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Posts Tagged ‘Spike Albrecht’

Veteran led: Michigan 71 – Detroit 62

Thursday, November 20th, 2014


LeVert-Irvin vs Detroit(MGoBlue.com)

The test was going to come sooner or later. Michigan, a young team that has looked the part, struggled right out of the gates this year against Hillsdale before settling in and rolling the completely over-matched opponent. In their second game, the Wolverines stashed away Bucknell early.

But tonight, the Maize and Blue were given all they could handle by an upstart Detroit team hungry for some headlines.

Ultimately, Michigan survived with a 71-62 win, but it was far from pretty.

Right out of the gates, the Titans showed that they came to play for real; this wasn’t going to be recess for the home squad. After former Michigan target Patrick Ackerman opened the scoring, he made another bucket to tie it up at 4-4 three minutes into the game. Following a Derrick Walton three-pointer, Juwan Howard, Jr. and Jarod Williams both nailed triples of their own to put Detroit up three.

It started a theme that would last throughout the night.

Michigan would answer, Detroit would take the hit, Detroit would take another lead, Michigan would claw back.

Four Factors
Michigan Detroit
51.9 eFG% 51.9
28.1 OReb% 6.7
15.6 TO% 17.2
37.7 FTR 15.1

In between the buckets, however, was a lot of ugly. The two teams combined to shoot just a hair over 38 percent while turning it over 11 times in the first half, but Detroit’s one-point lead going into halftime could be chalked up to their 5-of-9 mark from downtown to Michigan’s woeful 3-of-12.

Out of the break, there was a sense that Michigan would shake off the rust and run away with it, just as Oregon had done earlier this week after being tied with the Titans at the half and ending up with a 17-point victory. A Walton three right away strengthened that feeling.

Then Brandan Kearney, a former Michigan State player, matched the triple with one of his own. Howard Jr. followed by hitting an and-one of his own to put Detroit up four again.

Kameron Chatman came out of the game after the foul and Michigan went to a no-freshmen-allowed lineup a couple minutes later when Max Bielfeldt replaced Mark Donnal. Coach John Beilein wouldn’t put another freshman back in for nearly nine minutes.

With the veteran lineup, Michigan finally started to build a little bit of cushion. Bielfeldt caught a beautiful over the shoulder pass from Spike Albrecht and made the open layup look easier than it was. Caris LeVert stole a pass on the next possession and went coast-to-coast for a lay-in en route to scoring 10 straight and helping the home team to a nine-point lead.

A minute later, Zak Irvin flushed home a dunk from Albrecht before Kearney, Albrecht, and then Howard, Jr. made three straight triples to cut the lead to six.

Detroit was far from waving the white flag. Within five minutes, the Titans made up the difference and tied it up at 52 with 5:19 left – largely behind the leadership and scoring of Juwan Howard, Jr., who made eight straight points in that stretch and finished with a game-high 24 points on 23 shots.

But Howard’s success soon became Detroit’s downfall, as the senior and son of Fab Fiver Juwan Howard missed a couple circus shots over the next couple possessions, allowing Michigan to jump out to an 11-point advantage just two minutes later on a pair of Zak Irvin threes, a beautiful coast-to-coast finish from Walton, and three LeVert free throws.

Albrecht’s in-your-eye three with 1:27 left served as the unofficial dagger – and boosted his own confidence after he’d been passing up open looks in practice according to Beilein.

When it was all said and done, Michigan’s nine-point victory looked a lot more comfortable than it was. But that’s what happens when a young roster limits your options.

After escaping, Spike Albrecht noted that it’s a lot better to learn from a challenging win rather than a tough loss.

Beilein, as usual, praised Detroit for the terrific battle, but he would have done the same if Michigan won by 35. In reality, though, Detroit is not one of the better teams Michigan will face this year – even before Big Ten season.

