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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.
__________________________________________________________________________________

Come back later this week for a look back at how the big men and the point guards performed relative to expectations.

New in Blue: Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman

Saturday, April 19th, 2014


Muhammed Ali Abdur-Rahkman(Kevin Mingora, Morning Call)

Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman – SG | 6-4, 180 | Allentown, Pa. | Central Catholic HS
ESPN: 2-star, #101 SG Rivals: 3-star 247: 3-star, #381 nationally Scout: NR
Other top offers: Bucknell, Drexel, George Mason, Harvard, Lehigh, Robert Morris, VCU

Just a few days removed from the departure announcements of Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, John Beilein picked up a commitment from shooting guard Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman. The 6’4″, 180-pounder out of Allentown, Pa. doesn’t hold a great offer list, but as Beilein has proven time and again that’s nothing to worry about. He obviously saw enough from Abdur-Rahkman to warrant an offer when the guard visited Ann Arbor this weekend and it was accepted. He announced his commitment on Twitter.

Abdur-Rahkman averaged 23.6 points, 4.1 assists, and 6.2 rebounds per game for Catholic Central High School and set the school’s career scoring record. He became the first four-time Pennsylvania Lehigh Valley all-state selection when was named to the PIAA Class AAA first-team following his senior season.

“He’s a complete player,” said Catholic Central head coach Dennis Csencsits. “Not only does he lead us in scoring but he leads us in assists, he is a very good rebounder, so he is a really well-rounded player. Very smart, very savvy basketball player.”

Caris LeVert hosted Abdur-Rahkman on his visit and the latter will hope to follow a similar development process as his host. LeVert was also a lightly-recruited late addition to a Beilein class, and after a year learning the ropes, broke out as a sophomore, earning All-Big Ten second-team honors. He now figures to be the team leader in 2014-15. Abdur-Rahkman will serve as LeVert’s backup next season, coming off the bench to spell the will-be junior for a few minutes a game while working on his own development.

Earlier this week, he told Scout’s Sam Webb, “I’m more of a facilitator…get in the lane, drive and kick (and) find the big guys inside. I can play defense. I’m a good defender. I can shoot a little bit, (but) I need to get better. Dribbling better, but need to get better. Midrange is pretty good.”

Abdur-Rahkman joins Kameron Chatman, D.J. Wilson, Ricky Doyle, and Austin Hatch in the incoming class. With one scholarship remaining, there’s still a chance for another addition. Beilein also extended an offer this weekend to shooting guard Aburey Dawkins, the son of former Duke star and current Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins, so stay tuned for a possible commitment from him. In addition, if Mitch McGary opts to follow Stauskas and Robinson III to the NBA, another scholarship will open up and Beilein will likely target a big man.

Stauskas, Robinson III declare for NBA Draft

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014


Stauskas-Robinson

Michigan star guard Nik Stauskas and athletic forward Glenn Robinson III announced Tuesday afternoon at a press conference at the Crisler Center that they will declare for the NBA Draft after their sophomore seasons with the Wolverines.

In two seasons, Stauskas and Robinson helped Michigan advance to the national championship and then return to the Elite Eight in addition to the program’s first outright Big Ten title since 1986.

Stauskas took over a team that lost leaders Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. from the 2012-13 team and came within one miracle shot of leading his team back to the final Four.

Thanks to an offseason dedicated to improving his game, Stauskas not only increased his scoring from 11 points per game to 17.5 during his second college season, he also led the team with 3.3 assists following the exit of assist-leader Burke.

“For as long as I can remember I have had a goal of playing in the NBA, whether it was on my backyard court or winning the Big Ten title at Crisler Center,” Stauskas said in a statement released by U-M media relations. “Following some heartfelt discussions with my family, Coach Beilein and the rest of the coaching staff, I am ready to pursue my goals and begin my NBA career.

Robinson and Stauskas are leaving early. Michigan now turns its attention to McGary's decision (Detroit Free Press)

Robinson and Stauskas are leaving early. Michigan now turns its attention to McGary’s decision (Detroit Free Press)

“What cannot be understated is how the University of Michigan has helped prepare me for this moment both on and off the court,” continued Stauskas. “This great university took a chance on me and gave me the opportunity to achieve my college basketball dreams. I hope in some small way, I was able provide some lasting moments. As I move forward into this next stage of my life, it cannot be said enough how thankful I am to the Wolverine fans for embracing me. I will always be a Wolverine at heart.”

