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Posts Tagged ‘D.J. Wilson’

In? Out? What’s the deal with Michigan basketball?

Friday, February 10th, 2017


(MGoBlue.com)

If there is one thing that every Michigan basketball fan, coach, player, or other affiliate of the program can agree on, it’s this: absolutely no one can get a read on this team.

The 2016-17 squad had an incredible break from the gates, easily dispatching Howard and IUPUI in their regional of the 2K Classic before making quick work of both Marquette and SMU – two victories that still look solid today – to take home the preseason tournament championship.

But since then, it’s been more topsy-turvy than a slinky falling down a staircase. There have been highs – take the two home drubbings of Michigan State and Indiana, for example – and there have been lows (see: a listless loss at South Carolina, a miserable second half faltering versus Virginia Tech, an annihilation by a bad Illinois team, etc.). And then there have been the classic play-to-the-level-of-the-competition heart palpitations against Iowa (loss), Penn State (win), Nebraska (win), Wisconsin (loss), and Ohio State (loss).

So what is the deal with this team? Well, you’d need to find a person willing to sell ice to an Eskimo to have the gall to answer that question with a straight face. The absolute truth is that no one knows what to expect. In fact, I don’t even really know if this team is more likely to finish 0-7 down the stretch or 7-0. It’s just been that type of year.

Derrick Walton Jr has averaged 22.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists the past four games (MGoBlue.com)

On the other hand, there is plenty of information we can glean from watching this team. As most John Beilein-coached teams have been in the past, these Wolverines play exceptional offense, score an inordinately high number of their points from three-point land, make their free throws, and hold onto the ball. They also play poor defense, don’t crash the offensive glass, and don’t see very many free throws taken on either end of the floor. These are pretty hard-and-fast facts.

What makes this team so hard to get a read on, however, is the game-to-game uncertainty of who is going to show up and what character the team is going to display.

We’ve seen Zak Irvin put the team on his back against Virginia Tech, Nebraska, and Wisconsin by attacking the basket (7 made 2pt. FGs in each of those three contests), fighting for rebounds (16 in those three games), and finding his open teammates. But we’ve also seen (or not seen, for that matter) the senior falter in important matchups against South Carolina, Texas, Ohio State, and Michigan State (twice).

Likewise, the team has ridden fellow senior Derrick Walton over the course of the last four games to the tune of his 22.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 5.3 assists during that stretch, but fans seem to forget about the three game stretch in December where the Detroit native failed to crack double digit points, or the 10 games that he’s made three or fewer field goals, or even the nine games that he’s recorded fewer than seven combined assists and rebounds (four of which were losses).

Similar Jekyll/Hyde performances can be found in the game-to-game outputs of the two other Wolverines who have led the team in scoring in at least three games a piece – sophomores Moritz Wagner and D.J. Wilson.

Rarely has more than one player had a bona fide game on any given night. Add to that a defense that has allowed opponents to shoot better than 50 percent from the field on seven different occasions while also forcing seven or more turnovers in seven different games and you have a recipe for uncertainty with a side of unease.

If this team can put together a stretch run to give themselves solid footing on Selection Sunday, the individual players are going to need to start producing with some consistency. No more can we see Derrick Walton look like the only interested party in Maize and Blue. No more can we see Wagner get into foul trouble or fade away from his strengths as a skilled inside-out big man. No more can we this team put it together with an invisible Zak Irvin.

A little help from juniors Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (who’s scored seven or fewer one more game than he’s reached double digits) and Duncan Robinson (double digits 10 times and seven or fewer nine times) could go a long way as well. Combine that with a sprinkling of Xavier Simpson (who looked like the solid point guard prospect that he was for the first time on Tuesday night) and you just might have yourself a recipe for success.

Forget to add a couple of these ingredients, however, and Michigan fans could be left with a bad taste in a month’s time.

Quick Hitters

My Oh My, the Inconsistency

How’s this for some mind-boggling numbers: As of today, Michigan has four wins over teams that should be dancing, according to BracketMatrix.com, in SMU (100% of brackets), Michigan State (92%), Marquette (92%), and Indiana (72%). Those four wins all came in blowout fashion by a combined 99 points, or about 25 points per game.

Michigan’s nine losses, on the other hand, have come by a total deficit of just 78 points, or just more than 8.5 points per game. Six of the losses have come by single digits and three of those were by four points or fewer. This is a team that has talent and can beat up on some pretty good teams but is also susceptible to taking a close loss on any given night as well.

Speaking of Brackets…

Right now, Michigan is the fifth team out of the Big Dance according to BracketMatrix.com (in on only 33.3% of the 105 submitted brackets. Note, however, that more than half of those brackets were last updated prior to Tuesday’s win over MSU) and the third team out in my good friend and trusted bracketologist Joe Cook’s projections at 131 Sports (updated daily – and better than Joe Lunardi, Jerry Palm, and every other national guy since he started a few years back. He is an actuary, after all.). So, that means that Michigan would probably have their bubble popped if today were Selection Sunday. Today is not Selection Sunday.

Looking ahead

Michigan has an opportunity to easy play themselves into the tournament, easily play themselves out of the tournament, or to stay teetering on the same ledge they are staring off right now. There are seven games remaining on the Wolverines’ regular season schedule, including two home games (Wisconsin and Purdue) and five road games (Indiana, Minnesota, Rutgers, Northwestern, Nebraska), before the Big Ten Tournament kicks off for the first time ever in Washington, D.C. (hooray for adding Maryland?).

To me, this looks like a whole lot more good news/bad news. Michigan’s two toughest opponents must travel to Crisler, where the Maize and Blue have been mostly pretty good, with only three losses in the books at home and a couple of their mercy killings coming in Ann Arbor as well. On the other hand, Wisconsin and Purdue are going to be tough outs regardless of what floor they are playing on.

Meanwhile, Indiana has already felt Michigan’s wrath, Minnesota has lost five of seven, Rutgers is…Rutgers, Northwestern has lost two straight and is probably feeling the weight of one million Northwestern fans waiting to be let down once again on Selection Sunday, and Nebraska’s early season Big Ten exploits feel older than the age of the dinosaurs. On the flip side, Michigan has been…let’s just say not good on the road, with an 0-6 record to date.

Now the question we all want answered: What does Michigan have to do to Dance? My guess is that Michigan would be in the Tournament, historically weak bubble and all, with a 4-3 close to the regular season and a first-game win in the Big Ten Tournament. If none of those four wins are over Wisconsin or Purdue and if one or two of those three losses is to Rutgers/Nebraska, then I’m not putting money on it.

I know you want a prediction, but only a fool would be wise enough to give in to those demands.

Actually, who am I kidding? I’m a fool for college basketball: Michigan to finish out the regular season 5-2 with a first round BTT win and a second round loss to get pegged as a 10-seed.

Michigan 77 – Armstrong State 49: Wolverines win exhibition in Cazzie’s return

Saturday, November 5th, 2016


wagner-vs-armstrong-state(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)

Michigan easily dispatched of their first opponent of the 2016-17 college basketball season, the Armstrong State Pirates, on Friday night with former Wolverine great Cazzie Russell – a Pirates assistant coach – in the house. Despite a slow start to the second half, which featured a 13-4 Armstrong State run over a four-minute period, the Wolverines never panicked and coasted as one might expect against a Division II opponent. Given the nature of the game, the strength of the opponent, and the tendency to mix lineups quite a bit in exhibition matchups, a recap will probably not add much value, so let’s hit on some player observations and some general thoughts after seeing the Maize and Blue take the floor for the first time.

The newbies

Ibi Watson – Most probably expected to see Xavier Simpson as the first freshman off the bench, but with an injury to Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, it was actually Ibi Watson that was the first new face to see action. He wasted very little time – 22 seconds, to be exact – to score his first bucket in a Michigan uniform on a fast break and generally acquitted himself well throughout the evening.

After the game, Watson said that the pace of basketball at the college level has just started to really slow down for him in the past week or so, and his calmness seemed to bear that out on the floor. Watson looks to be all of the 6-foot-5 he’s listed at and has a very smooth stroke despite going only 1-of-4 from deep. His third and final bucket came on an easy dunk that showcased some of the athleticism the Ohio native will look to bring to the table, and Watson’s four assists and three steals in 18 minutes are certainly a welcome sign. He even ran a successful pick-and-roll once with Mark Donnal that saw the senior convert a somewhat iffy pass from the freshman for a bucket.

