three-point shooting returned to freshman form, but his tantalizing finishing ability from two seasons ago continued to lag behind all year without LeVert around to distract opposing defenses.

Irvin, a deadeye shooter just two seasons ago who blossomed into a big-time athlete and passer as a sophomore, started the season in a major funk and never fully developed into the go-to guy many expected. Certainly his offseason procedure didn’t help matters there, as his athleticism took a noticeable hit and his shooting became increasingly sporadic. After shooting 42.5 percent from deep as a freshman and 35.1 percent last season, the former Indiana Mr. Basketball failed to crack 30 percent by season’s end, while his free throw shooting followed the same mysterious downward spiral (71.4%, 68.9%, 65.8% year-to-year-to-year).

In turn, what everyone saw as a memorable season in waiting became a year that may soon be forgotten.

But it’s hard to put the disappointment on any one player or coach. Beilein was once again dealt a hand that few, if any, coaches around the country would have been able to compete with.

Think about it. Take two veterans – one the undisputable star player and another an ultra-reliable vocal leader, ball-handler, passer, shooter, and all-around charmer extraordinaire – away from any team in the country in a year dominated by upperclassmen and try to find one that marches on to the same beat. Many, I would venture to guess, would run straight into a brick wall while others would struggle to power their proverbial engine up the side of a mountain.

In many ways, the job that Beilein and these players did to even play their way into the Big Dance was remarkable. A team lacking its biggest sure things managed to take down the likes of Maryland and Purdue in the regular season before grinding out a win over the class of the Big Ten in a virtual road game. Sure, there were a number of losses mixed in, and many of them not pretty, but by season’s end, Michigan would have wins on its resume over three five seeds and a six seed.

Likewise, it’s hard to criticize a group of players that had to adapt to completely unfamiliar circumstances midway through the season. One day the do-it-all senior was there to carry the torch and the next day he was done. How do you adjust to losing a guy that leads the way in scoring, assisting, and rebounding overnight — the guy that runs the show and has the ball in his hands with the shot clock winding down?

Quite simply, you don’t.

Yet again, a promising year faded into a chorus of what-ifs. There’s no denying that it was a disappointing season in many ways, but there’s also no denying that much of it was out of the team’s power.

For better or worse, the group that ended this season together should be back almost in its entirety come fall. And while the what-ifs of this season pain Michigan fans now, they will eventually fade and make way for newfound excitement and frustration, more expectations and heartbreak, and more promise and surprise on the horizon.

‘Tis the game of college basketball.

The Far-off Season
Reasons for Optimism

1. Everyone is Back!
For those fans who think college basketball revolves around the freshmen sensations at Kentucky every year, take a look at the remaining 16 teams left in the Tournament today. Nearly every team relies on a junior or senior to be the key cog, or at least to be one of the prime performers. From Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden at Kansas to Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes at Virginia to Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige at North Carolina to Elgin Cook and Chris Boucher at Oregon (oh, those are all 1 seeds? interesting…), experience is the name of the game.

Experience has been a foreign concept to the past few Michigan squads until this last one, when much of the experience disappeared somewhere between a quarter and halfway through the year. For the first time in what feels like forever, the Wolverines figure to start all upperclassmen, including seniors in Walton and Irvin. And while the improvement hasn’t been as rapid as hoped in those two, I expect another leap.

For a couple quick examples, feel free to look at Denzel Valentine and Buddy Hield’s numbers over their first three seasons before emerging as the top Player of the Year candidates as seniors (hint: Hield has nearly doubled his free throw rate and 3pt% since his freshman season while Valentine went from shooting liability and turnover machine to…well, we all know how good he was this year). Rising junior Duncan Robinson should also figure to improve now that he has a full season of live ball under his belt at the highest level.