Robinson, often criticized for his seemingly nonchalant demeanor, stepped up during the later part of the season to give Michigan the boost it needed to contend for a championship. He finally found a comfort level with his mid-range jumper and became an all-round offensive weapon as a result.

“I have thought a lot about the next step in my career over this past year,” said Robinson. “After talking with my mom, my dad, my grandma, Coach Beilein and the coaching staff, I feel the time is right for me to begin my professional career and declare for the NBA Draft. I am confident I have the work ethic, the talent and maturity to pursue this path successfully.

“It has truly been a blessing to have had the opportunity to attend to the University of Michigan and be part of this basketball program,” added Robinson. “The Wolverine fans and U-M alumni are the best in the world. I have developed many relationships and created so many positive memories that I know will last a lifetime. As excited as I am about my future, I will always be grateful for this wonderful two year experience at the University of Michigan.”

The two sophomores helped amass a school record 59 wins in two seasons in Ann Arbor.

Stauskas became a fan favorite with his clutch shooting, most notably jump-starting Michigan’s run to the regular season outright Big Ten championship this season with a step-back three-pointer in Madison to bury the No. 3 Badgers. The flashy guard ended his outstanding college career by dropping 24 points on the eventual-runner up Kentucky Wildcats. Stauskas played 39 minutes during the game and single-handedly kept the Wolverines in the game.

The departure of these two key pieces seemingly leaves the team in the hands of fellow sophomore Caris LeVert, pending the decision of Mitch McGary. LeVert similarly stepped up this season, more than tripling his minutes and trailing just Stauskas on the team with 12.9 points per game and 2.9 assists per game.

Though the loss of his leading scorer certainly stings, John Beilein had to expect this decision. If McGary returns for another season, then Michigan is equipped with enough returning talent to compete for another conference championship. If McGary follows in the footsteps of his classmates, then Beilein will once again have to work his magic with the incoming freshmen. But what’s encouraging is that he’s replaced a similar loss of production before. Pretty recently, in fact.

 

Four-star small forward Kameron Chatman and a pair of three-stars, center Ricky Doyle and power forward D.J. Wilson, certainly bring a fresh wave of talent to Ann Arbor, but filling the holes of all three sophomores would represent an extremely difficult test. Beilein proved he can cope with losing talent to the next level through the team’s shocking performance this season, but Michigan would certainly benefit from keeping at least one of the star sophomores to help LeVert mentor the newcomers.

The loss of Stauskas and Robinson doesn’t bury the defending Big Ten champions for the upcoming season, but McGary’s decision, which could come at any time, will certainly hold a much greater significance now that his teammates have moved on.

Inside the Numbers: The fifth golden era of Michigan basketball

Friday, April 11th, 2014


Michigan(MGoBlue.com)

The college basketball season officially has ended. Accordingly, this will be the final entry of my “Inside the Numbers” series for the 2013-14 athletic season. This hiatus will last a few months until I begin previewing the 2014 Michigan football team this summer. But I still will write for Maize and Go Blue in the meantime. I am starting a bimonthly mailbag. If you have any questions about Michigan football and basketball that you want answered, please tweet them to me (@DrewCHallett) or email them to me (drew.maizeandgoblue@gmail.com), and I will answer them here. On that note, I hope you enjoy my last “Inside the Numbers” piece on the 2013-14 Michigan basketball team. 

Michigan is a “football school.” Always has been. Always will be. This is expected when Michigan is the winningest football program of all-time, leads the Big Ten with 42 conference championships, owns 11 national championships, has three Heisman Trophy winners, plays its home games in the nation’s largest football stadium, and has made more television appearances than any other college football program. But this “football school” label should not overshadow the achievements of the Michigan’s basketball program. Especially right now.