Watson was very aggressive on both ends of the court – maybe even a bit too aggressive at times offensively – and should carve out a niche for spot minutes if his game continues to evolve. For now, John Beilein said that he envisions Waton’s role this season similar to what Tim Hardaway, Jr. looked to do as a freshman – knock down shots, play defense, don’t try to do too much. Beilein agreed that the game has certainly slowed down for Watson, but with the amount of information being thrown at him, there’s still plenty of work to do.

block-m-maize Final Team Stats  armstrong-state-logo
77 Points  49
32-63 (50.8%) FGM-FGA (Pct.) 17-63 (27.0%)
6-19 (31.6%) 3PM-3PA (Pct.) 5-27 (18.5%)
7-11 (63.6%) FTM-FTA (Pct.) 10-12 (83.3%)
13 Turnovers 19
42 Total Rebounds 38
9 Offensive Rebounds 13
33 Defensive Rebounds 25
25 Bench Points 10
5 Blocks 1
8 Steals 5
20 Assists 8

Xavier Simpson – Considered the jewel of the class, Simpson played a perhaps surprisingly low 14 minutes in the exhibition matchup and missed his only two attempts from the floor while recording a Walton-esque five rebounds along with a pair of assists and turnovers. The 2016 Ohio Mr. Basketball winner is almost certainly smaller than his listed 6-foot-0, 180 pounds, but he is built solidly and plays with a low center of gravity that allows him to weave decisively on offense and play pesky on-ball defense. We didn’t see as much Simpson/Walton two-guard time as Beilein led us to believe, but Simpson appears to be an able ball handler with fine court vision. For now, Simpson will likely remain a pass-first point guard looking to set his teammates up with open looks.

Jon Teske – As has been rumored in recent weeks, Teske appears to be ahead of fellow freshman Austin Davis in the rotation at the moment, and his play tonight probably only helped his case. Teske is a big, big body at 7-foot-0, 245 pounds, but his most impressive clip of the night was a 15-foot baseline jumper that was as pure as Gus Johnson’s game calls are exciting. Beilein mentioned after the game that he loves the rotation Teske gets on the ball (if you’ve ever seen the trademark Beilein Ball, you’d know this), and the jumper certainly looked natural for the big fella.

Teske also had a nice, ridiculously easy put-back dunk on a missed layup off the glass to give him four points in four minutes. He’ll never be the quickest guy on the floor, but if Teske can provide spot minutes in the case of foul trouble, be a threat from outside the paint, and box out, he should fill his role just fine.

Austin Davis – The only non-Ohio native in the freshman class, Davis didn’t get into the game until the waning minutes, but managed to catch a quick pass from Xavier Simpson and finish the easy lay-in for the last Michigan points of the game. Beilein praised Davis’s hands after the game in what felt like an unintentional shot at former Michigan center Ricky Doyle’s ability to catch any sort of pass, and the finish Davis had showed that. The pass appeared to be of the no-look variety in close quarters that came in quick and a bit high. Davis was able to secure it after a tiny bobble and go up for the finish.

The returners
dj-wilson-shorts

(Dustin Johnson)

D.J. Wilson – Wilson provided the most welcome play of the evening, showcasing a smooth offensive game that we had yet to see from him while being his normal disruptive self on defense. Wilson, now a redshirt sophomore, has always had the size and natural athleticism to be a gifted basketball player, but in his Michigan career to date he’s often resembled a headless chicken. Tonight, it was a whole different story.

Wilson looked comfortable operating in the offense while knocking down a short turnaround jumper and a three to go along with a high-flying dunk and seemed to contest just about anything in his vicinity defensively (two blocks) with his ridiculous length while also using that length and his newly added strength to grab a game-high nine rebounds (including four offensive).

The Sacramento native will probably never be a natural ball-handler, but he showed enough to provide some relief to Michigan fans worried about this team’s depth on the wing. Beilein has been praising Wilson’s offseason effort consistently, and it came to fruition tonight in what was easily Wilson’s best game in a Wolverine uniform. I felt that Wilson showed a strong urgency tonight on the court that I haven’t seen before – he was consistently running from one end to the other looking for the ball and trying to get stops on defense. And his short shorts are absolutely on point.

Moritz Wagner – The sophomore from Germany picked up on Friday night where he left off at the end of his freshman campaign, showcasing an arsenal of offensive moves that could make him a unique offensive weapon in the Big Ten. Wagner finished naturally on both sides of the rim with either hand, used his quickness and plus handling skills to get a number of very easy looks right at the basket, and even swished a trey from the left side of the top of the key.

At this point, Wagner looks to have a pretty strong grip on the starting 5 spot and thinks he’s playing the best ball of his life after spending the summer working on his game in Ann Arbor. Wagner figures to have gained about 30 pounds of muscle since arriving at Michigan and is just now beginning to realize how to use that added weight to his benefit. He said after the game that he now knows what it feels like to initiate contact and wants to continue to develop all facets of his game. Perhaps most encouraging for Wagner was only getting two foul calls against him in 25 minutes of play after he often found himself taking careless fouls as a freshman.

Derrick Walton – Walton showed well tonight and quickly put to rest any talks of his job being overtaken by a freshman. The senior Detroit native knocked down a pair of triples and dished out a game-high seven assists to just two turnovers (one clearly not his fault) in 31 minutes of action. He also made all four of his free throws and tied for the team-high with five defensive rebounds – something we’ve become very accustomed to. Walton very much looks to be on track for a solid bookend to his career should he stay healthy, and some more off-ball minutes afforded him by Simpson can only help his dead-eye shooting.

Zak Irvin – Like Walton, there wasn’t too much of note on Irvin that we aren’t already very familiar with. Irvin made half of his 12 shot attempts but only one of his four three-point tries, grabbed four rebounds, and dished out four dimes while grabbing a pair of steals. Irvin’s bounce appeared to be back on the rise when he threw down a fast-break dunk early on after a back injury took some inches off his vertical leap, but Irvin later missed another wide-open dunk that was either blocked by the rim or slipping out of his hands. The senior Indiana native will need to make his free throws (only 2-of-5 tonight) and threes to reach full potential, but he should be in for a solid season.

Duncan Robinson – Beilein mentioned after the game that Robinson has been in a bit of a shooting funk in practice lately, and that showed tonight, as the sharpshooter missed all three of his wide open attempts from deep and seemed a bit hesitant to let it fly – never a good sign for a pure shooter. Hopefully Robinson will get over his confidence issues right now and start to knock them down like we’re used to before getting into the meat of the schedule, because he is easily Michigan’s best shooter and the best threat to stretch the defense.

Mark Donnal – Donnal has lost his starting spot to Moritz Wagner, but he’s still going to be a crucial piece for this team to succeed. Wagner has shown a tendency to foul a lot and big men will rarely get more than 25-30 minutes per game in Beilein’s offense. Tonight, Donnal was less than impressive early on, getting backed down easily for a layup on his first defensive possession then mishandled a loose ball right after, but he made up for it quickly with a couple rebounds and blocks. He finished with just two points but grabbed four rebounds (two offensive) in a short 7-minute outing.

Sean Lonergan – Lonergan got the start with Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman sidelined with what Beilein described as a minor ankle twist that occurred in the last minute of Michigan’s practice yesterday and made both of his shots in 20 minutes of play. The senior walk-on doesn’t figure to get much time once Rahk is back, but he showed a couple nice finishes Friday night while also recording two blocks with his underrated athleticism.

Quick takes

Defense – Much has been made of Beilein’s decision to fill one of his two vacant assistant coach slots with former Wright State head man Billy Donlon, a man known for his gap-style defensive philosophy, but we’ll give it some time before reading too much into the defense. Armstrong State shot just 27.6 percent from the floor, but it’s hard to tell how much of that was due to being overmatched in general. What is clear, however, is that Michigan appears to be going away from the hard hedge on ball screen defense, as noted by MGoBlog’s Ace Anbender.

Michigan’s defense will be designed to limit easy penetration while also focusing on strong close-outs for three-point attempts – generally speaking, the gap defense Donlon employs is similar to a pack-line style defense, which is predicated on stopping penetration and forcing opponents into long mid-range jumpers. The only potential issue I saw tonight was a lack of defensive rebounding on a couple of possessions, but I expect that to be addressed moving forward.