2. The Newbies
Michigan welcomes a four-man class in 2016 that includes an undersized point guard recently named Ohio Mr. Basketball (NO I AM NOT TRYING TO DRAW PARALLELS TO TREY BURKE), a lanky wing from Pickerington Central in Columbus who looks to do a bit of everything (NO I AM NOT TRYING TO DRAW PARALLELS TO CARIS LEVERT), and a pair of big men to add to the mix at arguably the weakest spot in the lineup (see? No parallels).

Xavier Simpson figures to back up Walton at the point and should add some creative scoring punch after averaging 27.2 points per game in high school (buoyed by a couple of ridiculous scoring nights) while Ibi Watson should be in the minutes mix on the wing. Bigs Austin Davis and Jon Teske are both probably a season away from getting big time minutes but will add competition down low. Teske in particular could develop into a nice rim protector not seen around Ann Arbor since Ekpe Udoh swatted anything within five feet of him.

3. A More Manageable Big Ten
The Big Ten should be strong as usual next season, but take a quick glance at some of the top teams and there’s reason to believe Michigan should be able to make up some ground. League champion Indiana loses Yogi Ferrell, Max Bielfeldt, and Nick Zeisloft (and possibly Thomas Bryant and Troy Williams as well); Michigan State waves goodbye to Valentine, Matt Costello, and Bryn Forbes; Maryland will see Rasheed Sulaimon and Jake Layman depart (almost certainly along with Melo Trimble and Diamond Stone); Purdue graduates A.J. Hammons and Raphael Davis, etc. Yes, other players will also come and go, but there is rebuilding to be done in almost every Big Ten city but Ann Arbor.

Reasons for Pessimism

1. Everyone is Back
Sure everyone is back…but everyone is back from that. Will a team with ultimately the same core be able to make a big enough jump? Only time will tell, but there is certainly improvement needed in the offseason.

2. Defensive Woes
I’m not sure how Michigan’s defense will take a substantial step forward with all the same personnel and the same coaching staff short of a miracle. LeVert probably had the most potential on that end, and while I generally like Walton and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman’s defensive skill set, there are still some giant holes that have no apparent quick fix.

3. Where is the Improvement?
Unfortunately, one could make an argument that Rahk and Mark Donnal were the only two Wolverines to take major steps forward. Arguments could be made that a handful of other players actually regressed (Irvin, Dawkins, Doyle) while some merely treaded water. If the team is going to improve greatly a season from now, the individuals on the team are going to need to improve along with it; unfortunately we don’t have too much to go off in that regard. The big man problem could be solved if Donnal continues to make strides and Moritz Wagner emerges as a consistent option as well, while there should be plenty of options on the wings to find serviceable parts.

A Couple Offseason Happenings to Make Note Of

1. On the way out?
With four freshmen coming in and only three scholarship spots opening up, someone is going to need to leave town to make room. I won’t speculate too much on individual players, but one might presume that a jumbled big man or wing rotation, declining minutes, and/or a sense of homesickness could influence a Wolverine or two to seek greener pastures.

Alternatively, Austin Davis could hypothetically take a prep year to even out the numbers, but I expect to see some attrition instead. To make things a bit more complicated, Spike is eligible for a medical redshirt and could also figure into scholarship discussions. If he and the coaching staff agree on his return, one fewer scholarship would be opening up.

2. A New Look Coaching Staff?
Some are calling for a shakeup in Beilein’s assistant coaching staff of Jeff Meyer, Lavall Jordan, and Bacari Alexander, and I think we will see some movement in that department – but not necessarily by way of firing. Meyer is approaching the end of his career and could foreseeably step down if he thought it was best for the team while Jordan and Alexander will certainly get looks from mid-majors looking to fill head coaching vacancies. My best bet would be that Bacari leaves for a head job while Jordan and Meyer remain – but that’s merely a guess. Regardless, if at least one assistant does not return, expect Beilein to scour the coaching ranks hard for a defensive-minded assistant.

