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Posts Tagged ‘Caris LeVert’

Beilein, Michigan hungry to get back to Final Four

Thursday, October 16th, 2014


Beilein(Julian H Gonzalez, Detroit Free Press)

John Beilein took the podium for the first time in this new season Thursday morning to preview Michigan’s upcoming season. Big Ten Media Day came just one day after the preseason conference media rankings were released, pegging Michigan as the fifth-best team in the Big Ten.

“It is good to be here and get the season going again,” Beilein said in his opening statement. “We’ve been practicing for a little bit, but Oct. 15, yesterday, was the first day we really opened up camp and said we’re in it now.”

Beilein was peppered with questions about this season’s young team and whether it’s equipped with the tools to make another deep tournament run in March. When asked what challenges standin the way of a return to the Final Four, Beilein spoke from experience, having reached that stagejust two seasons ago.

“I’m as hungry or probably hungrier than ever to get back there,” he said. So I think it’s great motivation for everybody because they’ve experienced that run.”

Last season the Wolverines were just seconds away from another trip to the Final Four, but a deep three-pointer by Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison with virtually no time remaining took Michigan out of the running.

But Beilein wasn’t brooding over the past, he’s ready for what promises to be another long journey with the 2014-15 team, though one filled with ups and downs.

“It’s maybe not getting [to the Final Four], it’s the way you get there and how you get there and those moments in between, the journey,” Beilein said. “It makes it so valuable. So yes, it’s hard. You’d like  to stay injury-free…it’s very normal to have times during that year where you’re not going to play well. You won’t look like a Final Four team, and that’s exactly what you may need in February or late January or even in March.”

Questions surround a Michigan program that lost starters Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Jordan Morgan along with big men Mitch McGary and Jon Horford. Beilein’s group will count on another big year from their guards to lead the team.

Among the returning guards is junior Caris LeVert, who was named to the All-Big Ten first team.Beilein thinks his star shooting guard can handle the spotlight in Ann Arbor.

“He was in it a bit last year,” Beilein said. “I mean, there were several games where we just wentto him because people were doing things with Nik or Glenn, Jordan Morgan, Mitch, so we just went with him. He’s sort of used to it.”

Beilein said he loves LeVert’s personality because he doesn’t let anything both him. His level demeanor keeps him from getting too high when the team is rolling or too low when times get hard.

Of the trip to Italy, the head coach said it helped his team learn more about the world as a whole, but also about the game of basketball. He said the coaching staff has a better understanding of who can make adjustments on the fly and adapt to situations quickly.

Michigan will start the regular season against Hillsdale College on Nov. 15 in Ann Arbor.

Caris LeVert named to preseason All-Big Ten first team

Thursday, October 16th, 2014


Big Ten Basketball Tournament - Quarterfinals(Getty Images)

Michigan junior guard Caris LeVert was named to the All-Big Ten first team Thursday during Big Ten basketball media day.

LeVert, who was named to the second team last season, started all 37 games as a sophomore and averaged 12.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. He helped lead Michigan to an outright Big Ten championship and the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

This is the third straight season a Michigan player has received the honor. LeVert joins Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, Nebraska’s Terran Petteway and Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky on the squad. Kaminsky received Big Ten player of the year honors.

LeVert was also named to the 2014 USBWA All-District V Team, was the Rudy Tomjanovich Most Improved Player and Steve Grote Hustle Award recipient at the Wolverines annual postseason celebration.

As a junior LeVert will be asked to lead the Wolverines in the wake of departures from Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgans from last season.

Michigan opens the regular season against Hillsdale College on Nov. 15 at the Crisler Center.

Michigan fifth in preseason Big Ten basketball media poll

Thursday, October 16th, 2014


Beilein(Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

Michigan has become one of the most consistent basketball schools in the Big Ten conference under head coach John Beilein. Over the past four seasons the Wolverines have racked up a 104-41 record en route to four NCAA Tournament appearances, two Elite Eights and a national championship game.

Michigan has been equally dominant within the Big Ten during that span, winning the conference by three games last season for its second title in three years. Beilein’s group is averaging over 12 wins in the Big Ten per season since 2010-11, never finishing below fourth place.

But an exodus of talent to the NBA and graduation has raised questions about the upcoming Michigan season. Sixty percent of the starting lineup is gone, including the team’s leading scorer and passer (Nik Stauskas) and top three rebounders (Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan and Glenn Robinson III).

The uncertainty is reflected in the Big Ten preseason media poll, released on Wednesday as the conference descends upon Chicago for Big Ten Media Day, which pinned Michigan at No. 5 in the league. Above Michigan are Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State and Nebraska.

You can see the full rankings, along with the point totals, below:

Preseason media poll
Rank Team Points
1 Wisconsin 378
2 Ohio State 322
3 Michigan State 305
4 Nebraska 299
5 Michigan 286
6 Minnesota 226
7 Iowa 214
8 Illinois 196
9 Indiana 163
10 Maryland 162
11 Purdue 95
12 Penn State 84
13 Northwestern 78
14 Rutgers 27

Wisconsin, the unanimous No. 1 team, returns nearly every major contributor from last season’s Final Four team. Ohio State struggled in 2014 and fell in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to 11th-seeded Dayton, but brought in one of the top freshmen classes in the country. Michigan State, like Michigan, lost in the Elite Eight in March and waved goodbye to three of its starters: Gary Harris, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling. Nebraska was knocked out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Baylor, but returns most of the team that finished the regular season 8-1.

Michigan fans can reasonably argue that the team should rank just behind Wisconsin, as Beilein has proven this team to be a mainstay among the top teams in the Big Ten. But it looks like the country wants emerging stars like Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. to prove themselves this season before investing in this team.

Perhaps the skepticism stems from the lack of size on Michigan’s roster. Freshmen Rocky Doyle and Mark Donnal check in at 6-foot-9, the tallest listings on the team. If they can hold their own next to a slew of talented guards, Michigan should finish much higher than fifth in the Big Ten standings.

Michigan basketball Italy trip review and translation

Monday, October 13th, 2014


Michigan bball Italy(UMHoops)

Michigan fans, I have some good news for you: college basketball season is just around the corner. Practice has started, John Beilein is back at work with the team, and football will soon be a distant memory.

As everyone knows, the Wolverines took one of their every-four-years off-season trips this summer to play some lower-tier teams in Italy, and the results were encouraging, with four 20-plus point wins, a healthy dose of balanced scoring (eight players averaged more than eight points per game), and strong freshmen play.

About that last point, as Michigan fans have become accustomed to, the Maize and Blue will largely be looking to replace the lost production of Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan, and Jon Horford with five freshmen and a sixth redshirt freshman. You’d be right to blame Beilein with continuous gripes of too much youth if not for his absurd record of turning these young (and often overlooked) Wolverines into high NBA Draft selections. Of those five departures, two were first-rounders, one was a second-rounder, another is off to play first division ball in Europe with Virtus Roma, and the last transferred to Florida. With this turnover comes new names and faces to follow, new games to drool over, and a bevy of prospects that are question marks waiting to become stars under Beilein’s tutelage.

Today, let’s take a trip back in time to analyze some tape of each projected rotation player in Italy and see how their style of play will translate this fall and what still needs to improve. Special thanks to UMHoops for the video.

#23 Caris LeVert – 6’7″, 200
Italy stats: 14.3 ppg, 6 rpg, 4.3 apg, 3 spg, 1.8 TOs, 50% FG, 40% 3pt., 64.3% FT, 4 starts

What he showed: After suffering a stress fracture in his foot over the summer, LeVert was thought to be iffy to even suit up in Italy. Instead, he looked completely healthy and ready to lead the team moving forward. The junior just turned 20 in August, but he certainly looked capable of being The Guy this season, even though his scoring numbers weren’t gaudy.