If the Wolverines are to continue escaping challenges against the likes of Oregon, Villanova or VCU, SMU, and Arizona, they’ll have to play a lot better a lot earlier.

The talent is there, especially among Irvin, Walton, and LeVert. But the Wolverines needs to shore up the consistency.

Quick Hitters:

• John Beilein is starting to whittle down on the rotation, and tonight, only nine Wolverines saw minutes after at least 11 did in Michigan’s first two games. Freshmen Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman rode the pine all night while classmates D.J. Wilson and Ricky Doyle only saw seven combined minutes. Meanwhile, the veterans’ minutes continue to increase, as Zak Irvin, Spike Albrecht, and Caris LeVert played more than 30 minutes and Derrick Walton played all 40 minutes.

The big man rotation is still far from being solved. Max Bielfeldt was the first big off the bench again and led all centers with 20 minutes, while Mark Donnal played 15, Doyle played two, and Wilson played three minutes at the five.

Kameron Chatman and Derrick Walton rimmed out back-to-back three-pointers in the first half that perhaps went further down than I’ve ever seen in my life before popping out.

Three Stars:

***Caris LeVert***
21 points (7-of-13 FG, 1-of-3 3pt, 6-of-7 FT), nine rebounds (one offensive), three assists, one steal, three turnovers in 38 minutes

**Derrick Walton, Jr.**
16 points (4-of-10 FG, 2-of-5 3pt, 6-of-7 FT), six rebounds, three assists, two turnovers in 40 minutes

*Zak Irvin*
18 points (6-of-16 FG, 4-of-10 3pt, 2-of-4 FT), three rebounds (one offensive), one assist, three turnovers in 38 minutes

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
03 Kameron Chatman* 1-4 0-3 2-2 1 3 4 1 4 1 1 0 0 10
34 Mark Donnal* 1-2 0-0 0-0 1 2 3 0 2 0 0 1 1 15
10 Derrick Walton Jr* 4-10 2-5 6-7 0 6 6 3 16 3 2 0 0 40
21 Zak Irvin* 6-16 4-10 2-4 1 2 3 1 18 1 3 0 0 38
23 Caris LeVert* 7-13 1-3 6-7 1 8 9 2 21 3 3 0 1 38
02 Spike Albrecht 2-5 2-3 0-0 1 3 4 2 6 4 1 0 1 32
05 D.J. Wilson 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 1 3 0 0 1 1 0 5
32 Ricky Doyle 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2
44 Max Bielfeldt 2-3 0-0 0-0 2 3 5 1 4 2 0 1 0 20
Totals 23-53 9-24 16-20 9 28 37 13 71 14 11 3 3 200
Detroit 23-53 9-19 7-8 2 23 25 20 62 14 11 1 4 200
Full Stats
Beilein Tie Watch:
Beilein vs Detroit

(Sam Sedlecky, M&GB)

Maximized: Michigan 77 – Bucknell 53

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014


Max Bielfeldt vs Bucknell(MGoBlue.com)

Following a shaky start in the first regular season game of the year (against a DII school) for Michigan that saw Hillsdale hold strong for about half of the first half, many thought that last night’s matchup with the Patriot League’s Bucknell Bison would be perhaps even more interesting – and for even longer.

After all, Bucknell is much more experienced and runs a terrific program under coach Dave Paulsen.

Those thoughts didn’t last too long.

Michigan raced out to a 10-0 lead on five quick points from Zak Irvin and a triple from Max Bielfeldt – which would become the surprise theme of the night. Just over halfway into the opening stanza, Derrick Walton’s and-one layup gave Michigan 27 points; Bucknell had yet to reach double figures.

The rest of the game was semantics, as Michigan was never threatened and rolled to a 24-point win, 77-53, in the first round of the Legends Classic.

Zak Irvin led the way with an efficient 23 points on 13 shots while Derrick Walton chipped in 15 and a game-high eight rebounds.