3. Donnal Reclassifying?
Early on this past season, John Beilein abruptly changed Mark Donnal’s class standing from redshirt sophomore to true junior, meaning he was at the very least considering the Max Bielfeldt treatment for the third-year big that was struggling to meet expectations despite considerable opportunity. Just as abruptly, Donnal then emerged as Michigan’s no doubt top option at the five spot with a 26-point, nine-rebound, three-block performance at Illinois in the conference opener. And while Donnal’s head-scratching mistakes and mysterious aversion to dunking the ball did not fully disappear, he was a generally reliable finisher and rebounder throughout the season. As Brendan Quinn from MLive quipped a few weeks ago, I believe Donnal is due to be reclassified back to his redshirt status.

New in Blue: 2017 LB Josh Ross

March 22nd, 2016 by Justin Potts


Josh Ross(Scout.com)

Josh Ross – LB | 6-2, 225 | West Bloomfield, Mich. (St. Mary’s)
ESPN4-star, #11 OLB Rivals4-star, #9 OLB 2474-star, #6 ILB Scout: 4-star, #10 ILB
247 Composite: 4-star, #7 ILB
Other top offers: Ohio State, Michigan State, LSU, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Louisville, Arkansas

Just a day after stealing a 2018 recruit from Ohio, Michigan landed a 2017 commitment from its home state. Josh Ross, the younger brother of James Ross, who played out his Michigan eligibility this past fall, announced his commitment to the Wolverines.

Ross is a consensus four-star recruit according to the four major recruiting services. 247 ranks him the highest as the sixth-best inside linebacker in the 2017 class. Rivals ranks him as the ninth-best outside linebacker, while Scout has him as the 10th-best inside, and ESPN the 11th-best outside. ESPN ranks Ross the highest nationally at 162nd, while 247 has him 173rd, Rivals 189th, and Scout 228th. Per the 247 Sports Composite, he’s the seventh-best inside ‘backer and 188th overall.

Scout lists Ross’ strengths as instincts, shedding ability, and tackling technique, and his areas to improve as pass coverage skills. They also say that he has room to improve.

“Physical linebacker who is best when coming forward. Takes on blocks with aggressiveness and leverage and likes contact. Anticipates well and shoots gaps. A sure tackler who wraps up and drives through the ball carrier. Can continue to get quicker and improve in pass coverage.”

Ross has visited Michigan several times over the past few years thanks to his brother, but has also visited the other in-state school, Michigan State, nearly as many times. His commitment to Michigan is a big in-state recruiting win for Jim Harbaugh over Mark Dantonio. Ross also held offers from Ohio State, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Louisville, Arkansas, and received an LSU offer a month ago.

Ross joins quarterback Dylan McCaffrey, tight end Carter Dunaway, running back Kurt Taylor, offensive lineman Ja’Raymond Hall, and defensive back Benjamin St-Juste as the current members of next year’s class. With spring practice culminating with the spring game under the lights next Friday, this likely won’t be the last commit in the next couple weeks.

New in Blue: 2018 LB Antwuan Johnson

March 21st, 2016 by Justin Potts


Antwuan Johnson

Antwuan Johnson – LB | 6-1, 210 | Springfield, Ohio (Springfield)
ESPNN/A RivalsN/A 2474-star, #3 ILB Scout: N/A
247 Composite: N/A
Other top offers: Louisville, Kentucky, Cincinnati, Bowling Green

The 2016 class isn’t even two months old, but Michigan already picked up its first member of the 2018 class. Springfield, Ohio linebacker Antwuan Johnson pledged his commitment to Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines on Monday evening and announced it via Twitter.

247 Sports is the only recruiting site that has released rankings for the 2018 class so far, and they have Johnson listed as a four-star, the nation’s third-best inside linebacker, and the 82nd-best player in the class. ESPN lists his 40-yard dash time as 4.89 from Nike’s The Opening 2015 in Columbus.