Michigan basketball is not some poor or substandard program. Michigan has won 14 Big Ten regular-season championships, which is one more than the number Michigan State has won. The Wolverines have appeared in the Sweet Sixteen and the Elite Eight 13 times each. Michigan has participated in the Final Four seven times. Only nine schools in the nation have advanced to the Final Four more often. And the Wolverines have celebrated one national championship. Indiana and Michigan State are the only Big Ten programs with more than one national title.

Unlike the football program, though, Michigan’s basketball program has experienced only sporadic success. Historically, Michigan has not always been one of the best basketball programs in the nation. Michigan has not competed for Big Ten or national championships on a consistent basis. When the Wolverines have competed at such a level, they have not been able to sustain it for an extended period of time. This is why, from the inaugural NCAA Tournament in 1939 to 2011, there had been only four brief stretches during which Michigan was near the top of the college basketball landscape.

A-Maize-ing Stretches of Michigan Basketball (1939-2011)

Years

Overall
Win Pct.

Conference Win Pct.

B1G Titles

Sweet Sixteens

Elite Eights

Final Fours

1964-66

79.27%

83.33%

3

3

3

2

1974-77

79.31%

79.41%

2

3

3

1

1985-89

78.31%

72.22%

2

2

1

1

1992-94

78.43%

72.22%

0

3

3

2

Other 58 Years

52.65%

43.46%

1

0

1*

0

*Michigan appeared in the 1948 NCAA Tournament when the field had only eight teams

When John Beilein arrived in Ann Arbor in April 2007, it had been 13 years since Michigan had last been considered elite and nine years since Michigan had participated in the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines were in a rut and in need of a new leader to rebuild their program. The first few seasons under Beilein were slightly rocky. Yes, Michigan overachieved in 2009 with a 21-win season and its first NCAA Tournament since 1998. But a disappointing sub-.500 record in 2010 and underwhelming start in 2011 gave the impression that Michigan was still a long ways away from the top of the mountain.

Then, suddenly, everything began to click a few weeks into the Big Ten season in 2011. With a worrisome 1-6 conference record, Michigan traveled to East Lansing, a place where it had not won since 1997, to play rival Michigan State. With the program trending downwards, Michigan seemed destined to suffer yet another loss at the Breslin Center. But Zack Novak and Stu Douglass had different plans. Novak buried a career-high six triples, and Douglass drilled a three-point dagger with 20.2 seconds left to secure a surprising victory for the Wolverines. The win turned around the season. Michigan closed with a 10-5 record and pushed No. 1 seed Duke to the brink in a promising NCAA Tournament appearance.

Thanks to Beilein's ability to identify under-the-radar recruits and develop them for his system, Michigan is amid another golden era (MGoBlue.com)

Thanks to Beilein’s ability to identify under-the-radar recruits and develop them for his system, Michigan is amid another golden era (MGoBlue.com)

While this was happening on the court, Beilein was striking gold on the recruiting trail. In August 2010, Beilein landed an undersized point guard, whom Rivals ranked No. 136 in the 2011 class when he committed. His name was Trey Burke. One month later, Michigan received a pledge from an athletic wing whose father played in the NBA. The commitment earned little fanfare, though, because Rivals ranked the prospect only No. 118 in the 2012 class. His name was Glenn Robinson III. In March 2011, a Canadian sharpshooter, whom Rivals ranked No. 106 in the 2012 class at the time, decided he wanted to be a Wolverine. His name was Nik Stauskas. Then, after Beilein landed the highest-ranked recruit of his career in the form of five-star Mitch McGary, Beilein added a last-second commit, whom Rivals did not rank nationally, to the 2012 class. His name was Caris LeVert.

The combination of Michigan’s end-of-the-season turnaround in 2011 and Beilein’s superb recruiting of under-the-radar prospects ushered in what can now be considered the fifth golden era of Michigan basketball. Since 2011, Michigan has posted an 83-27 overall record (75.45 win percentage). The Wolverines’ 83 wins are the most they ever have had in a three-year span. U-M’s 59 total wins in 2013 and 2014 are the most ever by the school in consecutive seasons. With this type of on-court success, Michigan recently has accomplished goals and records that it has not done been able to do since the Fab Five era.