Four Factors
Michigan Bucknell
52.4 eFG% 45.8
32.4 OReb% 13.3
9.1 TO% 25.8
28.6 FTR 25.0

But it was Bielfeldt who really stole the show from the get-go. The reclassified senior (Bielfeldt redshirted his freshman year during the 2010-11 season but will be free to transfer after this year for one graduate season, per John Beilein), whose previous career high was four points (on three occasions), poured in 18 points on an incredible 7-of-9 night from the field, including a 3-of-3 mark from downtown. Those three triples matched his career totals over two seasons of play.

In a head-scratching move, Bielfeldt was the first man off the bench when Mark Donnal picked up an early foul after he didn’t even get on the floor against Hillsdale and saw very limited action in the exhibition opener. When Bielfeldt fired up a three early on, even more questions were raised, but it found nothing by nylon. A couple minutes later, Bielfeldt let it fly again…money. Two possessions following, Spike Albrecht found Bielfeldt wide open underneath with a pretty over-the-shoulder pass from underneath the rim. Bielfeldt appeased the crowd with a thunderous slam.

Despite the where-did-this-come-from looks, John Beilein made it clear after the game that Bielfeldt earned the minutes and the sixth man spot after a couple impressive days in practice.

“The last couple of days of practice, he has virtually been a man-child playing with our guys. He has just been very, very good.”

Bielfeldt himself credited the big night to his feeling healthy and well-balanced on his feet following offseason surgery on his hip that had plagued him for years. He even attributed that bum hip to the reason for redshirting his first year.

Now that he’s healthy for the first time in a while, Bielfeldt should see increased looks in a far-from-solidified front court rotation. But Beilein isn’t ready to make any knee-jerk changes just yet.

“I’d like to see this consistently in practice over and over again. We know that that’s been the issue…I think he had great confidence today. Sometimes, as a senior, that just happens. We’ll wait and see how it plays out. I won’t make be making any knee-jerk (reactions), but I assume he’ll be in the game with Detroit.”

For now, all signs still point to redshirt freshman Mark Donnal remaining in the starting five, but his 11 minutes were completely over-shadowed by Bielfeldt while Ricky Doyle and D.J. Wilson saw nine and eight minutes, respectively.

While the season is still very early, however, it remains clear that Michigan’s strength is going to lie in the backcourt. Irvin was exceptional again, shooting confidently from all over the floor and flying for five rebounds. Walton, though he struggled a bit at the free throw line, showed off his improved finishing ability and also did his part in cleaning up the glass. And despite a quiet scoring night from Caris LeVert, the junior’s six rebounds, six assists, and two steals, along with a second straight zero-turnover performance, did not go unnoticed.

The Bison looked over-matched and unsure of themselves from right out of the gates, and a double-digit scorer didn’t emerge until Pellston, Michigan native Chris Hass rained down four threes and a mid-range jumper in a 2-minute, 28-second span of five straight possessions late in the second half.

Now that the young Wolverines have a couple games of experience under their belts, they’ll look to take down the Legends Classic after a matchup with Detroit on Thursday evening.

The guards certainly look ready for the challenges that Oregon and either VCU or Villanova will present, but a little may be needed from down low. Perhaps the answer is in the calves.

Quick Hitters:

• It was another quiet night for Michigan’s six true freshmen, as they only managed a combined nine points on 12 shots, with seven coming on bunnies from Ricky Doyle. Kam Chatman remains the best option at the four, and looks comfortable for the most part, but is still learning the offense and finding his spots to attack. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins played a total of just nine minutes late in the second half and each recorded a turnover. In all, five of Michigan’s six team turnovers were freshmen mistakes.

• Spike Albrecht’s shooting woes continued, as he hit just one of his five shots and none of his two triple tries, but his 29 minutes and 6:0 assist-to-turnover margin show Beilein’s great confidence in him. He remains the only rotation guard to not make a three yet.