Turnovers – Everyone knows it, but John Beilein said it himself after today’s game: “I hate turnovers”. He made it especially clear that he cannot stand turnovers that result from “lazy” passes on failed alley-oop attempts, of which Michigan had two tonight. At one point, Beilein noted that highlights are highlights because they are rare, and he doesn’t want his team trying to fill the highlight reel every time down the floor. Ultimately, I don’t think the 13 giveaways Michigan had Friday night will become a trend, but it’s something to keep an eye on. Beilein sees turnovers as a primary driver of losses, and his teams normally value possessions more than most, but with a couple freshmen that figure to see rotation minutes, turnovers must be limited.

Final Individual Stats
Michigan
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
13 Moritz Wagner* (f) 7-9 1-1 0-0 0 2 2 2 15 0 1 0 0 25
20 Sean Lonergan* (f) 2-2 0-0 0-0 0 2 2 2 4 1 1 2 0 20
21 Zak Irvin* (f) 6-12 1-4 2-5 0 4 4 2 15 4 1 0 2 31
10 Derrick Walton * (g) 3-6 2-4 4-4 1 5 6 2 12 7 2 0 1 31
22 Duncan Robinson* (g) 3-7 0-3 0-0 0 3 3 3 6 1 1 0 0 17
00 Brent Hibbitts 0-1 0-1 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4
03 Xavier Simpson 0-2 0-0 0-0 0 5 5 1 0 2 2 0 1 14
05 D.J. Wilson 4-10 1-2 1-2 4 5 9 1 10 1 2 2 0 24
14 Fred Wright-Jones 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 2
15 Jon Teske 2-2 0-0 0-0 1 0 1 1 4 0 0 0 0 4
23 Ibi Watson 3-8 1-4 0-0 0 2 2 1 7 4 3 0 3 18
34 Mark Donnal 1-2 0-0 0-0 2 2 4 1 2 0 0 1 1 7
51 Austin Davis 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 3
Totals 32-63 6-19 7-11 9 33 42 16 77 20 13 5 8 200
Armstrong State
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
04 Francisco Williams* (f) 0-2 0-0 0-0 1 3 4 2 0 0 1 0 0 15
23 KJ James* (f) 5-10 0-1 6-6 2 5 7 2 16 2 3 0 0 29
02 Montrel Goldston* (g) 4-8 1-3 0-0 4 2 6 2 9 0 4 0 1 23
03 Corey Tillery* (g) 3-14 2-8 0-0 0 1 1 1 8 0 2 0 0 27
10 Jamison Jeffers* (g) 2-11 2-9 0-0 0 6 6 2 6 3 3 0 2 34
00 George Brown 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 3
01 Denzel Council 1-6 0-2 2-4 2 2 4 1 4 2 0 1 0 26
05 Kalen Clifton 1-1 0-0 0-0 1 1 2 1 2 1 1 0 1 8
15 Logan Ballard 0-0 0-0 2-2 0 0 0 4 2 0 0 0 0 8
32 Larry Spicer 1-11 0-4 0-0 1 3 4 2 2 0 3 0 1 25
33 Matthew Beatty 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
41 Demarcus Cunningham 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Totals 17-63 5-27 10-12 13 25 38 17 49 8 19 1 5 200
Full Stats

Michigan 105 – Youngstown State 46

Sunday, December 20th, 2015


Derrick Walton vs YSU(MGoBlue.com)

Last night’s Michigan matching with the Youngstown State Penguins was the third of four straight “guarantee” games before Big Ten season arrives.

And much like the previous two, this game quickly turned into a highlight show for the Wolverines, capped with yet another triple-double, this time from junior point guard Derrick Walton Jr.

Michigan stormed out of the gates yet again to a 9-0 lead behind a commonplace triple by Duncan Robinson and a pair of two-pointers from Zak Irvin, who has gone from shooter extraordinaire his freshman year to a guy who can do a bit of everything inside the arc but is broken from deep.

Moritz Wagner’s free throw at the 14:32 mark of the first half gave Michigan a double-digit lead, which they would never relinquish. By the time halftime graciously arrived, the Wolverines held a 55-22 advantage. Still, the Penguins chose to continue playing and ended up buried at the buzzer by a 105-46 final score to bring Michigan to 9-3 on the year.

Four Factors
Michigan YSU
71 eFG% 36
33 OReb% 12
9 TO% 17
28 FTR 23

Irvin, who pitched in eight points on a perfect 4-of-4 mark from two-point range, missed all three of his triple attempts to bring his three-point shooting average to a miserable 17.1 percent (7-of-41) on the season. Coach John Beilein just thinks Irvin needs to see a couple deep shots drop to give his junior some confidence, but Irvin seems hesitant to even attempt them at this point.

The story of the night, however, was Derrick Walton’s 10-point, 13-assist, 11-rebound triple-double, which came just one game after Caris LeVert accomplished the same feat four days before. Walton’s triple-double is the fifth on record for the Michigan basketball team and the fourth to happen under the tutelage of Beilein after Manny Harris, Darius Morris, and LeVert previously reached the milestone.

It is also the first time on record that two different players on the same college team recorded triple-doubles in back-to-back games.

Walton, in his normally soft-spoken tone, praised his teammates for making shots and boxing out for him as he inched closer and closer to his personal highlight.

Second to the triple-double was the re-emergence of sophomore Aubrey Dawkins, who had fallen into partial obscurity after starring in conference play a season ago. His shooting numbers had remained pretty consistent with last year’s, but Dawkins had not quite made as much noise as was expected out of him after being the most efficient scorer in Big Ten play last year and being pegged as Michigan’s most improved player over the offseason by Beilein.

That changed against Youngstown State when Dawkins, who was the last bench player to check into the game (despite being a starter to begin the year) in the first half, showed off his potential with fireworks all over the place. In the span of just more than seven minutes, Dawkins hit a two-pointer from inside the paint, knocked down a pair of triples, converted an awe-inspiring, one-handed, and-one alley-oop, and threw down a crazy 360 dunk on the fast break. All five buckets were assisted by Walton.

Dawkins would go on to finish with 19 points on 11 shots, tying for the team lead along with LeVert, whose somehow quiet 19-point, six-rebound, five-assist, zero-turnover night was largely overshadowed by Walton.

Lastly, Wolverines fans breathed one more sigh of relief in an exciting non-contest of a game when redshirt freshman D.J. Wilson checked into the game with six minutes left in the night after missing two straight games with an ankle injury. Wilson proceeded to score a career-high 12 points on just six shots while grabbing two rebounds and dishing an assist to Kameron Chatman, who finished with eight himself. Wilson knocked down two straight threes from the right wing to close the night out – a very encouraging sign for a player that I believe has loads of potential at the 4 or 5 position.

The Sacramento native’s first trey put the home team over the century mark, much to the pleasure of a sparse holiday crowd, and his second three gave his team its highest scoring mark of the season and the second highest margin of victory in Michigan history for good measure.

Now, Michigan will have to get up for one more should-be cakewalk against Bryant this Wednesday (7:00pm on BTN) before Big Ten play kicks off on the road in Champaign, Illinois a week later.

If these Wolverines continue to put up these eye-popping numbers behind its high-powered offense and make strides on defense, it could be quite an interesting conference season.

Let’s hope Santa brings just that.

Michigan’s Three Stars

***Derrick Walton***
10 points (3-of-6 2pt, 1-of-4 3pt, 1-of-2 FT), 11 rebounds, 13 assists, four steals, one block, two turnovers in 29 minutes

**Caris LeVert**
19 points (4-of-4 2pt, 3-of-4 3pt, 2-of-2 FT), six rebounds (one offensive), five assists, one steal, zero turnovers in 26 minutes

*Aubrey Dawkins*
19 points (6-of-6 2pt, 2-of-5 3pt, 1-of-1 FT), two rebounds, one block, zero turnovers in 16 minutes

Season Three-Stars Standings

Caris LeVert – 15
Duncan Robinson – 10
Derrick Walton – 7
Aubrey Dawkins – 2
Spike Albrecht – 1
Moritz Wagner – 1
Beilein CoachSpeakometer

John Beilein is always quick to praise Michigan’s opponent – whether playing against the worst team in the country or one of the best. Here’s a look at a Beilein quote from this game’s press conference followed by a rating from Completely Objective and Fair (1) to Pure and Utter Coachspeak (10) on the John Beilein CoachSpeakometer

Beilein did not comment directly on Youngstown State’s strength other than that he thought they ran similar stuff to Northern Kentucky, which is not exactly high praise considering the beating the Norse also took at Crisler, but Beilein praised Northern Kentucky extensively. The Coachspeakometer takes another game off.