LeVert came to Ann Arbor two years ago as a late addition after John Groce left Ohio University for Illinois and was by most counts a frustrating, wiry, inconsistent human in jelly-in-basketball-player-mold. A year later, LeVert had easily become the second offensive option on a very talented squad. Now, he is fully expected to lead the team, and his play in Italy leaves few questions. His shot looks as smooth as ever, his passing is crisp, his off-the-ball and pick-and-roll play looks improved, and he can rebound and run with anyone. But what stood out most was his confidence.

In the past, LeVert would sometimes appear to be thinking two steps ahead of his feet and would carelessly turn it over or take an ill-advised shot, but now he is showing that he can take the ball, survey the defense, and take the smartest course of action with his long strides and terrific finishing ability. He is comfortable passing or shooting, he isn’t hesitating at all, and he can even be seen directing his comrades a couple times. By all means, expect an outstanding season from Caris.

Where he can improve: No basketball player is perfect, especially in college, but LeVert’s well-rounded game is hard to nitpick at. One area that I think he has the potential to be even better is his man-to-man defense. LeVert’s size (he grew an inch and gained plenty more weight this off-season) and length give him the prototypical shutdown defender mold, but he lacked aggressiveness at times on that end of the floor last year. His steal numbers are quite encouraging, and his free throw shooting shouldn’t be an issue.

#21 Zak Irvin 6’6″, 215
Italy stats: 20.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1 spg, 2.3 TOs, 68.8% FG, 66.7% 3pt., 83.3% FT, 4 starts

What he showed: Shooting, shooting, and more shooting. Zak Irvin proved how big of a deep threat he is while shooting 42.5 percent from downtown as a freshman who did one thing. It’s pretty clear that his stroke didn’t take a summer break, and his outside shot should continue to make it easier for him to develop a dribble-drive game. In this video, we see some strong finishes, but Irvin really only takes it to the rack by himself a couple of times off two or three dribbles to his left. The majority of his two-pointers here are breakaway dunks and smooth backdoor cuts that won’t be as readily available against better competition. His rebounding numbers are also phenomenal.

Where he can improve: Coaches and players alike have been raving about Irvin’s game since the end of last season, and he has great potential, but his game still lacks LeVert-level diversification. Irvin’s shot is so good right now that I think he relies on it perhaps a bit too much. Look for him to continue to work on his handling and driving skills while using his outside shot to his advantage in creating inside for himself and others. Irvin, like everyone else on the team, needs to also be a little lighter on his feet defensively and use his athleticism and length to create havoc.

#10 Derrick Walton 6’0″, 185
Italy stats: 8.8 ppg, 3.3 apg, 4.5 rpg, 2.5 spg, 1.5 TOs, 44.8% FG, 27.3% 3pt., 50% FT, 4 starts

What he showed: If Caris LeVert is The Guy on this team and Zak Irvin is the dynamic sidekick, Derrick Walton needs to be the glue to hold everything together, and he looks the part to me. I love Walton’s creativity in the paint, his jump shot is worlds better from his high school days, and his acceleration and Trey Burkeian moves all point to No. 10 becoming the next great point guard out of Beilein’s factory. Walton’s high basketball IQ allowed him to learn the ins and outs of the offense rapidly as a freshman, and his grasp should only help the freshmen get up to speed that much sooner.

What he can improve: It’s tough to extrapolate too much from a few overseas blowouts, but Walton’s box scores seem to indicate that he may have spent some time away from the court this summer. His 10-2-9-14 scoring outputs point to a lack of consistency and his poor shooting certainly needs to improve, but I have no doubts that the small sample size and long off-season can take most of the blame here.

#34 Mark Donnal 6’9″, 240
Italy stats: 10.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.3 apg, .3 bpg, .3 TOs, 69.6% FG, 0% 3pt. (0-3), 81.8% FT, 4 starts

What he showed: Redshirt freshman Mark Donnal displays great movement throughout this clip, and his soft touch around the basket will be a welcome addition after Jordan Morgan sometimes struggled throughout his career in finishing the bunnies. Donnal needs to be able to run the floor in this offense, and he looked more than capable of doing that, beating his man down on a couple occasions and then out-smarting a defender for position as well. Donnal’s high field goal and free throw percentages are exactly what this team needs out of him: smart, solid play and finishing. If he does that, his job is done. Lastly, Donnal’s 14 offensive rebounds to 12 defensive is something exciting to keep an eye on.

What he can improve: What intrigued me most about Donnal as a prospect was his outside shooting. Obviously as a big man you want Donnal to be able to play inside, and he appears to be picking that up pretty well, but his outside shot in high school made me drool over the possibilities in Beilein’s offense. The pick-and-pop would be a terrific addition to this offense, but unfortunately it looks like Donnal is still progressing inside before he thinks too much about stepping out for the trey. His 0-for-3 line from downtown is discouraging for me, and I think he has the talent to do a lot better than one block every four games.

#3 Kameron Chatman 6’7″, 210
Italy stats: 9.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.5 apg, 2 spg, 1.3 TOs, 42.5% FG, 33.3% 3pt., 0.0% FT, 4 starts

What he showed: Chatman comes in this season as the most highly touted true freshman of the bunch, and his versatility should help contribute to Michigan’s excellent depth this season. Watching this video, I’m most impressed with Chatman’s vision and midrange game. For a big freshman, Chatman really zips off a few nice passes, and his confident stroke from just inside the deep line bring about memories of GRIII, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Trey Burke. Chatman’s role is just that, to be a role player who can score a few points, rebound well, defend, and provide value in different ways. He doesn’t need to fill up the stat sheet every night, but we should see a solid 6-9 points per game from the Oregon native. I feel like my keyboard is on replay, but Chatman also has great length and appears to have good, not great, athleticism.

What he can improve: Two things stick out right away in Chatman’s line after four games: low shooting percentages and zero attempted free throws. Chatman is most likely going to start from the beginning at the four spot for Beilein, meaning he’ll be going against guys his size on a regular basis. He is not going to be able to curtsy his way to easy one-dribble mid-rangers every night. Instead, Chatman needs to embrace aggressiveness, get to the hole a little more often, and either finish a layup or get fouled. His stroke looks very smooth right now, but he will need to up those shooting numbers a bit.

#32 Ricky Doyle 6’9″, 245
Italy stats: 11.5 ppg, 8 rpg, .3 apg, .3 bpg, 0 TOs, 74.1% FG, 60% FT

What he showed: Ricky Doyle was perhaps the biggest revelation of the Italy tour. In high school, Doyle played in a low-level league and was not active on the AAU circuit. Most of his development came from private lessons. Now in college, the book will be out soon that Doyle is a true big man in every sense of the word. Throughout his nearly three-minute long highlight video seen here, Doyle scored a number of strong buckets by finding open spots, running the floor well, and cleaning up misses, but the one thing that stood out to me was the number of times he put the ball on the floor – zero. Watch for yourself. Not once does Doyle put the rock to hardwood, even at the top of the key while waiting for the wings to complete their action. His field goal percentage is very impressive, and should stay pretty high this year considering the types of shots he’ll be taking, and his team-high eight rebounds per game are as encouraging a stat as any on this trip.