Three Stars:

***Zak Irvin***
23 points (8-of-13 FG, 4-of-5 3pt, 3-of-4 FT), five rebounds (one offensive), one assist, one block, zero turnovers in 23 minutes

**Max Bielfeldt**
18 points (7-of-9 FG, 3-of-3 3pt, 1-of-2 FT), three rebounds (two offensive), zero turnovers in 16 minutes

*Derrick Walton, Jr.*
15 points (5-of-9 FG, 1-of-2 3pt, 4-of-7 FT), eight rebounds (one offensive), two assists, two steals, one turnover in 35 minutes

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
03 Kameron Chatman* 1-5 0-1 0-0 0 1 1 1 2 3 2 0 2 20
34 Mark Donnal* 2-4 0-1 0-1 3 1 4 3 4 0 0 2 0 11
10 Derrick Walton Jr* 5-9 1-2 4-7 1 7 8 0 15 2 1 0 2 35
21 Zak Irvin* 8-13 4-5 3-4 1 4 5 0 23 1 0 1 0 32
23 Caris LeVert* 2-11 0-3 2-2 0 6 6 1 6 6 0 0 2 30
02 Spike Albrecht 1-5 0-2 0-0 0 3 3 2 2 6 0 0 1 29
05 D.J. Wilson 0-1 0-1 0-0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 8
12 M-A Abdur-Rahkman 0-2 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 4
20 Sean Lonergan 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
24 Aubrey Dawkins 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 5
30 Austin Hatch 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
32 Ricky Doyle 3-4 0-0 1-2 2 2 4 2 7 0 1 0 0 9
44 Max Bielfeldt 7-9 3-3 1-2 2 1 3 3 18 0 0 0 0 16
Totals 29-63 8-18 11-18 11 26 37 13 77 18 6 4 7 200
Bucknell 19-48 6-20 9-12 4 25 29 21 53 10 17 1 1 200
Full Stats
Beilein Tie Watch:
(Sam Sedlecky, M&GB)

(Sam Sedlecky, M&GB)

Banner day: Michigan 92 – Hillsdale College 68

Saturday, November 15th, 2014


Michigan vs Hillsdale 11-15-14(MGoBlue.com)

As Michigan prepared to kick off their 2014-15 college basketball season, there was one more thing to take care of before tip-off — celebrating last year’s success by raising their Big Ten Championship banner.

John Beilein did the honors of handing out championship rings to his returning players while newly minted captains Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert presented Beilein with his own ring and Michigan’s freshmen looked on from the corner. While divvying them out, Beilein said he simply told the players, “Let’s do it again.”

The accomplishment was remembered briefly, the banner was raised, and the next quest began.

Hillsdale, a Division II squad playing the game as an exhibition, came out firing, perhaps taking advantage of a little lackadaisical Wolverines squad. Stedman Lowry nailed two deep threes and a layup to help the Chargers jump out to a 12-3 lead just over four minutes in.

Mark Donnal opened the scoring for Michigan before the mini Hillsdale run was stemmed by back-to-back-to-back triples from the Big Three of Derrick Walton, Jr., Zak Irvin, and Caris LeVert, respectively.

Hillsdale stayed level with Michigan for a few more minutes, but the Wolverines closed the half on a 31-14 after being tied at 19 midway through the first stanza.

Four Factors
Michigan Hillsdale
61.2 eFG% 55.2
25.8 OReb% 15.6
8.7 TO% 20.3
43.1 FTR 8.6

The Chargers’ efforts to mount a second half comeback never got them within double digits as Michigan cruised to a 92-68 victory.

For Michigan, those Big Three carried the load offensively, combining for 63 of the Maize and Blue’s final output. Impressively, Walton, Irvin, and LeVert each eclipsed 20 points individually while also dishing out 13 assists to two turnovers together.

