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Posts Tagged ‘Michigan Basketball’

Michigan hoops 3 thoughts: #18 UConn

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

Michigan vs #18 UConn
Wednesday, Nov. 25 | Paradise Island, Bahamas | 9:30 p.m. EST | AXS TV
76.0 Points/gm 89.3
(79-164) 48.2 Field Goal % 51.0 (98-192)
(29-66) 43.9 3-pt FG % 36.7 (29-79)
(41-56) 73.2 Free Throw % 76.8 (43-56)
13.7 FT Made/gm 14.3
31.0 Reb/gm 44.3
14.3 Assists/gm 19.3
11.3 Turnovers/gm 8.0
66.0 Points/gm 60.0
(67-167) 40.1 Field Goal % 33.5 (60-179)
(23-61) 37.7 3-pt FG % 30.9 (25-81)
35.3 Opp. Reb/gm 35.0
8.0 Steals/gm 5.7
2.7 Blocks/gm 7.7
Individual Returning Leaders
Caris Levert (19.3), Derrick Walton (10.7) Points/gm Sterling Gibbs (15.7), Rodney Purvis (14.3)
Aubrey Dawkins (5.0), Caris Levert (5.0) Reb/gm Daniel Hamilton (8.3), Shonn Miller (6.3)

Coming off of an embarrassing home loss to Xavier, the Michigan basketball team earned the enviable task of spending the week in the Bahamas for the school’s first Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.

The Wolverines already missed their best opportunity for a quality nonconference win, so now they’ll need to pull a big upset in one of these games to right the ship. The first round pits Michigan against the 18th-ranked Connecticut Huskies, who’ve started the season with a trio of home wins over cupcake opponents.

What will it take for John Beilein to get things moving in the right direction?

1. Stop the bleeding

For a team that didn’t really know what to expect heading into this season, Friday’s blowout loss was a huge wakeup call. Xavier is a talented, physical basketball team, but Michigan should never lose by 16 points in the Crisler Center.
There’s no way around it: As of now, Michigan is not an NCAA Tournament team.

But Beilein is the right guy to help the Wolverines learn from the loss and continue to grow. The most valuable resource for this group is time; time for everyone to learn their roles and develop a better rhythm. Injuries to Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin and Spike Albrecht robbed this talented group of an offseason that most teams spent getting comfortable playing with each other.

What Michigan can’t afford is a nonconference slide like it experienced last season. After dropping consecutive home games to N.J.I.T. and Eastern Michigan, the Wolverines got blasted in Arizona and lost a fourth straight to SMU.

If Michigan hopes to get back into the field of 68, it’ll need to avoid another long losing streak and pick up a few quality wins in the nonconference. As I said last week, those opportunities are few and far between in the upcoming schedule.

2. Find an offensive flow

When you look at Michigan’s team on paper, you can’t help but think ‘this group could be an offensive juggernaut.’ It has everything a team needs to put up huge point totals: Sharpshooters, slashers, great passers, even a couple of strong offensive rebounders.

But the team we’ve seen on the court has been absolutely stagnant through three games. Yes, they can get out in transition and put together a few nice scoring runs, but that’s more representative of the pure athletic prowess of guys like LeVert and Walton.

Take Aubrey Dawkins as an example. He emerged as one of the team’s best players late in the 2014-15 season because he can shoot, he can finish and he can really clean up shots around the rim. But Dawkins was a complete nonfactor against Xavier, spending most of his court time standing in the corner around the three-point arc. Yes, he grabbed six defensive rebounds, but five points on 1-6 shooting? That’s indefensible for a guy as explosive as Dawkins.

Irvin was the other no-show. The junior is coming off a long layoff because of injury, but he doesn’t look ready to play on the offensive end. In February and March, Irvin looked like a new man, evolving into Michigan’s best passer and improving off the dribble. But on Friday, it was more of the catch and shoot that Irvin displayed early last season. Settling for deep jumpers is part of what got Irvin, and the Wolverines, in trouble.

It’s up to Walton, who struggled greatly against Xavier, and Albrecht, who’s trying to get back into game shape himself, to kick start this offense in the Bahamas. Everyone needs to be moving without the ball instead of standing around the outside while LeVert tries to make a 1-on-1 move late in the shot clock.