What he can improve: Doyle won’t be asked to do too much offensively this year other than finish off what Michigan’s skilled guards create for him, but some offensive versatility would be nice. He should be able to put the ball on the floor when going back-to-the-basket. Doyle’s free throw percentage is also a hair lower than what you’re comfortable with, and eventually he will work on his range. The Florida native will also want to improve his defensive footwork and mindset, as his 12 fouls were by far the most on the trip. With only him and Donnal really competing for minutes at the five, Doyle needs to be smart when it comes to foul trouble.

#12 Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman 6’4″, 175
Italy stats: 10 ppg, 2.5 apg, 3.3 rpg, 2.3 spg, 2.3 TOs, 47.8% FG, 20% 3pt., 64% FT

What he showed: Driving. If not for Doyle’s breakout performance, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman’s (you can’t expect me to write that out every time) impressive four-game stretch would be making the most headlines from the newbies. Michigan basketball’s Twitter account routinely went nuts over MAAR’s driving and finishing ability, and you spot a few glimpses throughout this clip. Abdur-Rahkman was a late pickup this off-season from the Philadelphia area, and while many questioned the scholarship offer, he already looks well on his way to providing immense value as that threat to get to the hole every time. I love his quickness on the dribble and his ability to keep his head up at all times. What’s more is that Abdur-Rahkman didn’t do all his damage in one game. He reached double figures in scoring three of four games and had multiple steals and assists in all four games.

What he can improve: Shooting. Abdur-Rahkman will earn minutes on the wing this season with his driving ability alone, and he should get to the free throw line often, but he will need to make defenders respect his outside shot if he is to bring his game up to the next level. Abdur-Rahkman made just two of his 10 three-point attempts on the trip, and he isn’t shown taking anything from distance in this video. The knock on his game in high school was always that shot, and it looks like he has a ways to go.

#24 Aubrey Dawkins 6’6″, 190
Italy stats: 9.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg, .5 apg, .3 spg, .8 TOs, 63.6% FG, 62.5% 3pt., 80% FT

What he showed: Aubrey Dawkins, the son of former Duke great and current Stanford coach Johnny, is probably going to be just a shooter this season if he plays at all, and that’s fine – especially when he is draining nearly two-thirds of his deep attempts. His stroke is smooth and his prep year on the East Coast should serve him well in transitioning to the college game. Dawkins does also showcase a good handle and a few nice finishes in this cut-up, but I expect his game to be pretty similar to Zak Irvin’s of last year. The skinny native Californian is also reputed to be a terrific athlete, which will serve him well down the road and perhaps bring some Glenn Robinson III comparisons eventually.

What he can improve: Again, like Irvin, Dawkins will continue to work on his dribble-drive game so that defenders cannot simply stick to him in the corner and erase him from the picture. Dawkins will need to move around a lot to create open looks for himself while also improving on his ability to get to the rack and the free throw line (just five attempts in four games).

#2 Spike Albrecht 5’11″, 175
Italy stats: 5 ppg, 2.5 apg, 2 rpg, .8 spg, .8 TOs, 46.7% FG, 37.5% 3pt., 75% FT

What he showed: At 22 years old and in his junior season, Spike is pretty safely expected to be the ever-reliable backup point guard. He’s never going to be the biggest, strongest, or most athletic player on the court, but he is calm and collected with the ball in his hands and usually makes the right pass. I’d like to see him shoot a little bit more this season with his terrific numbers, but Albrecht can most definitely be counted on to dribble under the basket and somehow find that open guy on the opposite wing at least once a game. His cool approach to the game and quiet, relaxed demeanor should do well to keep the team playing their style.

What he can improve: There was one really nice behind-the-back, pull-up elbow jumper drained in this video that I’d love to see more from out of Spike, but other than perhaps increased aggressiveness, Albrecht has a very defined game and a somewhat defined ceiling.

# 5 D.J. Wilson 6’9″, 220
Italy stats: N/A

Unfortunately, D.J. Wilson broke his pinky just before the trip to Europe and was unable to take part in gameplay, so I will hold off scouting for now, but if you follow me on Twitter (@SamSedlecky), you’ll see that I have some very high hopes for this lanky Sacramento native.

Drew’s mailbag: The last scholarship, Dawkins or Abdur-Rahkman, and redshirts

Monday, May 5th, 2014


Today is the second installment of Drew’s Mailbag, which will run every two weeks throughout the offseason, answering any questions you may have regarding Michigan athletics. You can submit your questions to Drew on Twitter (@DrewCHallett) or via email (drew.maizeandgoblue@gmail.com).

[Will Michigan] fill the last [basketball] scholly? – N Sulla (@NS0518)

For those who have not followed Michigan basketball’s roster situation since the end of the season, here is a quick recap: Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, and Mitch McGary all declared early for the NBA Draft, while Jon Horford decided to take his final year of eligibility to Florida. With four departures, Michigan had three available scholarships for next year’s team. John Beilein offered scholarships to two under-the-radar wings, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins. Both committed to the Wolverines soon thereafter. With one spot left, there appeared to be mutual interest between Michigan and Nevada transfer Cole Huff. However, last week, his AAU coach, Clint Parks, tweeted that Huff was down to Creighton and Iowa. Huff committed to Creighton yesterday.

So what should Michigan do with this last scholarship? Should Michigan use it now or bank it? Well, the Wolverines no longer have pressing needs for next season’s roster. Michigan did have them a few weeks ago when the departure of both Stauskas and Robinson III created a huge hole in the depth chart at the wing positions behind Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin. But Beilein filled it by bringing both Abdur-Rahkman and Dawkins into the fold. Now, the roster for next season is balanced with depth at each position, even with another scholarship available.

It's a long shot at this point, but if Beilein can get WVU transfer Eron Harris, he should use his final scholarship on the efficient guard (Michael Clements)

It’s a long shot at this point, but if Beilein can get WVU transfer Eron Harris, he should use his final scholarship on the efficient guard (Michael Clements)

Michigan should use this scholarship now only if there is a better option than the 2015 recruits Beilein is pursuing. Currently, Michigan is heavily involved in the recruitment of several top-50 prospects in the 2015 class. In fact, 24/7’s Crystal Ball projects that Michigan leads for both Jalen Brunson (No. 25 nationally in the 24/7 composite rankings) and Jalen Coleman (No. 35). On the other hand, almost every top-100 prospect in the 2014 class has signed his letter of intent because the recruiting cycle for that class is essentially over. The ones who have not signed yet are not Michigan targets either. Therefore, if Michigan wants to fill its last scholarship now, it should consider only transfers.

The only transfer still available with reported interest in Michigan is West Virginia’s Eron Harris. Harris is a 6’3” shooting guard who just completed a fantastic sophomore season. Harris averaged 17.2 points per game, converting 45.4 percent of his two-pointers, 42.2 percent of his three-pointers, and 85.6 percent of his free throws. As his shooting percentages indicate, Harris was an efficient scorer all season (113.4 offensive rating). But, notably, Harris was efficient while being one of WVU’s two go-to players (24.8-percent usage rate). There is no doubt that Harris would flourish in Beilein’s offense. Plus, Harris likely would receive substantial playing time at Michigan. Some project LeVert will be a first-round draft pick next summer. If LeVert declares for the NBA, Harris would be able to slip into the starting lineup at shooting guard as soon as he regains his eligibility for the 2015-16 season.

However, it is unclear just how serious Harris’ interest in Michigan is. Harris is transferring from West Virginia because he wants to play closer to his hometown of Indianapolis. This is why Indiana, Purdue, Notre Dame, and Butler are mentioned repeatedly as Harris’ potential destinations. Although Michigan is closer to Indianapolis than West Virginia, the 262 miles between Ann Arbor and Indianapolis still may be too far for Harris’ liking. This seems to be the main roadblock to Harris becoming a Wolverine.