For starters, Michigan has been the best Big Ten basketball program during this timeframe. Since 2011, Michigan has a 40-14 conference record (74.07 win percentage). No Big Ten school has more conference wins or a higher conference win percentage in that span. The closest is Michigan State with 38 conference wins. Accordingly, the Wolverines won a Big Ten regular-season championship in 2012 and 2014. These were Michigan’s first conference championships since 1986. Further, Michigan ran away with the title in 2014, winning the Big Ten by three games. This was a feat no team had achieved since Michigan State in 2009. For the first time in almost three decades, Michigan sits atop the Big Ten without an equal.

Michigan’s success has translated to the postseason, too. Michigan has been no lower than a No. 4 seed in each of the past three NCAA Tournaments. Its No. 2 seed in 2014 was its highest since it was a No. 1 seed in 1993. Yes, the Wolverines fell unexpectedly to Ohio in the Round of 64 in 2012. But they have more than made up for it since then. Michigan has advanced to the Elite Eight each of the past two seasons, doing so in consecutive years for the first time since 1992-94. This included a magical run to the national championship game in 2013, where Michigan finished as the national runner-up. In these two NCAA Tournaments, the Wolverines accumulated eight wins. No other school in the nation can claim more in this span.

Michigan is amid this golden era of regular-season and postseason success because it has become the nation’s gold standard for offense. The Wolverines have finished in the top 20 in adjusted offensive efficiency in each of the past three seasons. Michigan actually led the nation in this category in both 2013 and 2014. In fact, Michigan’s adjusted offensive efficiency rating of 124.1 in 2014 was the highest by any team in the nation for the 12 seasons this stat has been tracked. Therefore, Michigan’s offense this past season was the most efficient in the nation since at least 2002. Beilein’s offensive system is predicated on having four guards or wings on the court, spacing, constant motion, and outside shooting. With the proper weapons at Beilein’s disposal, few teams, if any, can score at a rate like Michigan.

Regardless of who goes pro, Michigan should remain elite next season (MGoBlue.com)

Regardless of who goes pro, Michigan should remain elite next season (MGoBlue.com)

And Beilein has found the proper weapons. Beilein has hauled in some of the best talent Ann Arbor has seen in decades, even if those players were not considered blue-chip recruits by other elite programs. In 2013, Burke was named the consensus National Player of the Year. It was the second time ever a Wolverine had received such an honor and the first time since Cazzie Russell in 1966. Additionally, Burke also was honored as a consensus first-team All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year. Burke was Michigan’s first member of an All-America first team since Chris Webber in 1993 and first Big Ten Player of the Year since Glen Rice in 1989.

There were some outsiders who claimed that Michigan was a one-man program and would return to mediocrity with Burke’s departure. This was far from case. The following season, Stauskas became Michigan’s go-to player and blossomed into a star. Stauskas, like Burke in 2013, was named to an All-America first team and the consensus Big Ten Player of the Year. It was the first time a Wolverine had been a first-team All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year in consecutive seasons since 1964-66 and 1988-89, respectively. McGary was a preseason first-team All-American in 2014, but his season was derailed by a lower back injury. LeVert was selected as a member of the All-Big Ten second team in 2014 after having a minimal role as a freshman the previous season. And Robinson III has been a two-time All-Big Ten honorable mention and projected to possibly be a first-round draft pick.

This is an exciting time to be involved with Michigan basketball. In each of the past three seasons, the team has competed for conference and national championships. The players have run Beilein’s offensive system to perfection, showing the rest of the nation how offense is supposed to be played. As a result, the players have received multiple national and conference honors to recognize their performances. Additionally, there have been so many other awards, honors, records, and accolades that Michigan and its players have attained since 2011, but there are too many to recognize all of them in this piece. It would be a stat overload. But the message is clear: this is the fifth golden era of Michigan basketball.

The logical follow-up question is, “How long will this fifth golden era of Michigan basketball endure?” Will Michigan drop from its lofty perch in the college basketball world quickly as it has historically? Or has Beilein built this program into a consistent contender that will be among the nation’s best for another decade-plus? This is anyone’s guess. If I had to give mine, I would lean toward the latter, even if one or two Wolverines declare early for the NBA Draft in the next week or so. Nonetheless, Michigan fans should not take this success for granted. Michigan may be a “football school,” but, at the moment, its basketball program is superior and may be for quite some time.