Johnson visited Michigan last weekend along with teammate Leonard Taylor, one of the nation’s top defensive linemen in the same class. Their high school coach, Maurice Douglass — a former Chicago Bears and New York Giants safety — was the head coach at Trotwood-Madison High School from 2001-14 and sent several players to Michigan, including Roy Roundtree, Michael Shaw, Brandon Moore, Mike McCray, and Reon Dawson. Last season, he left Trotwood to take over at Springfield, where he took over a team that hadn’t won more than two games in a season since 2010. The Wildcats went 3-7 last fall.

Johnson is the first commit in the 2018 class and will have two more seasons of high school ball before he steps foot on campus.

(6) Notre Dame 70 – (11) Michigan 63: Second half letdown ends Michigan’s season

March 19th, 2016 by Justin Potts


Irvin vs ND(MGoBlue.com)

Michigan survived Tulsa in the First Four on Wednesday night, but couldn’t carry the momentum to Brooklyn, where the Wolverines’ season came to an end with a 70-63 loss to Notre Dame on Friday night.

Unlike Wednesday’s game, Michigan came out firing on all cylinders and playing tough defense, holding a lead the entire first half. It took more than three minutes for Notre Dame to score its first point, but Michigan had only amassed five. Over the next seven minutes, however, Michigan outscored the Irish 21 to 11 to take a 26-13 lead.

Notre Dame pulled within five, but Michigan scored the final seven points of the half, capped by a Moritz Wagner layup at the buzzer. Michigan took a 41-29 lead into the locker room.

Four Factors
Michigan Notre Dame
48 eFG% 67
28 OReb% 26
11 TO% 26
8 FTR 35

But that was as good as it would get for the Wolverines. Notre Dame scored the first eight points of the second half before Mark Donnal finally got Michigan on the board at the 17:49 mark. Unlike the first half, every time Michigan scored, Notre Dame had an answer. Duncan Robinson hit a three, but the Irish scored four straight. Donnal made anther layup, but Notre Dame scored five straight. And suddenly, with 12:18 to play, the game was tied at 48.

Neither team scored for nearly three minutes until Notre Dame’s V.J. Beachem hit a three to give the Irish their first lead. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman answered with a three of his own and Zak Irvin followed to put Michigan back on top. A 6-2 Notre Dame run gave ND the lead, but a Donnal layup with 4:55 to play put Michigan back on top 58-57. It was the last lead Michigan would have.

The Wolverines managed just three points — a Donnal foul shot and layup — over the next three and a half minutes as Notre Dame 66-61 lead. An Irvin layup brought Michigan within three, and after a defensive stop, Michigan had a chance to tie the game in the closing minute. But Irvin missed a three and the Wolverines were forced to foul. Notre Dame sealed the game at the free throw line.

Michigan shot 39.7 percent for the game, but just 28.1 percent in the second half. After making 7-of-14 three-point attempts in the first half, the Wolverines made just 3-of-13 in the second. Meanwhile, Notre Dame shot a blistering 58.1 percent from the field and made 8-of-15 three-point attempts.

Abdur-Rahkman led Michigan with 15 points on 5-of-12 shooting and 3-of-4 three-point shooting. Derrick Walton was the only other Michigan player in double figures with 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting to go along with eight assists. Donnal, Irvin, and Robinson added nine points apiece.

Beachem led Notre Dame with 18 points, while Bonzie Colson added 12, Demetrius Jackson 11, and Zach Auguste recorded a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds.

Michigan’s season ends at 23-13, while Notre Dame (22-11) advances to the Round of 32 to face Stephen F. Austin on Sunday.