Nonetheless, even if Harris transferred to Michigan, there would be one drawback: limited scholarships for the 2015 recruiting class. Michigan would have zero scholarships for the 2015 class unless one of four events happened: (1) a Wolverine declared early for the NBA after next season; (2) Beilein did not invite Bielfeldt back for his fifth year; (3) Beilein placed Austin Hatch on a medical scholarship; or (4) Michigan experienced any other natural attrition. One of these events likely will happen and open up a scholarship or two. But, with all of the talent Michigan is in on for the 2015 class, Beilein may want to save that scholarship for that class rather than accept Harris as a transfer.

The most likely scenario is that Michigan banks its final scholarship for the 2015 class. First, Harris likely will decide to transfer to a school closer to Indianapolis than Michigan. Second, even if Harris wanted to transfer to Michigan, Michigan’s admissions office can be a stickler for transferrable academic credits and prevent it from going through. However, given Harris’ skill set and Michigan’s future roster outlook, I think Beilein should try to land Harris if there is mutual interest.

How do you think [Aubrey Dawkins] is going to play into the rotation next year? –Andrew (@AndrewSWelch)

With the recent commitments of Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, we now know exactly whom Michigan will have available to play next season. Even if Eron Harris transferred to Michigan, he would not be eligible to play until the 2015-16 season. Therefore, we can begin predicting how John Beilein will distribute minutes for next year.

It is impossible to discuss how Dawkins will fit into next year’s rotation without including Abdur-Rahkman in that discussion. Both players will be lightly-recruited true freshmen whom Michigan brought into the program to provide depth at the wing positions. However, it is doubtful that Beilein needs both of them to be backups next season. Beilein prefers to use a short bench and give most of the minutes to his starters. His bench has received no more than a quarter of the available minutes each of the past five seasons. This generally is near the bottom of the national rankings. There is no reason to believe that will change next season when much of Michigan’s depth will be unproven freshmen.

Aubrey Dawkins is most likely headed for a redshirt next season

Aubrey Dawkins is most likely headed for a redshirt next season or at best a couple minutes per game

Additionally, Michigan returns a few players who have shown the versatility to play multiple positions within Beilein’s offense. With a veteran backup at point guard in Spike Albrecht, Beilein has played both Albrecht and starting point guard Derrick Walton, Jr. in the backcourt at the same time, sliding Walton, Jr. down to shooting guard. Caris LeVert has switched between shooting guard and small forward each of his first two seasons at Michigan. And Zak Irvin is mostly a small forward, but can be a stretch power forward, too. With all of these movable pieces, Beilein likely will need only one backup wing next year.

So the question is whether it will be Dawkins or Abdur-Rahkman who wins that job for Michigan. It is not an easy call because they have dissimilar games and bring different assets to the table. Dawkins is around 6’5” and seems to be more of a small forward than shooting guard. However, Dawkins probably could play both spots. Dawkins’ best strength offensively is his outside shooting, which Beilein highly covets in his players. Dawkins also has shown an ability to move very well off the ball and the athleticism to finish effectively at the rim. However, Dawkins seems to struggle to create shots for himself off the dribble, especially in isolation situations. Defensively, Dawkins appears to have the size to be an asset on the perimeter, but it is unknown if that will be the case immediately.

On the other hand, Abdur-Rahkman is closer to 6’4” and more of a shooting guard than small forward. He also can play both positions like Dawkins. Unlike Dawkins, though, Abdur-Rahkman’s best strength offensively is to create with the ball in his hands. He flourishes in transition, but also is effective in isolation and ball-screen situations. With the ball in his hands often, he also distributes the ball well to teammates. Abdur-Rahkman seems to be more a known defensive commodity on the perimeter than Dawkins, too. However, Abdur-Rahkman is an inconsistent outside shooter. This can be a major flaw in an offensive system that relies on perimeter shooting.

When comparing the two new wings and their fit on the roster, I think Abdur-Rahkman is more likely to win the job as the backup wing. Although Beilein likes all of his perimeter players to be able to consistently knock down open jumpers, Abdur-Rahkman brings a skill set to the table few others on the roster have. Michigan has lots of shooters. But the only two Wolverines that have shown an ability to create off the dribble are Walton, Jr. and LeVert. Irvin should do more of it with an expanded role next season, but Abdur-Rahkman will be able to showcase that ability, too. Plus, Michigan’s perimeter defense was a sieve last season. The Wolverines could use a strong, lengthy, versatile perimeter defender like Abdur-Rahkman.

Finally, Abdur-Rahkman will be 20 years old before he plays a game for Michigan, so he will be more physically mature than the younger Dawkins. Therefore, I think Dawkins will either receive about five minutes per game as the second backup wing or may even receive a redshirt next season.

With the possibility of adding one more [basketball commit], one or two of [Michigan’s] players could be redshirted next year. Who? – Bill (@BillOffer)

The only player whom Michigan definitely will redshirt is Austin Hatch. In June 2011, shortly after he committed to Michigan, Hatch was in a deadly plane crash that killed his father and stepmother. Hatch survived the crash, but was critically injured and placed in a medically induced coma for almost two months. As any decent human being would, John Beilein honored Hatch’s scholarship and told him that there would always be a place for him in Ann Arbor. It has been a long recovery for Hatch, but, in January 2014, he returned to the hardwood for the first time since the crash. The hope is that Hatch will be able to fully regain his pre-crash basketball abilities while at Michigan and play some meaningful minutes down the road. But that will not be next season, so expect Michigan to redshirt Hatch.

As I wrote in my previous answer, I think one of Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman or Aubrey Dawkins will be redshirted. I am leaning towards Dawkins receiving that redshirt because Abdur-Rahkman is more physically mature and has a unique set of skills on Michigan’s roster. But this is by no means a certainty. There is always the chance that Beilein believes he needs additional depth at the wing spot and plays both this season.

The only other player that may receive a redshirt is incoming freshman Ricky Doyle. Listed at 6’9” and 235 pounds, Doyle is the big man of the 2014 class. Doyle has exhibited that he can be a proficient offensive player, but he was an unheralded recruit mostly because he lacks athleticism and explosion. A year in the weight room could do wonders for Doyle like it did for Jordan Morgan and has reportedly done for redshirt freshman Mark Donnal. However, Donnal and Max Bielfeldt are the only other two options Michigan has at center. Both are undersized and have zero combined starts. If they struggle to perform well or stay out of foul trouble, Beilein may have no choice but to throw Doyle in there as a third big body. Ultimately, I think the lack of experienced depth at center will mean Doyle plays a few key minutes here and there.

If you have any questions related to Michigan athletics that you want answered in the next mailbag, please tweet them to @DrewCHallett on Twitter or email them to drew.maizeandgoblue@gmail.com. 

2014-15 Michigan basketball projections

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014


UMBB

This year’s Michigan basketball team finished just shy of a second straight Final Four, but they still turned many heads along the way. People were incredulous that such a young group of players could play so well after losing two non-senior guards to the first round of the NBA Draft — including the previous season’s Player of the Year — and a preseason All-America big man to a season-ending injury, and that always seemed to be one of the first things brought up in every Michigan broadcast.

You might want to get used to that talk.

The NBA’s April 27 deadline for early entries into the draft has come and gone, but unfortunately for Michigan fans, it was certainly not without lots of action in Ann Arbor.