The M&GB Hail Awards: Basketball 2013-14

Thursday, April 10th, 2014


Pregame huddle(MGoBlue.com)

With the 2013-14 basketball season in the books and the Michigan Basketball Awards Celebration approaching next week, it’s time to hand out our own awards, the M&GB Hail Awards. This is the first time we’ve done this for basketball, and after doing it for the past three football seasons, we decided it was time to give the boys of the hardwood the same love.

After reaching the national title game and coming up just short a year ago, and then seeing the departures of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the NBA, a step back in 2013-14 would be expected. But Michigan still had plenty of star power in Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas, but just 10 games in McGary was lost for the season and the Wolverines stood just 6-4 with an embarrassing loss to Charlotte.

But then something started to click. A three-point win over Stanford in the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational started a 10-game winning streak that included wins over three straight AP Top-10 teams. Suddenly, a Michigan squad many had written off before December ended was now a Big Ten title frontrunner. And although the Wolverines lost three of their next five, they won the last five down the stretch to pull away from the crowd and win the Big Ten by a whopping three games.

Entering the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 1 seed, Michigan didn’t have much to prove and needed only to avoid injuries that could derail another long NCAA Tournament run. John Beilein’s squad survived a scare from Illinois in the quarterfinals and completed the season sweep of Ohio State in the semis, but then ran into a hungry and determined Michigan State squad in the championship. But the beauty of it is that the Wolverines still won the season series with the Spartans 2-1.

In the Big Dance, Michigan used its No. 2 seed to its advantage, topping Wofford by 17 points despite a lackluster performance. Texas was up next and the Wolverines answered any questions about their ability to handle a dominant frontcourt, winning by 14. Tennessee presented a similar problem, and after building up a big lead, Michigan committed a flurry of turnovers in the closing minute, needing a heroic charge taken by senior leader Jordan Morgan to pull out the win. The season then came to a close, one step short of a return trip to the Final Four, when Michigan had its hearts ripped out by an NBA-range three from Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison.

Although the goal of a national championship was not reached, this Michigan squad still accomplished plenty, including its first outright Big Ten title since 1986. The offense became college basketball’s most efficient offense in the past 12 years (the KemPom era). Two straight deep tournament runs proves that Michigan is here to stay, and doing so despite the personnel losses from a year ago are a testament to Beilein’s coaching acumen.

Let’s take the time to honor the top players, plays, performances, and moments of the 2013-14 Michigan basketball season.

To revisit our football Hail Awards: 20132012, 2011.

Player of the Year Nik Stauskas

Stauskas 3 vs IowaA year ago, Nik Stauskas played the role of sharpshooter, heeding the playmaker role to Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. He wasn’t needed to do much more than stand behind the arc and toss in daggers. But this season, with Burke and Hardaway playing at the next level, there was a void and Stauskas stepped in to fill it.

Everybody already knew he was more than just a shooter, but in his new role, the Canadian was able to flourish, adding a good penetration game and an affinity for finding the open man to his already proven three-point stroke.

All he did was earn Big Ten Player of the Year and AP All-America second team honors while averaging 17.5 points and 3.3 assists per game. He scored in double figures in 32 of the 36 games and scored at least 20 points 14 times. He was named Big Ten Player of the Week a conference-leading four times and Oscar Robinson National Player of the Week once.

“This season was undoubtedly a team effort in every sense of the word, but it’s hard to ignore Nik Stauskas’s individual improvement and contributions,” said Sam. “He was the one that I wanted with the ball in his hands late in the game and, more times than not, he delivered. Take a look at Michigan’s losses and then look at the box score. When Stauskas struggled, the whole team usually struggled without his scoring and creating abilities as well.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Guard of the Year Nik Stauskas

Stauskas 3 vs MSU 1-25-14After opening the season with nine points against UMass Lowell, Stauskas scored at least 20 in each of the next five games before being sidelined with an ankle sprain. He was still hampered when Michigan traveled to Duke and managed just four points on two shots, but proceeded to average 18.6 points over the next 12 games.