Beilein Tie Watch
(Sam Sedlecky, M&GB)

(Sam Sedlecky, M&GB)

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
32 Ricky Doyle* 3-3 0-0 2-3 1 0 1 2 8 0 1 0 0 13
10 Derrick Walton* 4-10 1-4 1-2 0 11 11 0 10 13 2 1 4 29
21 Zak Irvin* 4-7 0-3 0-0 0 5 5 0 8 1 1 0 1 26
22 Duncan Robinson* 5-10 4-7 0-0 2 4 6 0 14 3 1 1 1 28
23 Caris LeVert* 7-8 3-4 2-2 1 5 6 2 19 5 0 0 1 26
03 Kameron Chatman 2-6 0-3 4-4 1 0 1 2 8 2 0 0 0 10
05 D.J. Wilson 5-6 2-3 0-0 0 2 2 0 12 1 0 0 0 6
11 Andrew Dakich 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 2 2 1 0 2 1 0 0 8
12 Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 3 3 0 0 1 0 0 0 13
13 Moritz Wagner 2-3 0-1 3-6 3 2 5 3 7 1 0 0 0 16
24 Aubrey Dawkins 8-11 2-5 1-1 0 2 2 1 19 0 0 1 0 16
34 Mark Donnal 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 9
Totals 40-65 12-30 13-18 9 37 46 11 105 29 6 3 7 200
Youngstown State 17-57 7-23 5-13 5 18 23 15 46 9 12 1 3 200
Full Stats

Michigan 82 – Houston Baptist 57

Saturday, December 5th, 2015


Duncan Robinson vs HBU(MGoBlue.com)

On Saturday afternoon, Michigan took on Houston Baptist University at the Crisler Center for the third time in John Beilein’s tenure in Ann Arbor. It went as you would expect.

The Wolverines stormed out of the gates on an 11-0 run, let the Huskies make a run to cut the lead to two with 4:34 left in the first half, then put it away with a 21-6 run to start the second half. When the final buzzer sounded, Michigan held a resounding 82-57 advantage.

Without starting point guard Derrick Walton available because of an ankle injury, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman got the start and played a game-high 33 minutes with six points, two rebounds, an assist, a steal, and a block.

Caris LeVert and Duncan Robinson once again poured in the points, with 25 and 19, respectively, on 7-of-15 three-point shooting and 7-of-10 shooting inside the arc.

Aubrey Dawkins pitched in a season-high 16 points on 5-of-6 shooting while recovering veterans Zak Irvin and Spike Albrecht added a combined nine assists.

Four Factors
Michigan HBU
58 eFG% 48
26 OReb% 19
9 TO% 24
34 FTR 22

Nearly a year to the day of last week’s shocking home upset less to the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Michigan gave its fans little reason to panic today. Sure, Houston Baptist made it a one possession game late in the first half behind some hot shooting from Asa Cantwell (who finished 3-of-3 behind the arc), and Duncan Robinson reminded us all that he is truly human by missing his first four triple tries.

But neither of those worries persisted. After the 13-5 Husky run cut it to 26-24, LeVert and Robinson put on a quick 8-0 spurt themselves to bring it back to double digits. The lead would never be smaller than seven the rest of the way, with the Wolverines cruising on a double digit lead nearly the entire second stanza. And Robinson answered his 0-of-4 start from downtown by making his remaining five three-pointers to finish out the game. Absurdly, that would actually drop his season shooting mark from deep to 59.5 percent (25-of-42) after entering the game at 60.6 percent.

The highlight of the afternoon snoozer came late in the second half, when the ball popped out of a scrum to Spike Albrecht, who promptly volleyball-tipped it – no-look style – directly behind him to D.J. Wilson, who threw down a vicious one-handed slam on the fast break.

Albrecht, who is continuing to rehab from off season hip surgeries, played 12 minutes today and recorded four assists. Following the game, he said he’s continuing to feel better, but that it’s going to take time to get back to his old self. He will sit out some time on the practice court to rehab, and noted that it helps for him to have some lead-in time before he enters a game in order to loosen his hips up on the stationary bike. Beilein said he is probably a month away from 100 percent, but also noted that there is a possibility Albrecht never gets to full strength and flexibility in his legs.

There’s not much more to read into this game other than the Wolverines have taken care of business in the non-conference schedule so far much better than they did a season ago. Guarantee games have once again become guarantees, and four more remain on the schedule before Christmas and after this coming Tuesday’s romp at SMU in Dallas.

Perhaps the biggest concern now is the health of Walton, who did not dress for the game today but was spotted walking around before the tip. His status remains day-to-day according to Beilein, and there is no indication as to whether he will give it a go against SMU. With an easy December ahead after the SMU game, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see Walton take a couple weeks off depending on the severity of his injury if he doesn’t play next week.

For now, though, Michigan is holding up just fine. Certainly Tuesday will give us a better indication overall, but with LeVert, Robinson, and Dawkins filling up the bucket, the Wolverines should have no problems scoring.

Michigan’s Three Stars

***Caris LeVert***
25 points (5-of-7 2pt, 2-of-6 3pt, 9-of-10 FT), eight rebounds (one offensive), one assist, two steals, one block, zero turnovers in 32 minutes

**Duncan Robinson**
19 points (2-of-3 2pt, 5-of-9 3pt), one rebound, one assist, one steal, one block, zero turnovers in 25 minutes

*Aubrey Dawkins*
16 points (2-of-2 2pt, 3-of-4 3pt, 3-of-4 FT), two rebounds, one steal, two blocks, two turnovers in 20 minutes

Season Three-Stars Standings

Caris LeVert – 10
Duncan Robinson – 8
Derrick Walton – 3
Spike Albrecht – 1
Moritz Wagner – 1
Aubrey Dawkins – 1
Beilein CoachSpeakometer

John Beilein is always quick to praise Michigan’s opponent – whether playing against the worst team in the country or one of the best. Here’s a look at a Beilein quote from this game’s press conference followed by a rating from Completely Objective and Fair (1) to Pure and Utter Coachspeak (10) on the John Beilein CoachSpeakometer

Beilein did not give any specific quotes about the strength of Houston Baptist in today’s post-game press conference, and therefore the CoachSpeakometer takes a week off.

Beilein Tie Watch
Beilein tie vs HBU

(Sam Sedlecky, M&GB)

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
32 Ricky Doyle* 1-3 0-0 0-0 3 4 7 2 2 0 1 0 0 20
12 Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman 3-8 0-1 0-0 0 2 2 2 6 1 0 1 1 33
21 Zak Irvin* 3-8 1-2 0-0 1 2 3 1 7 5 1 0 1 37
23 Caris LeVert* 7-13 2-6 9-10 1 7 8 2 25 1 0 1 2 32
24 Aubrey Dawkins* 5-6 3-4 3-4 0 2 2 2 16 0 2 2 1 20
02 Spike Albrecht 0-1 0-1 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 4 0 0 0 12
03 Kameron Chatman 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 1 1 3 0 1 1 0 0 4
05 D.J. Wilson 2-3 0-0 0-0 0 1 1 1 4 1 0 1 0 6
13 Moritz Wagner 0-1 0-0 1-2 0 1 1 2 1 0 1 0 0 10
20 Duncan Robinson 7-12 5-9 0-0 0 1 1 1 19 1 0 1 1 25
34 Mark Donnal 0-2 0-0 2-4 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 7
Totals 28-58 11-23 15-20 8 25 33 16 82 14 6 6 6 200
Houston Baptist 22-51 5-8 8-11 6 23 29 17 57 10 16 2 0 200
Full Stats

Xavier 86 – Michigan 70

Saturday, November 21st, 2015


Beilein vs Xavier(MGoBlue.com)

Last night was supposed to be the start of a season-long comeback party for Michigan after underperforming last year. It was supposed to be a game to help the team, coaches, and fans start forgetting about some of the horrors of a season ago.

Instead, it was anything but the start of that comeback party. All last night’s loss to Xavier did for the Wolverines was bring back those same demons.

After cruising to two easy victories against overmatched competition to open the gates on the new season, Michigan took one massive step back against a very good Musketeer squad that made the Crisler Center feel like their home away from home, dumping the Wolverines 86-70 with a balanced attack that saw four Musketeers score at least 14.

Throughout the night, Xavier simply looked like the better, stronger, and more prepared team. They dominated the paint from just after the opening tip, when Detroit native Jalen Reynolds cleared out the lane, posted up starting Wolverine center Mark Donnal, and blew by him for an easy and-1 finish just 10 seconds into the game.