With the big three heading to the NBA Michigan will once again have a very young team next season (Detroit Free Press)

With the big three heading to the NBA Michigan will once again have a very young team next season (Detroit Free Press)

On April 15, just a couple weeks after the Wolverines’ heartbreaking loss to Kentucky in the Elite Eight, sophomores Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III announced together that they would forego their final two years of college eligibility to enter the draft. Both were widely expected to leave — Stauskas after a breakout campaign that saw him take home Big Ten Player of the Year honors and Robinson III after he had passed on a likely top-15 selection a year before — but the departures will nonetheless make “what if” a common musing once again come basketball season.

A week and a half later, fellow sophomore Mitch McGary also declared for the draft – but without a press conference and just two days before the deadline. McGary, who didn’t play a game for Michigan  since the new year, announced that he would leave college after testing positive for marijuana during the NCAA Tournament, which would have resulted in a one-year suspension levied by the NCAA.

Many had speculated that McGary was going back and forth on his NBA decision until the bitter end, but his confession of the failed test and the NCAA’s denial of Michigan’s appeal brought light to the situation, and a source has confirmed that McGary would have returned to Michigan next season if he was not facing a suspension.

Regardless, all three have commenced their professional careers, leaving Michigan to regroup yet again.

So what does that mean for the Wolverines?

Well, for one, coach John Beilein and his staff are developing players at an incredible rate. Stauskas will be a first-rounder, and at least one of Robinson III and McGary will likely be there as well. If we can assume that, Michigan will have had four — maybe five — first round selections in two years.

Now, the philosophy of next man up must continue.

Most probably didn’t think this would be possible, but next season Michigan will be younger and less experienced than ever before in the Beilein era. Caris LeVert, Spike Albrecht, and Max Bielfeldt are the only three players that have been in the program for two full seasons, and with the recent commitments of Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Michigan will have a whopping seven players with freshman eligibility. Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton, Jr., and a few walk-ons round out the roster with one year under their belts.

After butchering last season’s individual player predictions (but hey, I got the Big Ten record and the Elite Eight finish spot on), I think the time is ripe to look foolish again. So with that in mind, let’s take a wild guess at how the lineups will shape up, who will handle the scoring load, and how many games Michigan can pull out.

Mark Donnal has a huge task ahead of him in locking down Michigan's front court (Courtney Sacco, Ann Arbor News)

Mark Donnal has a huge task ahead of him in locking down Michigan’s front court (Courtney Sacco, Ann Arbor News)

The Bigs

Perhaps the biggest what if of next year would have been the “what if Michigan still had Mitch McGary, a potential big man All-American, along with a dynamic backcourt headlined by Caris LeVert, who is already garnering some All-American talk?” The same question could be asked of graduating senior Jordan Morgan and rising senior Jon Horford, who has transferred to Florida.

As my dad always says, though, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas.

McGary is gone and Michigan’s only center candidate with any college game experience is Max Bielfeldt. Let that sink in a little.

The two freshmen vying for playing time will be Mark Donnal, who turned some heads in practice while redshirting last season, and Ricky Doyle, a true freshman from Florida whose high school competition was somewhat questionable.

Donnal seems to be the clear front-runner to start, and I am a huge fan of his game based off one live viewing of him in high school. Donnal possesses excellent range for a big man, which could make for a devastating combination in Beilein’s jack-happy offense, has solid length that should make him a serviceable rebounder and shot-blocker, and seems to be able to score from anywhere on the floor. Without raising too many eyebrows, I have to say that Donnal’s offensive game most closely reminds me of Doug McDermott and Adreian Payne as a junior and senior; obviously he will not score as much as McDermott did right off the bat, but Donnal’s versatility makes him a real threat.

Doyle would have been an excellent redshirt candidate this season but will likely be forced into some action with the limited depth. He is more of a back-to-the-basket type with a developing shot.

Bielfeldt has played spot minutes before and clearly has the upper hand when it comes to experience, but I don’t see great potential. He is a little short on size, talent, and athleticism; his range could score him a few minutes again, but I expect Donnal to get the lion’s share.

Minute Breakdown:
Donnal: 25 Doyle: 10 Bielfeldt: 5

The Wings

Caris LeVert is the de facto leader for Michigan next season (Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

Caris LeVert is the de facto leader for Michigan next season (Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

At the wing spots for Michigan, you will again find – surprise! – more youth.

Caris LeVert is obviously the one that everyone is talking about as the next potential NBA early entry after a breakout sophomore season, and as a junior this coming year, is a shoo-in to be a captain and a starter. He’s also likely to be the guy, at least to start the season, who would be Beilein’s choice to take it on the last possession. If LeVert sticks around Ann Arbor this summer to work on his game and packs on a few more pounds to his lanky frame, the All-America talk will not fade any time soon.

Zak Irvin will be the only other wing with experience, and after a year of some excellent spot-up shooting for a true freshman, he will be asked to develop into more than just a shooter in the upcoming offseason. The former Indiana Mr. Basketball has shown in the past that he can be a great scorer, and his length makes him a strong candidate to emerge as one of Michigan’s best on-ball defenders. He flashed some encouraging signs late in the season. If Irvin sticks around for Camp Sanderson, expect many headlines on a potential breakout for him as well.

LeVert and Irvin should both see 30-plus minutes per game at some combination of the two and three spots in the offense, and Irvin could slide to the four on occasion as well. If Irvin sticks mostly to the three, however, it will be two true freshmen, just like at the five, earning the vast majority of playing time at the four spot.

Those two freshmen are Kameron Chatman of Oregon and D.J. Wilson of California. Chatman measures in around 6’7″ and comes in as the highest-rated recruit of the class, while Wilson is listed around 6’8″ and recently jumped up in the ranks after a solid senior year. Both players have range out to the three-point line and length to spare. Chatman seems to be a little more perimeter- and offensive-oriented at this point, but Wilson looks to have better bounce and shot-blocking skills. I would expect both to earn a good chunk of playing time right off the bat in what will be one of the more interesting competitions to watch.

Rounding out the wing depth are the two late signees in Abdur-Rahkman and Dawkins. I admittedly have to watch much more video on each before formulating any sort of scouting report, but they both are garnering the “Trust in Beilein” philosophy for now. After seeing unheralded late signees like Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert pan out pretty well so far, that seems to be a fair approach. Both come in in the 6’4″-to-6’5″ range with solid athleticism and were on track to be mid-majors until Beilein came calling. Abdur-Rahkman is generally viewed as more of a slasher who needs to work on his shot while Dawkins has been called more of a shooter who needs to work on his handles. With hard work, both will certainly be given the chance to develop into rotation players, but they will likely play sparingly next year.

Minute Breakdown:
4 Wilson: 20 Chatman: 15 Irvin: 5
3 Irvin: 25 Chatman: 5 LeVert: 5 MAAR/
Dawkins
: 5
2 LeVert: 30 MAAR/
Dawkins
: 5
Albrecht: 5

The Point Guards

At perhaps John Beilein’s most critical position, Michigan will luckily have two players with a combined three years of college experience. Though Spike Albrecht will only be a junior and Derrick Walton, Jr. a sophomore, they will be the gray beards directing traffic.

Albrecht is a steadying force and a pretty decent bet to be the only player from the 2012 recruiting class to finish out his college eligibility. He is the known commodity – a plus passer, a plus ball handler, and a plus shooter with middling size and athleticism.

Walton is a prime candidate to break out, and if previous sophomore seasons from Darius Morris and Trey Burke are any indication, too big of a breakout from Walton could have Michigan fans shaking in their boots again. The quiet floor general has plenty of quickness, a shot that continues to improve, and a strong ability to finish at the rack after struggling with that early last season. He has also shown poise with some excellent late-game free throw shooting, which is always a great attribute for a point guard. One of the bigger areas Walton can improve on this offseason will be on the defensive end, where he could develop into a nice thief.