In three games against Michigan State, he averaged 20.3 points and shot 11-of-16 from three-point range. In the Round of 32 win over Texas, Stauskas scored 17 points and dished out eight assists, and in the Elite Eight loss to Kentucky — what might be his final game in a Michigan uniform — he poured in 24 points. In addition to leading Michigan in scoring, he led the Wolverines in assists, field goals, three-pointers, three-point percentage, free throws made, and free throw percentage.

“Stauskas spearheaded the nation’s most efficient offense of the past 12 seasons by being more versatile as a sophomore,” said Drew. “He attacked the rim more frequently, attempting more than double the number of free throws he shot last year. He was more effective finding open teammates for easy buckets, especially out of the pick and roll, increasing his assist rate from 7.6 to 18.8 percent. And he still made 44 percent of his triples, proving that, despite his versatility, he will always be most dangerous as a shooter.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Caris Levert (1)

Big Man of the Year Jordan Morgan

Jordan Morgan vs MSU 2-23-14Entering the season, Michigan figured to have one of the Big Ten’s best front courts with preseason All-American Mitch McGary and senior Jordan Morgan backing him up. But McGary began the season less than 100 percent and the back injury continued to linger, forcing him to undergo season-ending surgery. As a result, Morgan was thrust back into the starting lineup.

Morgan finished the season with a scoring average of 6.4 points and a rebound average of 5.0, but more than anything, he was a rock inside. The barely-recruited big man from Detroit especially came on late in the season, recording 15 points and 10 rebounds in the regular season finale against Indiana, and averaging 12.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in the NCAA Tournament. He also set the all-time Michigan records for single-season  (70 percent) and career (63.1 percent) field goal percentage.

“If you asked me this question in the middle of the season, I would have had a very difficult time picking one player here, but Morgan really solidified himself as one of the premier Big Men not only in the conference but in the whole country by March,” said Sam. “JMo’s play was all the more impressive when considering the bigger, more athletic opponents Michigan was facing on a day-by-day basis in the tournament.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Defensive Player of the Year Jordan Morgan

Morgan block vs TennesseeNot only did Morgan provide a reliable offensive threat late in the season, but he also lived up to his reputation as a solid defender. Although he was snubbed from the Big Ten All-Defensive team — which he was a part of last season — Morgan was consistent against some of the best big men in the Big Ten and the country.

No play provided bigger proof of his defensive prowess than his game-saving drawn charge in the closing seconds of the Sweet Sixteen win over Tennessee. With Michigan clinging to a one-point lead with six seconds remaining, UT big man Jarnell Stokes lowered his shoulder as he made his move to the basket. Morgan took the blow, drawing the charge, and giving Michigan the ball back to seal the win.

“They set a screen for him to come open, so I knew that the play was going to be for him,” Morgan said of the play. “I just know he likes to play bully ball and was just in a stance ready. I don’t know, I just was there. That’s just something I do. I take charges. That’s just what I do.”

“Michigan’s adjusted defensive efficiency was 102.1, which was U-M’s worst under John Beilein,” said Drew. “This was not Jordan Morgan’s fault, though. Morgan may not be the biggest or most athletic defender, but he certainly was the smartest. He knew how to play the angles, whether it would be to prevent a post-entry pass or take a last-minute charge. In the NCAA Tournament, Michigan’s defense noticeably declined when Morgan sat on the bench. It is a scary thought to imagine the Wolverines’ defense this year without Morgan down low.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Caris LeVert (1)

Game of the Year 79-70 home win over Michigan State

GRIII dunk vs MSUThere were certainly plenty of memorable games, but in terms of importance, the Feb. 23 win over Michigan State takes the cake. Michigan had already beaten the Spartans 80-75 in East Lansing a month before, but many discounted it because MSU was missing both Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson. In this one, Payne was back, and the Spartans held a half-game lead over the Wolverines in the conference standings. The winner was in the drivers’ seat, while the loser had some catching up to do.