The defense certainly has some work to do, but after the game, Beilein credited most of Hillsdale’s success to a talented roster that sticks together and plays more like a program than a team. Kyle Cooper led the way for the Chargers with a big double-double of 28 and 10 while Lowry finished as the only other double-digit scorer, adding 15.

Michigan’s freshmen continue to come along slowly, but provided some quality minutes today. Kam Chatman notably played 30 minutes and recorded four points, rebounds, and steals, but went just 1-for-7 from the field and lost his man multiple times on defense to lead to easy opposition points. Ricky Doyle led the freshmen in scoring with seven points in nine minutes, but redshirt freshman Mark Donnal was clearly the best big man for Michigan, scoring nine points and grabbing four rebounds in 26 minutes.

There was nothing too extraordinary about today’s win, but it was refreshing to see the offense firing again, as the Wolverines made 51.7 percent of their field goals and a crazy 57.9 percent of their threes.

Beilein certainly recognizes a quality program in an opponent, but he’s built one heck of a program here in Ann Arbor. That program’s goals are one game closer to glory again.

Quick Hitters:

 All of Michigan’s freshmen saw action, with Austin Hatch entering in the final minute to a rousing applause. Chatman impressed with his knowledge of the offense and will clearly lead his classmates in minutes early on; he displayed very nice control on a terrific steal at halfcourt, behind-the-back dribble to shimmy past a defender, and excellent and-one finish. Aubrey Dawkins saw only six minutes but made a three and leapt out of the gym to grab an offensive rebound while Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman only played five minutes and went 0-for-2 from the floor.

 Michigan is off to a good start in the turnover department, turning it over on just 8.7 percent of their possessions while forcing Hillsdale into a 20.3 percent turnover rate, leading to a whopping 25-0 advantage in points off turnovers. The Wolverines recorded 11 total steals, with Chatman, Donnal, and Albrecht all getting multiple takeaways, on a variety of passes picked out of mid-air leading to breakaways.

 Caris LeVert finished just one assist and two rebounds shy of a triple-double in 33 minutes, but when asked about his play after the game, Beilein was quick to praise his nine assists and zero turnovers. LeVert looked extremely smooth and in control with the ball in his hand and facilitated much of Michigan’s offense. Zak Irvin’s stroke looked very good, and he nailed three mid-range jumpers from just inside the three-point line a la Glenn Robinson III.

Beilein Tie Watch:
(Sam Sedlecky, M&GB)

(Sam Sedlecky, M&GB)

Three Stars:

***Caris LeVert***
20 points (7-of-12 FG, 4-of-6 3pt, 2-of-3 FT), eight rebounds, nine assists, one steal, one block, zero turnovers in 33 minutes

**Derrick Walton, Jr.**
22 points (5-of-8 FG, 3-of-4 3pt, 9-of-10 FT), four rebounds, four assists, one steal, one turnover in 34 minutes

*Zak Irvin*
21 points (8-of-12 FG, 3-of-6 3pt, 2-of-2 FT), one rebound, one steal, one turnover in 29 minutes

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
03 Kameron Chatman* 1-7 0-0 2-3 1 3 4 2 4 0 1 1 4 30
34 Mark Donnal* 3-4 0-0 3-4 3 1 4 0 9 1 2 1 2 26
10 Derrick Walton Jr* 5-8 3-4 9-10 0 4 4 1 22 4 1 0 1 34
21 Zak Irvin* 8-12 3-6 2-2 0 1 1 1 21 0 1 0 1 29
23 Caris LeVert* 7-12 4-6 2-3 0 8 8 1 20 9 0 1 1 33
02 Spike Albrecht 2-7 0-2 0-0 0 2 2 0 4 2 1 0 2 16
05 D.J. Wilson 1-2 0-0 0-0 1 3 4 0 2 0 0 1 0 9
12 M-A Abdur-Rahkman 0-2 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 5
20 Sean Lonergan 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2
24 Aubrey Dawkins 1-2 1-1 0-0 2 1 3 0 3 0 0 0 0 6
30 Austin Hatch 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
32 Ricky Doyle 2-2 0-0 3-3 0 1 1 1 7 0 0 0 0 9
44 Max Bielfeldt 2-2 0-0 1-1 1 0 1 0 5 0 0 2 1 7
Totals 30-58 11-19 21-25 8 27 35 7 92 16 6 4 11 200
Hillsdale College 27-58 10-23 4-5 5 23 28 21 68 18 14 5 2 200
Full Stats