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
34 Mark Donnal* 4-9 0-1 1-2 3 0 3 3 9 1 0 1 0 29
10 Derrick Walton* 4-13 2-6 0-1 1 3 4 1 10 8 2 0 6 38
21 Zak Irvin* 4-16 1-9 0-0 1 3 4 0 9 4 0 0 1 36
22 Duncan Robinson* 3-7 3-5 0-0 0 4 4 3 9 2 1 0 0 38
12 Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman* 5-12 3-4 2-2 2 2 4 0 15 3 0 0 1 38
11 Andrew Dakich 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 2
13 Moritz Wagner 3-3 0-0 0-0 1 1 2 4 6 0 2 0 1 8
24 Aubrey Dawkins 2-3 1-2 0-0 0 0 0 0 5 0 1 0 0 7
32 Ricky Doyle 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 1 4
Totals 25-63 10-27 3-5 11 14 25 14 63 18 7 1 10 200
Notre Dame 25-43 8-15 12-15 5 28 33 9 70 12 16 8 3
200
Full Stats

Michigan hoops preview: NCAA Tournament vs (6) Notre Dame

March 18th, 2016 by Derick Hutchinson


UM-ND2
Michigan (23-12, 10-8) vs Notre Dame (21-11, 11-7)
Friday, March 18 | Brooklyn, N.Y. | 9:40 p.m. ET | CBS
LineNotre Dame -3
Offense
74.1 Points/gm 75.7
(922-1,985) 46.4 Field Goal % 47.1 (869-1,844)
(332-874) 38.0 3-pt FG % 36.9 (235-637)
(417-564) 73.9 Free Throw % 73.5 (450-612)
11.9 FT Made/gm 14.1
32.2 Reb/gm 36.1
14.8 Assists/gm 13.5
9.7 Turnovers/gm 9.7
Defense
67.3 Points/gm 70.6
(896-1,952) 44.5 Field Goal % 42.8 (821-1,918)
(243-710) 34.2 3-pt FG % 37.6 (246-655)
33.1 Opp. Reb/gm 33.8
5.5 Steals/gm 5.6
2.3 Blocks/gm 3.9
Individual Leaders
Caris LeVert (16.5), Zak Irvin (11.9) Points/gm Demetrius Jackson (15.5), Zach Auguste (14.4)
Derick Walton (5.5), Caris LeVert (5.3) Reb/gm Zach Auguste (10.8), Demetrius Jackson (4.8)

Less than 48 hours after their season came within a minute of ending, the Michigan Wolverines will take on Notre Dame in the Round of 64 Friday night.

Michigan survived a late Tulsa run Wednesday thanks to a game-winning three-pointer by Zak Irvin in the final minutes. Afterwards, John Beilein told anybody who would listen that he hasn’t seen a single look at the Fighting Irish and would start watching film on the plane to Brooklyn.

For the Wolverines to keep their season alive, they’ll have to greatly improve their shooting from beyond the arc. Michigan made just six of 25 attempts Wednesday and might need to double that total to beat a much stronger Notre Dame team.

Luckily for Michigan, Notre Dame is one of the worst defensive teams in the NCAA Tournament and struggles to defend the three-point line. Duncan Robinson will be a major key for a Michigan team that hasn’t shot particularly well for the better part of two months.

Notre Dame is led by senior forward Zach Auguste, one of the few college players to average a double-double this season. Auguste is second on the team with 14.4 points per game and leads the Irish with an average of 10.8 rebounds.

In the back court, Derrick Walton will be tasked with slowing down leading scorer Demetrius Jackson. Jackson 15.5 points and 4.8 assists per game. Walton will have to play like he did against Yogi Ferrell in the Big Ten Tournament, and not like he did against Tulsa’s back court, to slow down Jackson.

With Walton in foul trouble Wednesday, Michigan nearly watched their tournament lives slip away.

Auguste will be a major issue for a Michigan front court that got dominated on the defensive glass in the second half against Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane is undersized, but Mark Donnal struggled to keep it out of the paint.

If Donnal comes out stagnant again Friday, look for Beilein to stick with freshman Mo Wagner, who gave Michigan excellent minutes Wednesday. He doubled his career high with four blocks and grabbed eight rebounds.

With a win, Michigan would earn a third elimination game in five days against the winner of West Virginia and Stephen F. Austin.