Michigan State jumped out to a 22-11 lead in the first 10 minutes, looking as if the Spartans were going to exact revenge for the previous game. But a Spike Albrecht three ended a nearly-four-minute scoring drought and ignited a 10-0 Michigan run. The Wolverines pulled within two by halftime and then outscored MSU 45-34 in the second half. Stauskas and Caris LeVert combined for 48 points on 16-of-28 shooting as Michigan completed the regular season sweep and vaulted into the Big Ten lead.

“Never before had these two rivals played each other under similar circumstances,” said Drew. “Michigan, thanks to 25 points from Nik Stauskas and 23 points from Caris LeVert, overcame an early 11-point deficit and used a 21-4 second-half spurt to beat the Spartans, 79-70. The Wolverines leapfrogged the Spartans into first place and never looked backed, winning their first outright conference title since 1986.”

Votes: 2
Others Receiving Votes: 77-70 win at Wisconsin (1), 73-71 Sweet Sixteen win over Tennessee (1)

Play of the Year Glenn Robinson III buzzer-beater at Purdue

GRIII game-winning shot vs Purdue 2-26-14After the big home win over Michigan State that put Michigan in the drivers’ seat for the Big Ten title, the Wolverines hit the road for a classic let-down game against Purdue. Michigan was expected to win, but games like this were never easy.

Purdue had nothing to play for except to throw a wrench into the title hunt and played inspired ball for 40-plus minutes. The Boilermakers led by as many as 19 points in the first half before Michigan cut it to 13 at the break. In the second half, Michigan began chipping away. Eleven points, nine points, seven points, four points, and suddenly it was a game again.

A Stauskas free throw made it a one-point game with 9:50 to play, but Purdue refused to let Michigan get over the hump. The Boilers maintained the lead the rest of the way, until Stauskas tied it up with a pair of free throws, sending the game into overtime.

In the extra stanza, Michigan took its first lead of the game, but every time the Wolverines tried to exert their force, Purdue answered. A pair of Ronnie Johnson free throws gave Purdue a 76-75 lead with 31 seconds remaining. Michigan missed a shot and was forced to foul, but Purdue missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving the Wolverines one more chance.

With the ball out of bounds on the sideline and 2.9 seconds remaining, Caris LeVert heaved a jump ball across the court to Glenn Robinson III, who came down with it, took one dribble and kissed a runner off the glass as time expired. Michigan survived 77-76.

“A loss at Purdue would have killed all the momentum from sweeping Michigan State, but luckily GR3 pulled it off,” said Derick.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Performance of the Year Nik Stauskas’ 25 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds in 79-70 win vs MSU

Nik Stauskas dunk vs MSU 2-23-14There were plenty of performances that could be considered here, especially by Stauskas, but his performance in the 79-70 home win over Michigan State was a thing of beauty. He followed up a 19-point, 5-of-6 three-point shooting first meeting by lighting up the Spartans for 25 points, five assists, and three rebounds on 9-of-13 overall shooting in the return trip.

That second meeting was an important game for both teams as Michigan State held a half game lead, and Michigan, despite winning in East Lansing, needed the win for its Big Ten title hopes. The Spartans jumped out to a big lead early in the game, but Michigan whittled it down to two at the half. And that’s when Stauskas took over.

He opened the half with a layup to tie the game, and after a MSU dunk, hit a free throw and a jumper to give Michigan its first lead. A few minutes later, after the Spartans had pulled ahead by five, Stauskas scored seven straight to put Michigan back ahead. Gary Harris hit a three, but Stauskas responded with one of his own, and after a pair of LeVert free throws, Stauskas hit another three to give Michigan a seven point lead. He scored 21 of his 25 points in the second half, one of the few moments all season that when he shot you knew it was going in.

“Pick any one of about 10 Stauskas performances throughout the season and you’re sure to be wowed, but his second half against Michigan State at home to help Michigan sweep the Spartans was probably the most exciting,” said Sam. “After Michigan State came out looking like world beaters in the first half, Stauskas paired with Caris LeVert to put on the most impressive run of the season early in the second half, and by the end of it, everyone in the arena knew every Stauskas shot was falling no matter how off-balance or guarded he was.”