Four Factors
Michigan Xavier
50 eFG% 48
19 OReb% 45
16 TO% 13
50 FTR 39

That would be an ominous sign for the four Michigan big men who saw minutes Friday, as they struggled to contain Reynolds and fellow Musketeer big James Farr – who combined for 23 points on 15 shots and 22 rebounds (eight offensive) – and racked up fouls left and right. By halftime, Donnal, Ricky Doyle, D.J. Wilson, and Moritz Wagner all had at least two fouls but only combined for five points and one rebound in an opening stanza that saw Michigan trailing 45-36 at the break.

The visitors also looked like they simply wanted the win more. Time and again, 50-50 balls ended up in Xavier’s collective hands, and by the end of the blowout, it seemed that Michigan might never get another rebound, with the Musketeers more than half of their misses in the second half.

Michigan showed some promise early on, grabbing a 16-12 advantage nine minutes in after Reynolds was tagged with a technical foul for hanging on the rim, but they lost that lead within the next minute and never got it back.

Caris LeVert showed off an impressive array of drives to try to keep the Wolverines afloat, and he had his shot all night on his way to 29-point outburst, but none of his teammates were able to crack double digits. LeVert’s seven rebounds and three assists also led the team.

It looked as if Michigan would take control of the game a couple times midway through the second half, twice cutting Xavier’s lead to two points behind a pair of triples (I dare you to see how many variants of two you can use in one sentence), but every time the Wolverines showed life, the Musketeers answered with triples of their own.

At one point, Duncan Robinson made two straight threes, and had a third would-be go-ahead trey go down only to be taken away by an illegal screen call.

But it wasn’t meant to be. For his part, Robinson looked like he should ably fill the role of instant microwave off the bench, but he’s never going to be a dynamic playmaker – he recorded just one rebound to go along with his nine points, zero assists, zero steals, and zero blocks.

The production simply wasn’t there from the rest of this potentially deep squad, and the defense struggled to get any stops. Zak Irvin, back in the starting lineup after missing offseason time following back surgery, was clearly a step slow and only managed seven points, while fellow starters Aubrey Dawkins and Derrick Walton Jr. had five and four points, respectively. No other Wolverine had more than five points, and only LeVert and Walton had multiple assists.

From here, the road doesn’t get much easier in the near term, but it’s clear that Michigan’s defense must improve if they are to be competitive in next week’s Battle 4 Atlantis, where they will open up with Connecticut on Wednesday and could potentially see Syracuse in the second game. As LeVert repeatedly said after the game, Michigan needs to lock down its defense and limit the fouls going forward – they had 23 called against them in this one that led to 23 made free throws for Xavier. It’s unusual for a John Beilein-coached team to have such a high foul rate, but new emphasis on contact rules will take some adjusting. LeVert also thought that Michigan should win most games when they put up 70 points, but they may not be at that point yet.

Luckily, Michigan is far from the only squad to lose an early season matchup, and this one shouldn’t hurt the resume too much, as Xavier looks to add to an impressive run in March Madness from last season with a more dynamic, experienced squad.

At the same time, the Wolverines will need to show that they can win some of these big games in the near future – or else memories of last year just might creep up on them again.

Three Stars

***Caris LeVert***
29 points (8-of-16 FG, 5-of-8 3pt, 8-of-10 FT), seven rebounds (one offensive), three assists, two steals, three turnovers in 36 minutes

**Duncan Robinson**
9 points (2-of-5 FG, 2-of-4 3pt, 3-of-3 FT), one rebound, zero turnovers in 19 minutes

*Spike Albrecht*
5 points (1-of-1 FG, 1-of-1 3pt, 2-of-2 FT), one rebound, one assist, zero turnovers in eight minutes

Season Three-Stars Standings

Caris LeVert – 4
Duncan Robinson – 4
Derrick Walton – 3
Spike Albrecht – 1
Quick Hitters

• This isn’t the first time Michigan has lost a game despite a scoring outburst from LeVert. The Wolverines fell to NJIT last season despite 32 points from their star, while also dropping games against Duke and Wisconsin two seasons ago when LeVert scored 24 and 25 points, respectively. In all of these cases, LeVert scored more than one-third of the team’s total points.

• I thought Zak Irvin and Spike Albrecht looked close to 100 percent on Monday, and Irvin said himself that he felt he was at 100 percent physically, but they clearly both have a ways to go. Albrecht only got eight minutes on the night, and though he threw his body around for loose balls, he’ll be seeing a lot more time when Beilein feels the senior point guard is fully back. Irvin was noticeably slow on the floor, at one point just jogging to a crucial long rebound late in the game that he was easily outrun for despite having perfect position.

• The rotation once again included all 12 scholarship players on the team, but that won’t last much longer. Mark Donnal struggled all night, recording zero points and zero rebounds while committing four fouls and turning it over once in just six minutes of time. Kameron Chatman and Albrecht only got eight minutes a piece (I expect Albrecht’s minutes to go up, but Chatman’s may disappear), Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman only saw 10 minutes, and D.J. Wilson and Moritz Wagner played just seven and five minutes, respectively.

Beilein Coachspeakometer

John Beilein is always quick to praise Michigan’s opponent – whether playing against the worst team in the country or one of the best. Here’s a look at a Beilein quote from this game’s press conference followed by a rating from Completely Objective and Fair (1) to Pure and Utter Coachspeak (10) on the John Beilein CoachSpeakometer

“We’ve seen good teams come (to Crisler Arena). Sometimes we were able to win, sometimes we weren’t, and that was as good a team as I’ve seen come in here at any time. They got all the pieces, they’re just really good. They hit the backboards obviously much better than us, they got loose balls, they got tremendous grit, and then they got a great mix of guys that can drive the ball, guys that can shoot the ball, (along) with the big men. So they’re sitting on something great right now, and they have for a long time at Xavier. They have a really experienced team that knows how to win…they’ll vie for a Big East Championship is what I think and they’ll be a team that is very good all year long.”

Verdict: 8

John Beilein is right to a certain point here – Xavier is a really good team that should be in the thick of the Big East race along with Villanova, Providence, and Butler. But to say that they are as good a team as he’s seen play at Crisler is quite the stretch. Along with a handful of excellent Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State teams (and many other very solid conference foes in the past eight years), Michigan has also welcomed #1 Arizona (2013), #3 Kansas (2011), and #4 Duke (2008) to Ann Arbor in Beilein’s tenure, not to mention plenty of other very good ranked and unranked conference and non-conference foes. Xavier will most likely be ranked in the next poll (and rightfully so), and coach Chris Mack has established a program that can compete with any team on any night, but they are certainly not on the same level as other recent home opponents. Excellent coachspeak yet again.

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
34 Mark Donnal* 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 1 4 0 0 1 0 0 6
10 Derrick Walton Jr.* 1-5 0-3 2-2 0 5 5 1 4 2 2 1 4 31
21 Zak Irvin* 3-6 1-4 0-1 0 1 1 3 7 0 2 0 0 22
23 Caris LeVert* 8-16 5-8 8-10 1 6 7 2 29 3 3 0 2 36
24 Aubrey Dawkins* 1-6 1-5 2-2 0 6 6 2 5 1 0 0 1 36
02 Spike Albrecht 1-1 1-1 2-2 0 1 1 0 5 1 0 0 0 8
03 Kameron Chatman 1-3 0-1 0-0 1 0 1 0 2 0 0 0 0 8
05 D.J. Wilson 1-2 0-0 1-2 0 0 0 2 3 0 1 1 0 7
12 Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman 0-2 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 2 0 1 1 0 0 10
13 Moritz Wagner 1-3 0-0 0-1 1 1 2 2 2 0 0 0 0 5
20 Duncan Robinson 2-5 2-4 3-3 1 0 1 2 9 0 0 0 0 19
32 Ricky Doyle 2-3 0-0 0-3 1 0 1 3 4 0 1 0 0 22
Totals 21-52 10-26 18-26 7 22 29 23 70 8 11 2 7 200
Xavier 27-66 9-21 23-26 18 29 47 25 86 13 9 2 3 200
Full Stats
Beilein tie watch
(Sam Sedlecky, M&GB)

(Sam Sedlecky, M&GB)

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

Thursday, November 19th, 2015


UM BBall(MGoBlue.com)

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

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

The first few lines went something like this:

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

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

MGoBlue.com

(MGoBlue.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

LeVert

(MGoBlue.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After all, their time has come.