Minute Breakdown:
Walton, Jr.: 30 Albrecht: 10

Starting Lineup and Team Predictions

Starting Lineup:
1 2 3 4 5
Walton, Jr. LeVert Irvin Chatman Donnal
Team predictions:
MVP Caris LeVert
Most Improved Player Zak Irvin
Freshman of the Year Mark Donnal
Newcomer of the Year D.J. Wilson
Top 3 Scorers (in order) LeVert, Walton, Irvin
Players Shooting 40%+ from 3 (in order) LeVert, Irvin, Walton, Wilson, Albrecht
Projected Record 25-11 (11-7)
Projected Finish Sweet Sixteen
Bold Prediction D.J. Wilson earns Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors

What do you think? Do you agree with these projections? If not, what changes would you make?

New in Blue: Aubrey Dawkins

Monday, April 28th, 2014


Aubrey Dawkins
(Samuel Chang, Prep2Prep)

Aubrey Dawkins – SF | 6-5, 185 | New Hampton, N.H. | New Hampton Prep
ESPN: 2-star, #101 SF Rivals: 3-star 247: 3-star, #321 nationally Scout: 2-star
Other top offers: Dayton, Rhode Island

John Beilein picked up his second addition to the 2014 recruiting class in as many weeks when Aubrey Dawkins pledged his commitment on Monday afternoon. The son of former Duke star and current Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins chose the Wolverines over Dayton.

The 6-foot-5, 185-pound wing visited Michigan two weeks ago along with Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman and received an offer, but wanted to wait on his decision. He enjoyed an extended visit to Dayton last week before ultimately deciding on Michigan.

Dawkins transferred from Palo Alto High School where he averaged 18.7 points and 6.9 rebounds per game to New Hampton Prep in New Hampshire and averaged 13 points per game this past season. While he didn’t have many offers, his former coach at Palo Alto thinks he has plenty of upside.

“The sky’s the limit for him,” said Palo Alto coach Adam Sax last year. “He grew so fast, he didn’t have the weight. He’s been working hard in the weight room. He’s been lifting for the last two years. Once his body gets stronger, then he’s going to be pretty much unstoppable.”

Like Abdur-Rahkman, Dawkins compares somewhat to Caris LeVert in the sense that he’s an underrated wing with plenty of potential. He won’t play much of a role as a freshman, but once he gets some time in the system and the weight room, could be a solid contributor. Most importantly, he provides depth at the wing position following the departures of Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III.

Michigan’s 2014 class is now six deep — Dawkins, Abdur-Rahkman, Kameron Chatman, D.J. Wilson, Ricky Doyle, and Austin Hatch — and has one scholarship remaining following Mitch McGary’s early exit. That spot is likely reserved for Nevada big man Cole Huff should he choose Michigan over Creighton, Dayton, and Iowa.

Mitch McGary to enter NBA Draft

Friday, April 25th, 2014


McGary-Stauskas(MGoBlue.com)

Mitch McGary has announced his decision to follow Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III to the NBA Draft, forgoing his final two seasons in Ann Arbor following an NCAA-mandated one-year suspension for testing positive for marijuana.

“Mitch has had a tremendous impact on our program from the moment he committed to us,” said head coach John Beilein. “He has injected an enthusiasm that cannot be matched. This is why he is loved by the coaching staff, his teammates and Wolverine fans. The progress he has made on and off the court has been outstanding. His willingness to face a personal issue head on and his positive work ethic during his recent injury have helped him to grow in many ways. We know that he will put all of his energy and effort toward achieving his goals. We will continue to assist and support Mitch as he pursues a career in the NBA.”

McGary averaged 7.5 points and 6.3 per game as a freshman during the 2012-13 season, but broke out during Michigan’s NCAA Tournament run to the national championship game. In those six games, McGary averaged 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds, recording three double-doubles. He was named to the NCAA Tournament All-South Region team and the NCAA Final Four All-Tournament team. Entering this season, McGary was named to five Preseason All-America teams and a preseason candidate for the John R. Wooden Award, Naismith Award, and USBWA’s Oscar Robinson Award.

McGary hopes to be a first round selection in the NBA Draft this June (MGoBlue.com)

McGary hopes to be a first round selection in the NBA Draft this June (MGoBlue.com)

A back injury limited McGary to start the season and he played in just eight games before undergoing back surgery that ended his season in mid-December. In those eight games, he averaged 9.5 points and 8.3 rebounds despite not being fully healthy. He recorded double-doubles against Florida State (14 points, 12 rebounds) and Duke (15 and 14).

“My family and I want to thank everyone for giving us privacy and the time to make this decision,” said McGary. “As you know, it was important for us to weigh all the factors that go into something like this. With that being said, I am ready to move on to the next stage in my life and enter the NBA Draft.”

The failed drug test, as reported by Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports, came during this year’s NCAA Tournament run while McGary was still sidelined. He was selected for a random test following Michigan’s Sweet Sixteen win over Tennessee. Following the Final Four, Michigan and McGary learned he had failed the test and would face a one-year suspension for a first-time offender if he returned to school next season. From there, whether McGary wanted to return to school or not, the decision became easy: enter the draft. But credit McGary for coming clean.

“Being a part of a program that values integrity, it is important to let everyone know of a poor decision I recently made. I tested positive for marijuana during the NCAA Tournament. We were notified of that result after the Final Four. I regret thoroughly disappointing my family, coaches and administration. Despite all of this they have been understanding and helpful over the last couple of weeks.

“I take full responsibility for this poor choice and want to apologize to everyone, especially those I have grown close to during my fabulous two years at the University of Michigan.

“I love the University of Michigan and all it has allowed me to do. I have had my ups and downs, especially with my injury this season. I want to thank all the fans for embracing me. This has been the best two years of my life and I have some unbelievable memories. I know that I will be a Wolverine forever. Go Blue.”

With McGary, Stauskas, and Robinson III all heading to the NBA, in addition to the graduation of Jordan Morgan and transfer of Jon Horford, Beilein faces an enormous task next season. He has quality pieces in place in Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton Jr., and Zak Irvin, but virtually no experience inside. Max Bielfeldt averaged just 4.7 minutes per game and less than one point this season. Mark Donnal, a four-star freshman who redshirted, becomes perhaps the most important player on the roster next season and incoming big man Ricky Doyle will likely have to play as well.

Michigan is also in the market for a transfer, most notably Nevada big man Cole Huff, but he won’t help next season due to the transfer rule that will force him to sit out a season.

Drew’s Mailbag: McGary’s decision, 2014-15 preseason rankings

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014


Today is the first installment of Drew’s Mailbag, which will run every two weeks throughout the offseason, answering any questions you may have regarding Michigan athletics. You can submit your questions to Drew on Twitter (@DrewCHallett) or via email (drew.maizeandgoblue@gmail.com). 

What is your gut feeling about [Nik] Stauskas, [Glenn Robinson III], and [Mitch] McGary’s NBA decisions? – NMT21 (@NMT21)

Let’s start with the obvious: this question is dated. It was sent to me on April 9, 2014, one day before any reports had surfaced about whether any of Michigan’s players would declare for the 2014 NBA Draft. At the time, I discarded this as a question for my inaugural mailbag because I assumed all three of Stauskas, Robinson III, and McGary would have decided by now. However, although Stauskas and Robinson III have announced officially that they will enter the NBA Draft, McGary has yet to make his final decision. The deadline to declare is only five days away, so I think this is the perfect space to provide my thoughts on McGary’s decision.