Barring another avalanche of injuries, I expect Beilein’s offense to get much better as the players settle in. Remember, most of these guys, like Dawkins, Kam Chatman, Duncan Robinson, Ricky Doyle, D.J. Wilson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, haven’t spent much time on the court with a healthy LeVert or Walton. It’ll take a big leap from what we saw Friday to come out on top of UCONN.

3. Off the Mark

If it wasn’t completely obvious last season, it is three games into the new campaign: Mark Donnal simply isn’t ready for a major role on this team.

I’m not going to crush the guy. He’s never done anything wrong off the court and he seems to be a quiet kid who just goes about his business.

But I think that’s part of the problem.

Michigan, which has a glaring weakness at the center position, can’t afford to be soft in the paint. And there’s no way to deny that Donnal simply hasn’t been the force inside that the Wolverines need.

Donnal started the game against Xavier but played only six minutes because he picked up four fouls. He gave up two dunks on defense and couldn’t hold on to a few rebounds that were basically right in his grasp.

On offense, he won’t go up strong at the rim. Even when he takes a pass off the screen-and-roll, Donnal flips it up toward the backboard and often gets blocked or, unfortunately, flat-out misses.

There was one sequence during the game on Friday when Donnal checked into the game in the 2nd half with Michigan on defense and trailing by a few possessions. When I saw him at the scorer’s table, I turned to my dad and said, “Here comes a dunk.”

Xavier inbounded the ball, missed a three-point shot from the corner, grabbed the offensive board, missed a short put-back and tip-slammed the second rebound. The second rebound wasn’t Donnal’s fault, but it struck me how the team lacked an inside presence with anyone but Doyle on the court.

The Big Ten isn’t a soft league, and Connecticut isn’t a soft team. Maybe Beilein needs to light a fire under Donnal to get him going. But for now, he’s not getting the job done and Doyle, Wilson and even Moritz Wagner have emerged as better inside options.

Xavier 86 – Michigan 70

Saturday, November 21st, 2015

Beilein vs Xavier(

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
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)

Michigan hoops 3 thoughts: Xavier

Friday, November 20th, 2015

Michigan vs Xavier
Friday, Nov. 20 | Ann Arbor, Mich. | 9:00 p.m. EST | BTN
79.0 Points/gm 79.5
(58-112) 51.8 Field Goal % 42.1 (48-114)
(19-40) 47.5 3-pt FG % 33.3 (13-39)
(23-30) 76.7 Free Throw % 79.4 (50-63)
11.5 FT Made/gm 25.0
32.0 Reb/gm 41.0
17.5 Assists/gm 14.0
11.5 Turnovers/gm 14.0
56.0 Points/gm 69.0
(40-101) 39.6 Field Goal % 43.3 (45-104)
(14-40) 35.0 3-pt FG % 34.9 (15-43)
29.5 Opp. Reb/gm 26.5
3.0 Steals/gm 9.0
0.5 Blocks/gm 2.5
Individual Returning Leaders
Caris Levert (14.5), Derrick Walton (14.0) Points/gm J.P. Macura (16.5), Edmon Sumner (15.5)
Aubrey Dawkins (4.5), Caris Levert (4.0) Reb/gm James Farr (9.5), Jalen Reynolds (8.5)

As if the Big Ten – ACC Challenge wasn’t awesome enough, now we have the Big Ten – Big East Challenge as a preview. With conferences constantly trying to improve their early-season schedules, the Big Ten agreed to match up with what used to be the best college basketball conference in the country.

Since then, the Big East underwent quite a transformation. Gone are powerhouses like Louisville, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Connecticut and even Cincinnati. The conference also lost South Florida and Rutgers. How did the Big East survive? It added small, but competitive, basketball schools Butler, Creighton and Xavier to form a new-look 10-team league.

On Friday, Michigan draws a matchup with the Xavier Musketeers. Xavier is already 2-0 with a solid win over Missouri this season. Last year the 6th-seeded Musketeers knocked off Ole Miss and Georgia State to make it to the Sweet 16 before falling to Arizona, 68-60.