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

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

Michigan 88 – Elon 68

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015


Walton vs Elon(MGoBlue.com)

The Michigan Wolverines are no strangers to some early season non-conference jitters against supposed “cupcake” opponents. It was just one season ago when John Beilein’s squad, almost at full strength, lost back-to-back games at home against the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Eastern Michigan.

With a brand new team again that is running out just about every available player early on, Beilein found himself in another early battle last night against Elon. The Phoenix, winners over Charlotte in their season opener, kept it close throughout the first half despite a bevy of errors – including 10 turnovers – to find themselves down only one point with 3:40 left in the opening stanza.

By now, this shouldn’t be too surprising. College basketball is the ultimate underdogs’ game. A team full of no names can catch fire at any time and knock off the big fish; every March, we see it in action as an unknown coach leads his band of misfits over a blue blood program in the Big Dance. In football, it’s nearly impossible for 11 undersized and overmatched DII players knock off a big time DI program (what’s that? Of course it hasn’t happened to Michigan…). In basketball, though, it’s become commonplace.

And already this season, top programs like Wisconsin, Virginia, Illinois, and North Carolina State have already lost in “guarantee” games.

After turning the jets on a bit late in that first half, though, the Wolverines ensured they would not yet find a place in that group that is sure to grow as November pushes on, taking a double-digit lead into the break and building on that early and often in the second half on their way to an 88-68 win.

Duncan Robinson had the right tools in his belt to keep Michigan trucking along steadily, with an unexpected strong dunk on a fast break followed shortly by a pair of back-to-back triples from either corner – both assisted by Zak Irvin – on his way to a game-high 13 first-half points. He would go on to finish with a Michigan career-high 19 points and three rebounds on a flawless shooting night – 6 of 6 from the floor, 5 of 5 from deep, and 2 of 2 at the free throw line.

In the second half, Michigan coasted with easy layups and wide open threes, often facilitated by now-healthy junior Derrick Walton Jr., who looked well on his way to making the Beilein Leap a year late with a game-high 24 points, seven assists (to just two turnovers), and six rebounds. Walton’s quickness is completely back, his passing was crisp, and his outside shot looked better than ever.

Elon was led by a quartet of scorers – Dainan Swoope, Dmitri Thompson, Brian Dawkins, and Tanner Samson – with double-digit points, but the team’s sloppiness as a whole with 17 turnovers led to 28 Michigan points and an inability to stay in front of the Wolverine shooters doomed the Phoenix. Michigan finished 13 of 24 (54.2 percent) from downtown – better than their 50 percent mark from inside the arc – and had their way on the pick-and-roll.

Following an offseason back injury, Zak Irvin made his season debut and said he felt 100 percent after the game despite an off night from the field. He finished with zero points on five shots in 15 minutes but was praised by Beilein and his teammates for playing great defense, and his entrance in the first half sparked some improved ball movement. Irvin’s three assists were a very encouraging sign as well, showing that perhaps the excellent form he ended last season in will carry over.

In all, a dozen different Wolverines saw the floor for at least seven minutes of playing time – thanks in part to a refereeing crew that called a foul seemingly any time someone was breathed on. Beilein commented after that he is still tinkering with lineups and seeing how each player responds to the opportunity early on that won’t be there for the entire season. He also noted that he was pleased that a comfortable lead gave him the luxury of trying out different players in a variety of spots. Eventually, it seems that the lineup will be whittled down to 8-9 regular players, but it might be a few games before the rotation is firmly determined.

This win, while sometimes sloppy, is certainly another small step in the right direction for the Maize and Blue. Offensively, there is plenty of potential – Spike Albrecht, Irvin, and Moe Wagner were the only Michigan players to not record points in this game – and lots of firepower. Defensively, there is certainly some work to be done, but Walton, Irvin, and Caris LeVert looked to be solid veterans on that end of the floor. And if the team scores as many points as they are capable of doing, it’s going to take a strong effort from anyone to out-score these Wolverines.

The going will get significantly harder from here, with upcoming games against Xavier (Gavitt Games), UConn (Battle 4 Atlantis – followed by potential matchups with Syracuse and Gonzaga), and at NC State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, before getting easier again in early December with home games against the likes of Houston Baptist, Delaware State, Northern Kentucky, Youngstown State, and Bryant.

Right now, though, any team in the country will take a win – after all, there’s no such thing as a guarantee in college basketball.

Quick Hitters

• Once again, Mark Donnal got the start at the five over Ricky Doyle, but four different players saw minutes there, D.J. Wilson and Moritz Wagner joining in on the action. Donnal had a very up and down game, with a tough rebound and put-back early on paired with two or three missed layups. Confidence and defense are his biggest issues, though six points in 15 minutes is not bad output. Doyle was solid, if unspectacular, in 13 minutes, scoring eight points and grabbing three rebounds, Wilson flashed his excellent potential – nailing a triple early on from the four position and recording a couple nice blocks – with five points, and Wagner was clearly the least ready, though he did display an excellent motor and a willingness to tussle. At one point, he took a charge that left him with a bloodied gash over his left eye – a la Zack Novak many years ago against Illinois. The German freshman still has a ways to go in terms of learning the offense, competing defensively, and improving his quickness before he will be a major threat, however.

• When asked about what his rotation will evolve into, Beilein noted that he is continuing to experience with different lineups and get a feel for what every player can bring before making decisions on who will and won’t see regular playing time. He also talked about how the re-entry of Irvin into the lineup probably skewed the spread of minutes tonight – the junior will normally play around 30 minutes a night but only saw half that as he eases his way back from offseason surgery. The four big men will probably become a two-man platoon according to the ninth year head man, and players like Kameron Chatman, Duncan Robinson, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, and D.J. Wilson will have to fight for minutes. Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, and Irvin are surefire bets to see 30-plus minutes per night, and Beilein pegged Aubrey Dawkins at around 30 minutes a night as well. That leaves no more than 40 remaining minutes at the 1-4 slots – which will likely be spread among just two or three players.

Michigan’s Three Stars

***Derrick Walton Jr.***
24 points (career high) (8 of 10 FG, 6 of 7 3pt, 2 of 2 FT), seven assists, six rebounds, one steal, two turnovers in 30 minutes
**Duncan Robinson**
19 points (Michigan high) (6 of 6 FG, 5 of 5 3pt, 2 of 2 FT), three rebounds (two offensive), one steal, two turnovers in 18 minutes
*Caris LeVert*
11 points (3 of 8 FG, 0 of 1 3pt, 5 of 6 FT), four rebounds (one offensive), seven assists, four steals, three turnovers in 32 minutes

Beilein CoachSpeakometer

John Beilein is always quick to praise Michigan’s opponent – whether playing against the worst team in the country or one of the best. Here’s a look at a Beilein quote from this game’s press conference followed by a rating from Completely Objective and Fair (1) to Pure and Utter Coachspeak (10) on the John Beilein CoachSpeakometer

“I was laughing this morning because I happened to be listening to a local radio show and heard one of their announcers say what a ‘cupcake’ Elon will be. I’m just telling you that team right there is going to win a lot of games this year. They have so many components that are tough to guard, they got all these shooters out there, they got great guard play, an excellent coach. That was a really good win for us. I know people look at these ‘guarantee’ games, and this is actually part of the Atlantis Tournament. That team is going to be a great RPI win for us because I really feel unless they have injuries they are going to be really good.”

Verdict: 9 – Last year, Elon finished in the bottom third of the Colonial Athletic Association with a 6-12 conference record and 15-18 mark overall. They also check in at a woeful #240 overall on KenPom – just one spot above traditional power Incarnate Word. The Phoenix do have a win over Charlotte already this season – who check in at a dismal #293 – but they most certainly don’t look like a future “great RPI win”. This was coachspeak nearly at its finest.