Votes: 2
Others Receiving Votes: Stauskas’ 23 points, four rebounds, four assists, two blocks, one steal at Wisconsin (1), Derick Walton Jr.’s 19 points, six rebounds, four assists in win at Michigan State (1)

Newcomer of the Year Derrick Walton Jr.

Derrick Walton Jr.Losing an all-everything point guard to the NBA is never an easy task for any coach, but John Beilein got a superb season out of Derrick Walton Jr. The freshman from Detroit started 36 of the 37 games, averaging 7.9 points, three rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game. Most importantly, he provided a steady presence at the point guard position with nearly twice as many assists as turnovers.

Walton wasn’t always counted on to score, but he could certainly do it when needed. His best performance came in the 80-75 win at Michigan State when he scored 19 points, pulled down six rebounds, and dished out four assists. His clutch free throw shooting down the stretch sealed the win. He also recorded a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds in the Feb. 11 win at Ohio State and finished the season with a 41 percent three-point rate.

“Zak Irvin had an impactful freshmen season, playing his role to perfection as a scoring threat off the bench,” said Drew. “In most years, he would win this award. But it is difficult not to give it to a freshman starting at a position just vacated by the consensus national player of the year. Derrick Walton, Jr. averaged 7.9 points, made 41 percent of his threes, and had the second-highest defensive rebounding rate among Michigan’s guards and wings despite being only 6’1″. Most importantly, he did not shy away in big moments, making clutch plays in the final minutes of critical road wins against Nebraska, Michigan State, and Ohio State.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Those Who Stay Senior of the Year Jordan Morgan

BiP-LF1CMAAZ3HLMorgan wins this by default, but even if he wasn’t the only senior on the team, another would have had a tough chance of beating him. His exploits have already been talked about in the Big Man of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year sections, but his contributions this season should not be downplayed.

Morgan committed to Beilein in 2010 under very different circumstances, when simply making the NCAA Tournament was a major accomplishment. By the time his career came to an end, Morgan had played in more games (142) than any player in Michigan history and started the third most (122). He holds the single season and career field goal percentage records, played in four straight NCAA Tournaments, won two Big Ten titles, and this season was named to the Allstate Good Works Team.

“Morgan, along with Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, is the foundation of the program that John Beilein has built in Ann Arbor,” said Drew. “Morgan committed to Michigan before U-M was considered one of the elite programs in the nation. And it sure did pay off. Most importantly, Morgan exemplified the leadership, determination, and heart that fans hope to see from every future player that dons the maize and blue.”

“Morgan’s grit, leadership, and confidence were absolutely crucial to this team, and were all the more impressive when considering Morgan’s complete loss of confidence in last year’s tournament,” said Sam.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Most Improved Player  Caris LeVert

LeVert vs Wisconsin 1-18-14When Trey Burke left early for the NBA and Tim Hardaway Jr. graduated, Michigan was in need of playmakers to step up. A sophomore class that performed well as freshmen had plenty of options, and several showed significant improvement in 2013-14, but none more than Caris LeVert.

The Columbus, Ohio native that was once committed to Ohio University started all 37 games and improved his minutes from 10.8 to 34.0 and points per game from 2.3 to 12.9. He scored in double figures in 25 of 37 games and scored 20 or more points seven times. He also averaged 4.3 rebounds per contest and led the team with 141 defensive boards.

When Michigan struggled to find any offense in an early season matchup at Duke, LeVert carried the team with 24 points. He did the same in a loss to Wisconsin when the Badgers shut down Stauskas, scoring 25, and also poured in 23 in the home win over Michigan State. He earned All-Big Ten second team honors and was named to the NCAA Tournament All-Midwest Regional team.

“LeVert often drew an audible sigh from the crowd when he would make mistakes last season, and his inconsistency in limited minutes was certainly frustrating,” said Sam. “Fast forward to this season, however, and one could argue that LeVert’s out-of-nowhere contributions were just as important as Stauskas’s dominance on occasion. And any time Stauskas was off, LeVert was the one picking up the slack. I don’t think anyone truly believed LeVert could improve THAT much in just one offseason.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None