First and foremost, this is McGary’s decision. He knows where his interests lie and has gathered all of the information he can from NBA executives and scouts. No one is more informed to make this decision than McGary. He certainly is more informed than me. With that said, I am going to address what I think are the pros and cons of McGary’s options and what I think he will decided by week’s end. What I will not do is tell McGary what he should decide. This is his decision. Not mine. I am in no place to criticize what McGary thinks is best for himself, his family, and his career.

If McGary chooses to follow Stauskas and Robinson III to the NBA, he has been projected as a late first-round or second-round pick. SI’s Chris Mannix is the most optimistic, projecting McGary to be selected with the 26th pick by the Miami Heat. Draft Express currently has McGary going with the last pick in the first round to the San Antonio Spurs. ESPN’s Chad Ford projects McGary as a late first-round pick, but does not include him in his latest top-30 Big Board or the next five in ($). And CBS Sports’ Matt Moore is the most pessimistic, penciling McGary to be selected with the eighth pick in the second round by the Detroit Pistons.

McGary is projected at the end of the first round by most experts (MGoBlue.com)

McGary is projected to be drafted at the end of the first round by most experts (MGoBlue.com)

The range of these projections is a concern for McGary. Whether a player is a first- or second-round pick has significant ramifications. First-round selections are guaranteed a contract. Second-round selections are not and can have their rights waived before ever signing a contract with the team that drafted them. There have been many second-round picks that did not make an NBA roster the season they were drafted. This is why many generally feel that players should return to school unless they are projected to be a solid first-round pick. Generally.

McGary is in a unique situation, though. After an incredible 2013 NCAA Tournament as a freshman, he was projected as a late lottery pick in last year’s draft. Nonetheless, he decided to return to Michigan. McGary then saw his draft stock drop his sophomore season not because of a decline in performance, but because of a lower-back injury that forced him to miss most of the year. There have been recent reports that McGary “is well on his way to being healthy.” If he can show NBA executives in workouts that he has returned to 2013 NCAA Tournament form, his stock would soar back into the first round. But, if not, red flags may be raised that cause McGary to fall into the dreaded second round.

Conversely, if McGary decides to return to Michigan for his junior season, he likely would be one of the best players in the Big Ten, if not the nation. It would provide McGary more time to show NBA executives and scouts that he once again can play at the level he did at the end of his freshman season than draft workouts would. McGary also would have the opportunity to prove to NBA management that he no longer has lower-back issues and can be a full-time starter for a college season. Plus, with the 2015 draft class expected to be weaker than this year’s stacked class, a strong junior season from McGary realistically could see him back in the lottery for the 2015 NBA Draft.

However, there certainly are risks to staying in school. The first is McGary reinjuring himself. The NBA is has become extremely wary of big men that are injury-prone. Another serious injury may indicate to the NBA that McGary is not a player that can endure a full 82-game season or a long NBA career. Another injury would cause McGary’s stock to plummet. The second risk is age. If McGary returns, he would be 23 years old before the 2015 NBA Draft. The NBA loves to draft potential. Unfortunately, NBA executives likely will think that a 23-year-old McGary has little of it left. This could hinder a rise in McGary’s draft stock even with a strong junior season.

And, of course, another season at Michigan is another season during which he does not earn an income for his talent on the hardwood. With how short professional basketball careers are relative to other occupations, McGary may not want to lose one of few valuable years to earn a seven-digit salary to play a sport he loves.

My gut feeling tells me that McGary will declare for the 2014 NBA Draft. Some may feel the opposite because McGary has delayed his decision this long and well after Stauskas and Robinson III made their decisions official. But John Beilein, Caris LeVert, and Spike Albrecht each recently made comments about next year’s team and forgot to include McGary. Plus, there are other things I have heard – nothing concrete – that indicate McGary might be leaving. Either way, as I said earlier, this is McGary’s decision. Michigan fans should respect his decision and support McGary whether he plays at Michigan or in the NBA next season.

Have both the [Michigan] football and basketball teams started the season unranked in the same year? – Will (@Goblue_1211)

Yes, there have been times when both Michigan football and basketball were unranked in the preseason during the same athletic year. It has happened 16 times since the Associated Press (AP) first released a preseason poll for both football and basketball in 1948-49. Fourteen of those times occurred from 1948-49 to 1969-1970 when the AP poll listed only 20 schools. But it has been a rare occurrence since Bo Schembechler made his mark on the Michigan football program.

From 1970-71 to 2007-08, it never happened. Only once during that span was Michigan football not ranked in the preseason AP poll (1985-86), but Michigan basketball was preseason No. 3 that year. Since Lloyd Carr’s retirement, it has happened twice: 2008-09 and 2010-11. However, Michigan basketball found its mojo in the second half of the 2010-11 season and has been listed in the preseason AP poll each year since then.

But let’s get to why this question was sent to me. Will sent this question when it became known that both Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III would declare for the 2014 NBA Draft. At the time, there was – and still is – uncertainty if Mitch McGary also would leave Michigan for the NBA. Will seems to be concerned – and if not concerned, then at least curious – that neither Michigan football nor basketball will be ranked in next season’s preseason AP polls. Will’s concern is not unfounded.

With Irvin and LeVert back, it is unlikely that Michigan won't begin the 2014-15 season unranked (Bradley Leeb, USA Today Sports)

With Irvin and LeVert back, it is unlikely that Michigan will begin the 2014-15 season unranked even if McGary goes pro (Bradley Leeb, USA Today Sports)

It is very unlikely that Michigan football will be ranked in the preseason AP poll this upcoming season. The Wolverines finished the previous season with a 7-6 record and lost five of their final six games. Yes, there are some circumstances where the AP will rank a team in the preseason following such a year. But those circumstances do not apply to Michigan. The Wolverines have more questions than answers right now. How quickly will Michigan learn and execute new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s new schemes? Will Michigan’s young offensive line, which allowed the most tackles-for-loss in the nation in 2013, improve despite losing two NFL-caliber offensive tackles? Will Michigan finally have an effective running game? How will Michigan’s defense adapt to the transition from the 4-3 under to the 4-3 over? Can Michigan beat its first ranked opponent on the road under Brady Hoke? I could go on and on.

This is not to say that Michigan football is doomed for the 2014 season. Michigan certainly has the talent and pieces to put together a successful campaign. But Michigan needs to answer these questions on the gridiron first before the media begins to respect the Wolverines. Don’t believe me? None of CBS Sports’ Jerry Hinnen, Bleacher Report’s Brian Pedersen, USA Today’s Paul Myerberg, or SI’s Martin Rickman place Michigan in their Way-Too-Early Top-25 rankings for 2014. The only such list that does is ESPN’s Mark Schlabach, who ranks Michigan at No. 21. The most likely scenario is that Michigan will be sitting outside the top 25 in the preseason AP poll, likely between No. 30 and No. 35.

Nonetheless, I do not believe that the 2014-15 season will be the 17th time that both Michigan football and basketball begin their respective seasons unranked. I expect Michigan basketball to be listed in the preseason AP poll for the fourth consecutive year this upcoming season. I also expect this to happen even if McGary follows Stauskas and Robinson III to the NBA. Michigan has been one of the best programs in the nation the past three seasons, winning two Big Ten titles and appearing in two Elite Eights. It is rare for a program with these accomplishments to be unranked the following season, even if most of the core players have departed for the NBA.