Beilein Tie Watch
Beilein tie - Elon

(Sam Sedlecky, M&GB)

Michigan hoops 3 thoughts: Northern Michigan

Friday, November 13th, 2015


UM-NorthernMichigan
Michigan vs Northern Michigan
Friday, Nov. 13 | Ann Arbor, Mich. | 7:00 p.m. EST | BTN Plus
Offense (2014-15)
64.7 Points/gm 61.5
(734-1,724) 42.6 Field Goal % 44.1 (648-1,471)
(250-696) 35.9 3-pt FG % 33.0 (150-455)
(353-468) 75.4 Free Throw % 69.8 (277-397)
11.0 FT Made/gm 9.9
30.2 Reb/gm 31.1
11.9 Assists/gm 11.4
9.6 Turnovers/gm 12.5
Defense (2014-15)
63.9 Points/gm 61.9
(764-1,702) 44.9 Field Goal % 44.7 (678-1,516)
(208-606) 34.3 3-pt FG % 37.0 (185-500)
34.1 Opp. Reb/gm 30.6
5.4 Steals/gm 5.0
1.8 Blocks/gm 3.5
Individual Returning Leaders
Caris Levert (14.9), Zak Irvin (14.2) Points/gm Jordan Perez (11.6), Marcus Hall (10.0)
Caris Levert (4.9), Zak Irvin (4.8) Reb/gm Terry Nash (3.9), Kenny Williams (2.9)

It’s amazing how much football affects the buildup to college basketball season.

For the better part of a decade, Michigan’s football team had fans counting down the days until the start of basketball, which won two conference titles and went to a Final Four and an Elite Eight during the football team’s struggles.

But now that Jim Harbaugh has Michigan back on the map, the start of basketball sneaked up on some people. Once the season starts, fans shouldn’t sleep on John Beilein’s team.

Michigan battled a slew of injuries last season, including the loss of its two best players — Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton — early in the conference season. Now that the whole crew is back, minus role player Max Bielfeldt, who transferred to Indiana, we’ll see what Beilein really had in mind for this group.

Here are three keys for Michigan’s opener against Northern Michigan.

1. Welcome back party

This season’s recruiting class might not play a major role during the 2015-16 season, but the Wolverines are adding two five-star caliber players back into their rotation.

LeVert, who was shut down on Jan. 18 last season after injuring his foot late in a home win over Northwestern, will be the team’s top player on offense and defense if he can stay healthy. At the time of his injury, LeVert was leading Michigan in points, assists, rebounds, steals and blocks while often lining up against every opponents’ best offensive player.

The one area LeVert can really improve is his field goal percentage. He shot below 30 percent in six of 18 games last season and needs to be much more consistent to help Michigan compete in the Big Ten.

Walton was starting to round into form last season before a foot (and toe) injury of his own slammed the breaks on his sophomore campaign. He scored 12 or more points in five of his last six games, capped by a 17-point effort against eventual National runners-up Wisconsin.

Without its starting point guard, Beilein’s formidable offense looked like a train without a conductor. Though Spike Albrecht evolved into the team’s best passer, the offense went through staggering scoreless stretches that cost Michigan games it should have won. At 16-16, the Wolverines were only a few wins away from slipping into another NCAA Tournament.

Walton’s return not only gives the starting five a legitimate off-the-dribble scoring threat, it also bumps Albrecht down to his more familiar role as the second point guard. Even when he’s on the floor with Walton, which will be often, if the last two years are any indication, Albrecht can focus on running the offense and defer to LeVert and Walton when it’s time to rack up the points.

If those two guys can return to form, Michigan will be right back in the thick of the conference race. A third key player returning from injury, Zak Irvin, will not play in Friday’s opener.

2. 3D in the paint

One of the biggest holes in last year’s team came at the center position, where the revolving door of Mark Donnal, Ricky Doyle and Bielfeldt turned into way more Bielfeldt than Beilein had hoped.

This season, Michigan will look to its three Ds — Doyle, Donnal and, well, D.J. — to establish a presence in the paint and give a deep group of shooters more open looks.

If that’s a focus for Beilein this season, expect to see a heavy emphasis against teams like Northern Michigan.

Doyle showed the most promise last season, playing nearly 20 minutes per game and chipping in with about six points and three rebounds while shooting well over 60 percent from the field.

The best case scenario for Michigan is for Doyle to grab the starting job and run with it, as he’s clearly got the most upside of the bunch. He has a few strong moves down low and he’s a way stronger rebounder than Donnal. An offense that features LeVert, Walton and eventually Irvin won’t need Doyle to be a prolific scorer. He just needs to clean up the offensive and defensive glass and control the paint.

Donnal is much more of a question mark. After losing his starting job early last season, the redshirt freshman looked soft and timid during Big Ten play. He’s got a decent outside game, but sometimes that hurts him, as he doesn’t do enough work underneath the basket. His best performance came against Rutgers last season, when he scored only three points but ripped down seven boards and looked like a Big Ten center. Beilein will need to see more of that to keep Donnal in the regular rotation this year.

D.J. Wilson, on the other hand, didn’t get much of a chance to prove himself before accepting a redshirt five games into his freshman campaign. He’s got a great basketball body, but he was a little hesitant on offense and needed to bulk up on the defensive end.

Now that he’s back from another offseason of work, Michigan fans will finally get a look at where he fits into the system. More than a year ago, Beilein said Wilson can guard positions one through five on the court. Hopefully he can fit into just one of those jobs and gain some confidence.

3. Air Dawkins

There wasn’t much to celebrate when Michigan’s season came to a close in Indianapolis. A streak of two straight deep tournament runs came to a close as the Wolverines packed it up after the Big Ten Tournament.

But the extra playing time did reveal a few bright spots, the greatest being afterthought 2014 commit Aubrey Dawkins.

Dawkins played almost no role during the preconference schedule, scoring just 15 points in the team’s first 12 games. But when the Big Ten season rolled around, he burst onto the scene in a big way.

A very big way.

The freshman exploded for 20 points on 6-7 three-point shooting in the opener against Illinois, leading the team to an improbable overtime win. He slowly developed into a staple in the offense, eventually scoring 70 points in the team’s last three regular-season games. In his best effort, Dawkins dropped 31 points on Rutgers on eight for 11 shooting from beyond the arc.

Beilein showed his confidence in the freshman when he played him for 49 minutes during a double-overtime loss at Northwestern.

It’s hard to imagine why Dawkins didn’t garner more interest as a recruit. He can shoot from anywhere in the gym, he’s the most athletic player on the team and he even plays reasonable defense on the perimeter. If he’s grown as much as Beilein claims during the offseason, he could be one of the best offensive players in the Big Ten.

Dawkins needs to get off to a strong start against Northern Michigan to establish himself as a top option in what promises to be a much deeper offense.

Michigan basketball 2015 season preview: D.J. Wilson

Thursday, November 5th, 2015


DJ Wilson(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

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

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

Last year’s preview

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

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

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

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

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

What We Know

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

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

What We Don’t Know

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

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

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

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

Favorite Big Ten Opponent: N/A

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

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

What’s wrong with Michigan basketball and what it will take reach the Big Dance

Thursday, January 15th, 2015


LeVert-Irvin-Beilein

Coming off an NCAA Championship game appearance and, last season, an Elite Eight finish that was inches from back-to-back Final Fours, Michigan basketball was thought to have climbed the hump from the scrappy opponent who gives the superior teams a run for their money now and again to a year-in, year-out bona fide contender.

After all, going into this season, it felt eerily similar to the start of the 2013-14 season that saw the Wolverines run away with the Big Ten title outright and earn a 2-seed in the Big Dance.

Yes, John Beilein would have to find a way to replace Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas, but Trey Burke was the Wooden Award winner the year before that, and Michigan bounced back just fine.

And yes, Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan would no longer be donning the Maize and Blue, but McGary hardly played at all last year and Morgan was a solid, if unspectacular, big man who rarely wowed offensively.

And sure, Glenn Robinson III decided to pursue his NBA dreams after two years in Ann Arbor, but Little Dog never seemed to live up to his monstrous hype anyway and was an inconsistent shooter and competitor.

Certainly some new faces would be playing the majority of minutes and plenty of shots would open up, but Beilein has elevated this program to one that can simply reload, not replace — right?

It turns out that maybe we were all a little bit ahead of ourselves – national pundits, local journalists, and Michigan fans alike – in thinking that the Wolverines would once again dominate offensively with another incredibly youthful and inexperienced team. It’s not every year that you see players the caliber of Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr, Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, and, yes, even Jordan Morgan, sport your team’s colors.

Last year's Big Three formed one of the most efficient offenses in the nation (Detroit Free Press)

Last year’s Big Three formed one of the most efficient offenses in the nation (Detroit Free Press)

And Michigan fans are finally beginning to appreciate the glory those youngsters brought to the program rather than to expect it.

Today, the Wolverines find themselves well out of the NCAA Tournament picture at 10-7 overall and 3-2 in Big Ten play, with a couple of unbelievable losses and even fewer marquee wins.

So what went wrong?