Let’s take a look at some of the keys for this matchup.

1. Beef up that resume

It’s obviously still very early in the season, but in today’s age of college basketball, it’s never too early to start constructing an NCAA Tournament resume. Michigan fans seem to be taking the tournament for granted this season, a mistake many made last year after two straight deep runs under John Beilein in March.

Xavier offers a rare opportunity for Michigan to knock off an almost sure-fire tournament team. Xavier makes the field of 68 nearly every season and would give the Wolverines an excellent early RPI boost.

After Xavier leaves town, Michigan’s only chances to pick up quality non-conference wins will come in the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Big Ten – ACC Challenge and a road game against SMU. That means Xavier is the only quality team outside the Big Ten to visit Crisler Arena this season. Beilein’s team can’t afford to waste such an excellent opportunity.

2. Points in the paint

We all know Beilein’s offense is predicated around the three-point jump shot, but Michigan was stagnant at times against Northern Michigan and Elon when the long-range jumpers weren’t falling.
Against strong defensive teams like Xavier, Michigan needs to establish an inside presence to keep defenders honest around the arc. If Michigan settles for 24 three-pointers Friday, it’ll need to make around 40 percent to make up for a lack of scoring inside.

Ricky Doyle is obviously the team’s best option inside, but he hasn’t really emerged as an offensive threat during his short time in Ann Arbor. His calling card is efficiency, as most of his shots come off of dump down passes and offensive rebounds. He took only four shots off of the bench against Elon but scored eight points.

Ironically, the burden of scoring in the paint will fall on two of the team’s best outside shooters: Derrick Walton and Caris LeVert. The two guards have settled for outside jumpers against a pair of inferior opponents this season, but now it’s time for them to work their way to the basket.

At his best, LeVert’s slashing ability opened the door for his outside game in the 2013-14 season when he averaged 12.9 points on just 10 shot attempts per game. Working in the reverse order is much tougher when the first few outside shots don’t drop.

Walton knocked down eight of 10 shots for 24 points against Elon as he found his long-range jumper for the first time this season. If he can pair that shot with the driving ability he showed early last season, he’ll tear his way to first-team All-Big Ten honors.

3. Defense off the bench

The second unit will be vital for John Beilein Friday against a pair of Xavier bench players who can really score the basketball. James Farr and J.P. Macura came off the bench to roast Missouri for a combined 31 points Tuesday, which proved to be the difference in the game.

Macura is a tough matchup at 6 foot 5 and he plays off of his ability to get to the free-throw line. Fourteen of his 33 points through two games have come from the charity stripe, where he’s yet to miss a shot.

Farr, on the other hand, is Xavier’s best inside scoring presence. The 6-10, 247-pound senior scored 15 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in the win Tuesday, setting up a crucial matchup with Doyle inside. Beilein won’t be able to count on Mark Donnal, who’s been soft on the defensive glass again to start this season.

It’ll be Doye, D.J. Wilson and Michigan’s deep group of guards assigned with containing Macura and Farr Friday. If they can slow down those two on the offensive end, it’ll go a long way towards a Michigan win.

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

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

UM BBall(

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

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

The first few lines went something like this:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After all, their time has come.

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

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

Michigan basketball 2015 season preview: The seniors

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Area to Improve: Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Area to Improve: Decision making

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

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

Michigan 88 – Elon 68

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

Walton vs Elon(

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

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: The juniors

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Area to Improve: Confidence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Area to Improve: Aggression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Area to Improve: Bounce Back

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

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

Michigan basketball 2015 season preview: The sophomores

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Sophomores(Melanie Maxwell, Ann Arbor News)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Area to Improve: Consistent Shooting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Area to Improve: Shooting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Area to Improve: Versatility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Area to Improve: Conditioning

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

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

Michigan basketball 2015 season preview: D.J. Wilson

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

DJ Wilson(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

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

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

Last year’s preview

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

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

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

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

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

What We Know

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

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

What We Don’t Know

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

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

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

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

Favorite Big Ten Opponent: N/A

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

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