Michigan basketball 2014-15 season preview: Caris’ turn

Saturday, November 15th, 2014


2014-BBall-FreshmanPreview-2014-15Preview

Every year, college basketball starts in mid-November and ends with the conclusion of the Big Dance in early April. The season seems to pass in a flurry of magical moments, the kind where you blink your eye and they’re gone.

The time in between, on the other hand, feels like an eternity.

But just like the cool wind has begun to bring a crispness to the Michigan air and the leaves have all fallen to their cruel death, basketball is finally back. Excitement will brew and hearts will break, but most of all, it will be one hell of a ride.

(Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

Caris LeVert looks to step into Trey Burke’s and Nik Stauskas’ role as go-to guy for the young Wolverines (Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

For Michigan fans, it’s an increasingly familiar start to the season. The football season has been a lost cause for what seems like many months, and all faith lies in the hands of John Beilein — the coaching savior of the program. After sending a trio of sophomores off to the NBA following another deep run in the Dance, the Wolverines will be breaking in a host of new faces while relying on a core of three young veterans to lead.

Caris LeVert, the one-time Ohio commit and Michigan after-thought, is the undisputed go-to guy. Zak Irvin, the former Indiana Mr. Basketball and freshman just-a-shooter, will look to flank LeVert and prove that his offseason strides are for real. And Derrick Walton, the sophomore point from Detroit, will run the show with a quiet confidence.

Joining those three are five true freshmen and one redshirt freshmen who have yet to see real playing time but will all be forced to contribute in some way. Ricky Doyle and Mark Donnal, two raw big men, will do their best to replace Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, and Mitch McGary. Kameron Chatman and D.J. Wilson, two West Coasters, will try to make fans forget about Glenn Robinson III. Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, two late signees that didn’t get a look from any big name school other than Michigan, will fight for minutes with a chip on both shoulders.

But one other returning player perhaps best emulates the whole Michigan team. In the spring of 2012, John Beilein reached out to an under-sized point guard that no one wanted. In fact, this player had gotten so little attention that he felt the need to spend an extra year in prep school. After finishing up there, however, still the biggest school that came calling before Michigan was Brown.

As a freshman, Spike Albrecht played his role all year until nearly springing the Wolverines to a National Championship. After his 15 minutes of fame, Albrecht returned to be a backup yet again, but performed in the same way he was asked to. This season, the junior will again come off the bench, but he will play the way he needs to in order to help the whole team be successful.

Albrecht is still under-sized, unathletic, and underwhelming. Michigan as a whole has also been consistently over-looked since Beilein took over with his unorthodox style. But like Albrecht, Michigan plays the way they are supposed to, overcomes expectations, and consistently surprises.

After losing so much talent and production from last season, many continue to write the Wolverines off as a flash in the pan. Yes, pundits have finally become smart enough to pencil the Maize and Blue into the NCAA Tournament, but they don’t really take their chances of doing much in the Big Ten or on the national stage seriously.

Well, guess what? With another banner going up in Crisler this afternoon, maybe it’s time to start taking John Beilein and his Michigan program seriously. Sure, the unknowns abound. But throughout the course of the season, the baby steps will turn into leaps, and the Wolverines will be competing for all the glory – like usual.