In short, a lot went wrong.

The offense has disappeared for long stretches, the defense has been porous against lowly competition, and the replacements that were expected to be reinforcements have a lot of learning to do.

I don’t think there is any one player to point a finger at for all of Michigan’s shortcomings, and I don’t think John Beilein went from coaching the best offense in the country for two years straight to forgetting how to coach at all (resulting in an offense that’s outside the top 100 in offensive efficiency).

Instead, there are a bevy of problems coming from a number of different areas.

To start, let’s take a look at Michigan’s “Big Three” returning guards: Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton Jr, and Zak Irvin.

Those three players were largely expected to take on the bulk of the Wolverines’ offense, and while they are contributing nearly 60 percent of Michigan’s points – a slightly higher percentage, in fact, than Michigan’s Big Three of Stauskas, Robinson III, and LeVert contributed last season – the points are down overall by a whopping eight per game. To put that number into a bit more perspective, this team is scoring more than 0.2 points fewer on every possession.

The reasons for that dramatic drop-off are numerous, but probably stem from the top. Michigan lacks a go-to scorer with a killer instinct. Scoring droughts have seemingly become the norm for this team rather than the rare exception, and that falls onto the veteran leaders of the team.

LeVert is certainly a capable scorer, and his 14.8 points per game are nothing to scoff at, but I think he is much better suited for the role of Robin to Stauskas’ Batman that he played so adeptly last season as opposed to the alpha dog spot. When Michigan falls down by a handful of points and starts struggling to score points of any kind – as they did the other night at Ohio State for the first seven minutes of the second half, effectively sealing their blowout – they need a leader to step up and demand the ball. But LeVert is not that kind of player. He’s a quiet assassin with no shortage of moves or skills, but a killer that doesn’t quite know exactly when or how to move in and take over.

When he does take matters into his own hands, the young junior from Columbus makes things happen. LeVert single-handedly kept Michigan alive against NJIT with 32 points and led the Wolverines with three straight crucial buckets to secure a big win at Penn State last week. But for as many times as LeVert has taken over, Michigan has gone on long scoring droughts that have buried them – against Villanova, Eastern Michigan, SMU, Arizona, Purdue, and Ohio State. With Stauskas at the helm and LeVert as a second option, that wasn’t an issue last year.

This year's Big Three has struggled with consistency and battled injuries (Melanie Maxwell, The Ann Arbor News)

This year’s Big Three has struggled with consistency and battled injuries, resulting in an offensive efficiency in the 100s nationally (Melanie Maxwell, The Ann Arbor News)

Irvin, like LeVert before him, was expected to go from freshman role player to sophomore sidekick. That transition has proved a bit tenuous for the former Indiana Mr. Basketball.

Undoubtedly, Irvin has taken his game to another level this season, upping his scoring average by nearly eight points per game and adding many inches to his vertical leap, but he is simply not the creator this team so desperately needs. Irvin was comfortable in his role as an off-the-bench sniper, and he thrived to the tune of 42.5 percent from downtown, even though opposing defenses knew he was only going to shoot threes. Now, Irvin has attempted to shoulder a bigger load and his shooting has suffered. He’s still capable of big, efficient scoring nights – take, for example, his first four games in which he poured in 20.3 points per game on 51.9 percent shooting from downtown – but the pressure and increased usage have seen his three-point shooting percentage drop more than six points while his overall field goal percentage is down nearly three points.

Lastly, Walton looked to improve on a very solid freshman campaign to become more of a scoring point guard this season, but a toe injury suffered early in the season is clearly hampering the Detroit native’s play all over the floor. Last year, Walton’s quickness and deft play on the break were crucial to Michigan’s ridiculous offensive output, but this year, Walton is a step and a half slower because of his toe. If you don’t believe me, watch Michigan’s win at Ohio State from last season and then re-watch the Wolverines’ loss at Ohio State from a couple nights ago. Like Irvin, Walton’s shooting numbers are drastically worse than last year, but the cause is much different.

With these Big Three struggling to produce with the same efficiency as last season, Michigan’s role players would need to pick up the slack, but that’s been far too big a task for Spike Albrecht and a company of freshmen who were probably forced into action before they were ready.

Kam Chatman, the jewel of Michigan’s six-man recruiting class, was expected to come in and seamlessly replace Glenn Robinson III. That, more than anything, has turned out to be the biggest single shortcoming on this squad. Robinson III, though sometimes inconsistent from long range and almost always quiet in his ways, was an incredibly efficient and reliable scorer and a terrific finisher around the basket. Chatman, on the other hand, has been almost the exact opposite, to the point where Beilein has decided to replace him in the starting lineup with the 5’11” Albrecht.

The Portland native was seen as a high four-star from most recruiting publications, and his basketball savvy was projected to translate into a solid, if unspectacular, freshman season. But Chatman has struggled to pick up the offense, his confidence appears to be wavering, and his shooting has been downright miserable – mothers, cover your children’s eyes – to the tune of 31.5 percent on twos and 25 percent on threes for 4.1 points per game. Contrast that with Robinson’s freshman season (65.2 percent 2-pt, 32.4 percent 3-pt, 11 ppg on nearly three shots more per game) and you see where things really start to go awry.

Robinson’s biggest strength was his ability to finish everything around the bucket with his strength and athleticism. If GRIII caught a pass sitting open within five feet from the hoop, it was two points guaranteed. If he rebounded a teammate’s miss, it was an easy deuce for him. If he received an alley-oop, there was no doubt about the finish. The same cannot be said of Chatman, who doesn’t have the strength or hops to work magic in the lane like his predecessor at the 4-spot and whose confidence is waning (never more clearly than in a missed alley-oop layup attempt against Penn State in which there wasn’t a defender within 15 feet of him).

Fellow wing man Aubrey Dawkins has had one shining game against Illinois, but he’s also been fairly quiet the rest of the way despite flashing signs of tantalizing potential, while Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman is just starting to get consistent playing time and looks to be a couple seasons away from being an offensive threat.

Down low, Ricky Doyle has performed admirably for a freshman big man, but his defense has certainly made Michigan fans yearn for the days of Jordan Morgan manning the post, and his free throw shooting has been curiously poor of late. Doyle also needs to work on improving his hands, fighting for rebounds, and learning the offense (as does every other freshman). Redshirt freshman Mark Donnal has gone from starter to backup, and while he’s also shown some nice glimpses, he’s probably a season or two away from being a consistent scorer. Lastly, D.J. Wilson – my pick for freshman MVP – was unimpressive early on before falling prey to the injury bug, making a redshirt season (pretty please!) seem like a reasonable outcome for the high-potential California native.

As a whole, this Michigan team is lacking in more ways than could have been imagined, and while the defense is actually significantly better than last season, the offense has collapsed into a rocky mess. What was expected to be around a top-20 squad competing in the Big Ten once again looks instead to be a team that has a steep and treacherous path to simply earn a ticket to the Big Dance.

The good news for Michigan is that there’s still a long way to go until March, and anything can happen in the wonderful world of college basketball – especially when your average player on the court has just over one year of experience. And of course, there’s always the chance to win an automatic bid with the conference tournament, but I certainly wouldn’t bet on the Wolverines’ chances there.

Instead, the Maize and Blue will need to quickly improve on a resume that sports two black eyes and little muscle. Michigan has two terrible losses – NJIT and EMU – that are really hurting and only two top-50 KenPom home wins – Syracuse and Minnesota (neither of which is in the top 40) – that leave much to be desired. Right now, Michigan’s players are certainly kicking themselves over those two December losses, but perhaps even more crucial was the neutral court game against Villanova that the Wolverines let slip away after a crazy comeback. Change that L into a W and Michigan is squarely on the bubble already.

So what exactly will it take from here on out for the Wolverines? I think to have a realistic chance at being solidly on the bubble, Michigan needs to go 8-5 the rest of the way and win at least one game in the Big Ten Tournament.

Which eight games do those have to be? I’m not sure if that makes a huge difference. Michigan obviously needs to take care of their matchups with conference cellar dwellers (Northwestern,  at Rutgers, Nebraska, at Northwestern, Rutgers) and win a few marquee games as well. If the other three wins are Iowa, at Indiana, and at Illinois, I’d be a little concerned. To be safe, I think Michigan needs to take at least two from some combination of Wisconsin, Maryland, Michigan State, and Ohio State.

With five games left against that group, the opportunity is there. Will the Wolverines seize it?

You may want to temper those expectations again.