Michigan returns plenty of talent, too. Caris LeVert was one of the most improved players in the Big Ten, if not the nation, last season and was named to the All-Big Ten second team. Although LeVert cannot be expected to make a similar leap next year like he did this past year, look for him to contend for the Big Ten’s Most Valuable Player honor. There is also Derrick Walton, Jr. and Zak Irvin – talented players who executed their roles perfectly as freshmen. Both will receive additional touches as sophomores with more of the offensive burden falling on them.

Given John Beilein’s track record for developing freshmen, both Walton, Jr. and Irvin have been listed by media outlets as players who will break out next season. Plus, there have been rave reviews about big man Mark Donnal in practice, and Michigan adds top-30 recruit in Kameron Chatman. There will be no deficiency of talent in Ann Arbor next season.

The media agrees, too. All of NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster, ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan, Bleacher Report’s C.J. Moore, USA Today’s Scott Gleeson, and SB Nation’s Mike Rutherford list Michigan in their Way-Too-Early Top-25 rankings for 2014-15. The range of where Michigan lands on these lists is wide. Some have Michigan in the top 10. Most have Michigan around No. 20. Where U-M is ranked on each depends on how many Wolverines the writer assumed were declaring for the NBA Draft. The only media outlet that did not place Michigan on such a list is CBS Sports. But this likely is just an outlier. If McGary declares for the NBA Draft, I would expect Michigan to be ranked between No. 20 and No. 25 in the preseason AP poll. If McGary returns, there is little doubt that the Wolverines would find themselves in the top 20 in the preseason.

If you have any questions related to Michigan athletics that you want answered in the next mailbag, please tweet them to @DrewCHallett on Twitter or email them to drew.maizeandgoblue@gmail.com. 

How Michigan’s wings performed relative to expectations

Monday, April 21st, 2014


Stauskas dunk vs MSU 2-23-14

Back in November, as the Michigan football team was limping through the conference schedule and many of the maize and blue faithful started to turn their hopes to the hardwood, Sam penned a preview of the basketball season, complete with team and player predictions. It was no easy task as the Wolverines were replacing Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Most anticipated a solid sophomore leap from Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, but Caris LeVert’s improvement turned out to be a pleasant surprise that no one saw coming.

Sam pegged Michigan to finish 30-7 overall and 15-3 in the Big Ten, tying for the conference title and advancing to the Elite Eight. When the Wolverines started the season 6-4, it looked as if his predictions were way too optimistic. However, the young squad clicked and ran its way through the Big Ten, finishing 28-9 overall and 15-3 in the Big Ten. Instead of sharing the conference title, Michigan won it outright for the first time since 1986 and then advanced to the Elite Eight, falling just short of a return trip to the Final Four.

In addition to the team preview, Sam wrote a series of player previews: the wings, the big men, the point guards. He made his predictions for each player’s points, rebounds, assists, steals, turnovers, and minutes. Let’s take a look at how each player performed relative to Sam’s expectations. Today, we’re reflecting on the wings.

Nik Stauskas
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 13.5 3.5 1.0 0.5 1.0 33.0
Actual 17.5 2.9 3.3 0.6 1.9 35.6
Difference +4.0 -0.6 +2.3 +0.1 +0.9 +2.6
2012-13 Difference +5.8 +0.7 +0.1     +18.5

Stauskas blowing kissesRecap: Michigan’s second consecutive Big  Ten Player of the Year, Stauskas exceeded nearly every expectation. As a freshman, he proved he could snipe from three-point range, but because of Burke and Hardaway, he wasn’t asked to do much more. With those two gone, however, he took over.

In Sam’s preview, he wrote, “The sophomore claims to have increased his vertical leap by some six inches while putting on 16 pounds of muscle without losing his surprising first-step burst and shooting stroke. If true, Stauskas will easily contend for scoring leader on the team and will again be a nightmare for opposing coaches.” Stauskas certainly looked and played the part.

Future: Stauskas declared his intentions to enter the NBA Draft last week, and while Michigan fans hate to see him go, virtually no one can blame him. His draft stock soared to a potential lottery pick, so there’s no use risking injury by spending another year in college at this point. His production will be tough to replace, but as Beilein proved this year replacing Burke and Hardaway, it’s not impossible.

Glenn Robinson III
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 14.0 6.0 1.5 1.3 1.3 35.0
Actual 13.1 4.4 1.2 1.0 1.2 32.3
Difference -0.9 -1.6 -0.3 -0.3 -0.1 -2.7
2012-13 Difference 0.0 +0.9 -1.2 -0.2 +5.6

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at IllinoisRecap: Robinson was expected to be the team leader in the absence of Burke and Hardaway, but it was Stauskas that took on that role. Robinson was frustrating at times, but picked up his play over the last third of the season, playing his best ball down the stretch, scoring nearly a point more than his season-long average in the NCAA Tournament.

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

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

For the most part, Robinson was still the player that quietly went about his business. He just did it a little bit better than last year.

Future: Like Stauskas, Robinson already announced his decision to enter the NBA Draft. Unlike Stauskas, this came as a surprise to many who thought he could use another year in college to prove he can be a go-to guy. His draft stock has hovered around the end of the first round based on his perceived potential. But that potential could also allow him to work his way up to a higher pick during pre-draft workouts.

Caris LeVert
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 8.0 3.0 0.5 3.0 1.2 25.0
Actual 12.9 4.3 2.9 1.2 1.7 34.0
Difference +4.9 +1.3 +2.4 -1.8 +0.5 +9.0

LeVert vs OSU 3-15-14Recap: In his freshman campaign, LeVert was a string bean that came off the bench to provide solid defense for less than 11 minutes a game. He showed potential, but nobody saw the leap he made during his sophomore season coming. He was easily the most improved player on the team, raising his scoring average from 2.3 to 12.9, rebound average from 0.8 to 4.3, and assist average from 0.2 to 2.9.

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

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

Shine he did, especially in games in which Stauskas was shut down. LeVert scored 24 against Duke, almost single-handedly keeping Michigan in the game, and had a four game stretch late in the conference schedule in which he scored 22, nine, 25, and 23.

Future: With Stauskas and Robinson gone and Mitch McGary still undecided, it’s now LeVert’s team. The lightly recruited, baby-faced kid from Columbus weighed making the jump to the next level as well, but elected to return. As the leading returning scorer, he’ll be tasked with the role of go-to man and try to become Michigan’s third straight Big Ten Player of the Year. If he shows even the slightest improvement throughout the offseason, that’s certainly a realistic possibility.

Zak Irvin
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 9.5 3.0 1.5 1.0 1.5 21.0
Actual 6.7 1.3 0.3 0.2 0.4 15.4
Difference -2.8 -1.7 -1.2 -0.8 -1.1 -5.6

Zak Irvin vs NebraskaRecap: Irvin came in with a lot of potential, but it’s never easy to forecast the production of a freshman.

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

In reality, LeVert’s progression from gangly defensive sub to a very good offensive threat probably limited Irvin’s production a bit, but that’s okay. Irvin was called upon to play a similar role to Stauskas last season: three-point sniper. The Fishers, Ind. native is capable of much more than that, and will be able to prove it next season, but was simply needed to knock down threes in 15 minutes a game. And he did just that, making 62, second only to Stauskas.

Future: Irvin will be tasked with making the sophomore leap next season. He’s in line for a starting role and will need to be much more than simply a three-point sniper. He has the game to do much more, but come November it will be time to prove it. He’ll need to raise his scoring average at least into double digits to make up for the production lost by the departures of Stauskas and Robinson.
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Come back later this week for a look back at how the big men and the point guards performed relative to expectations.