Predictions:
Top Five Scorers Top Five Rebounders
Caris LeVert Mark Donnal
Derrick Walton Caris LeVert
Zak Irvin D.J. Wilson
D.J. Wilson Ricky Doyle
Kameron Chatman Zak Irvin
Top Five Assists Top Five Three-Point Shooters (%)
Derrick Walton Caris LeVert
Caris LeVert Zak Irvin
Spike Albrecht Derrick Walton
Kameron Chatman Spike Albrecht
Zak Irvin D.J. Wilson
Superlatives
Most improved player: Zak Irvin
Most valuable freshman: D.J. Wilson
Most valuable player: Caris LeVert
Final record: 27-9 (13-5 Big Ten)
Conference finish: T1
Postseason: NCAA Tournament, Elite Eight

Michigan basketball position preview: The point guards

Thursday, November 13th, 2014


2014-BBall-FreshmanPreview-PointGuards

After taking a look at the three wing spots yesterday, let’s take a look at the point guard position today. With Michigan returning its two primary floor generals, there’s not much up for debate, so let’s see how things will run.

The Starter

#10 Derrick Walton Jr. – 6’0″, 185 – Sophomore
2013-14 stats: 7.9 pts (42.9% FG, 41% 3pt, 79.3% FT), 3.0 reb, 2.9 ast, .6 stl, .1.5 TO, 26.7 min/game
Projected 2014-15 stats: 12.0 pts (45% FG, 41% 3pt, 82% FT), 3.5 reb, 4.1 ast, 1 stl, 1.3 TO, 32 min/game

In the summer of 2011, John Beilein and his staff sent out offers to three different coveted point guards: Monte Morris, Demetrius Jackson, and Derrick Walton Jr. Walton was the first of the trio to jump at the offer, and it’s been an outstanding fit so far. Like Trey Burke before him, Walton probably committed with the idea that he would have a year or two to apprentice under Michigan’s then-star point guard, but Burke of course left after his sophomore season, leaving Walton the keys to the offense.

As a freshman, Walton performed about as well as could be expected, and had game-changing performances in road victories at Michigan State and Ohio State. He’s certainly not making any friends among rival fan bases, and that has made him all the more loved in Ann Arbor. In his first season, Walton scored when he needed to, but more often deferred to Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Glenn Robinson III.

With two of those three gone, Walton will take on a bigger overall role this season. Not only will he be asked to shoot and score more, but he will also be charged with finding LeVert, Zak Irvin, and Michigan’s bigs in scoring positions consistently off the dribble and pick-and-roll. Walton is Michigan’s quickest player and arguably the best slasher on the team. He is also a very good shooter from range and the best returning free throw shooter.

One area for improvement this year will be in finishing at the rim. Walton has no trouble getting to the hole and is excellent at drawing contact, but his 42.9 percent mark from the field should go up a couple ticks.

The Backups

#2 Spike Albrecht – 5’11″, 175 – Junior
2013-14 stats: 3.3 pts (40.4% FG, 38.7% 3pt, 77.8% FT), 2 ast, 1.1 reb, .5 stl, .4 TO, 14.7 min/game
Projected 2014-15 stats: 5 pts (43.5% FG, 40% 3pt, 80% FT), 2.5 ast, 1.4 reb, .7 stl, .7 TO, 15 min/game

Spike Albrecht has been a consistent, if quiet, role player for Michigan the past two seasons and will look to take on a slightly bigger role this year with an even younger roster. Albrecht knows he’s not the scorer or the athlete that Walton is, but he uses his own toolset to make a difference when called upon.

It’s no secret that John Beilein loves the veteran presence and fundamentally solid play that Albrecht can provide in buckets, and though Albrecht’s star will probably never be brighter than during the first half of the 2013 National Championship game (or immediately after when one of his teammates tweeted at Kate Upton from Spike’s account), he will do enough this season to be a thorn in the side of opposing teams. Beilein has already said that he’s calling on both Walton and Albrecht to shoot more from deep, which is good news for Spike, but his patented move will always be the corner drive and cross-court dish to an open shooter on the opposite corner.