(11) Michigan 67 – (11) Tulsa 62: Wolverines survive First Four behind Wagner spark, Irvin three

March 17th, 2016 by Justin Potts


Irvin vs Tulsa(MGoBlue.com)

In March, the name of the game is survive and advance, and Michigan did just that on Wednesday night. It was far from pretty, but the Wolverines broke into the field of 64 with a 67-62 win over 11-seed Tulsa in Dayton, Ohio.

Duncan Robinson opened the game with a three, but it would not be a sign of things to come as Michigan would make just 6-of-25 three-point attempts for the game.

When the Wolverines were struggling to score in the first half, freshman big man Moritz Wagner provided a spark, recording three of his four blocked shots and keeping them in the game. By the time halftime arrived, Michigan held an eight point lead.

But Tulsa came out more aggressive in the second half and quickly took the lead thanks to three offensive rebounds in the first three minutes. The rest of the game went back and forth with neither team able to pull away by more than a few points. With Derrick Walton in foul trouble for most of the game, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman took control, driving to the basket consistently, finishing at the rim or drawing fouls.

With the game hanging in the balance in the closing minute, Zak Irvin drilled a three, and Michigan made its free throws down the stretch to seal the win.

Michigan shot 40.7 percent from the field and just 24.0 percent from three-point range, but made three more threes than Tulsa outscored the Golden Hurricane by four at the free throw line.

Irvin and Abdur-Rahkman led Michigan with 16 points apiece, while Duncan Robinson collected a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Walton contributed a quiet 12. Wagner stuffed the stat sheet with four points, eight rebounds, four blocks, a steal, and an assist in 22 minutes.

Michigan’s defense limited Tulsa to just 3-of-15 from three-point range, and the Wolverines out-rebounded the Golden Hurricane 38-36. Shaquille Harrison was the only Tulsa player in double figures with 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting. The rest of the team went just 15-of-43 from the field.

Michigan (23-12) will travel to Brooklyn tonight to face 6-seed Notre Dame (21-11) in the Barclays Center on Friday. The game will tip at 9:40pm Eastern and will be televised by CBS.

Michigan’s Three Stars

***Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman***
16 points (5-of-16 2pt, 0-of-3 3pt, 6-of-8 FT), three rebounds, two assists in 38 minutes

**Moritz Wagner**
4 points (2-of-2 2pt), eight rebounds, four blocks, one steal, one assist, one turnover in 22 minutes

*Duncan Robinson*
13 points (5-of-10 2pt, 2-of-5 3pt, 1-of-2 FT), 11 rebounds (one offensive), four assists, two blocks, one steal, one turnover in 35 minutes

Season Three-Stars Standings

Derrick Walton Jr – 30
Duncan Robinson – 18
Caris LeVert – 15
Zak Irvin – 15
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman – 15
Mark Donnal – 8
Aubrey Dawkins – 7
Moritz Wagner – 3
Spike Albrecht – 1
Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
34 Mark Donnal* 1-1 0-0 0-0 1 1 2 2 2 0 0 0 0 13
10 Derrick Walton* 4-10 2-7 2-2 0 0 0 4 12 1 3 0 2 29
21 Zak Irvin* 6-12 2-5 2-2 0 2 2 0 16 2 3 0 1 36
22 Duncan Robinson* 5-10 2-5 1-2 1 10 11 2 13 4 1 2 1 35
12 Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman* 5-16 0-3 6-8 0 3 3 1 16 2 0 0 0 38
03 Kam Chatman 0-5 0-3 0-0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 4
11 Andrew Dakich 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 5
13 Moritz Wagner 2-2 0-0 0-0 3 5 8 2 4 1 1 4 1 22
24 Aubrey Dawkins 0-2 0-2 0-0 1 3 4 1 0 0 0 0 0 13
32 Ricky Doyle 1-1 0-0 2-2 1 0 1 1 4 0 0 0 0 5
Totals 24-59 6-25 13-16 12 26 38 14 67 10 8 6 5 200
Tulsa 25-56 3-15 9-15 10 26 36 15 62 10 11 6 5
200
Full Stats