This year, look for more of the same from Spike, who should also see about half of his minutes come with fellow point guard Walton on the floor.

#12 Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman – 6’4″, 175 – Freshman

For a complete look at Abdur-Rahkman, please see his freshman preview.

Rahk will only be an emergency option at point this season, but he has the raw skills right now to develop into an intriguing prospect down the line. His height is ideal for a Beilein point guard who plays off screens a lot, and his quickness and driving ability are great for the fast break and drawing fouls. I also really like the Pennsylvania native’s potential to grow into a lock-down man defender with his plus foot speed, length, and energy.
Abdur-Rahkman will see very few, if any, minutes as the primary ball-handler this year, but he should see spot minutes here and there on the wing as he continues to learn the offense. Next year will be his chance to compete for primary backup duties, but he’ll need to spend many hours in the gym working on his shot if he wants to win the role.

Minute Breakdown:

2-spot (traditional shooting guard):
32 Derrick Walton Jr.
8 Spike Albrecht

Michigan basketball position preview: The wings

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014


2014-BBall-FreshmanPreview-TheWings

As we edge toward Saturday’s season opener, let’s take a closer look at each of Michigan’s three position groups, starting today with the wings.

For all intents and purposes, John Beilein really operates his basketball teams with three positions – the point guard, the big men, and the wings. Positions 2 through 4 are very similar offensively and require many of the same actions on each possession. Wings in John Beilein’s offense are expected to be adequate ball handlers, good passers, and primetime shooters. Here are the players who will be seeing time at the wing this season:

The Starters

#21 Zak Irvin – 6’6″, 215 – Sophomore
2013-14 stats: 6.7 pts (43.4% FG, 42.5% 3pt, 71.4% FT), 1.3 reb, .4 ast, .4 TO, 15.4 min/game
Projected 2014-15 stats: 11.5 pts (46% FG, 41% 3pt, 75% FT), 4.2 reb, 1 ast, 1 TO, 33 min/game

Last year, Zak Irvin was about as much of a Just a Shooter as possible, with a full 74.5 percent of his attempts coming from behind the arc. He often looked uncomfortable putting the ball on the floor, and his slashing was almost non-existent. Over the offseason, however, Irvin remained dedicated to improving his game by staying in Ann Arbor over the summer, and the results are apparently already. The former Indiana Mr. Basketball reportedly increased his vertical leap by some five inches without hurting his outside shot, and showed that off last night.

In Italy, Irvin was on fire from downtown and led the team in scoring with a whopping 20.8 points per outing. Perhaps more impressively, he was also the second-leading rebounder on the team, hauling in 7.3 rebounds a game. His bounce and rebounding ability were both on full display in the team’s exhibition season opener in which Irvin slammed it home three times and pulled in an impressive five rebounds – something that will continue to be important given the team’s youth down low.

Going forward, Irvin will continue to work on becoming a threat to take it to the hole, but he doesn’t need to be a world-beater in that department for the Wolverines to thrive. If Irvin can knock down shots at a high clip again, finish in transition, compete for rebounds, and play solid defense, his job is more than accomplished. Look for him to have a very nice sophomore season, the season during which John Beilein likes to see his players make their biggest leaps (think Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert), while playing the bulk of the minutes at the 2 spot.

#23 Caris LeVert – 6’7″, 200 – Junior
2013-14 stats: 12.9 pts (43.9%FG, 40.8%3pt, 76.7%FT), 4.3 reb, 2.9 ast, 1.2 stl, .3 bl, 1.7 TO, 34 min/game
Projected 2014-15 stats: 15.5 pts (45%FG, 42%3pt, 81%FT), 5.1 reb, 4.5 sat, 1.5 stl, .4 bl, 1.5 TO, 35 min/game

There’s no doubt who this Michigan team’s star player is. That would be Caris LeVert, the 20-year-old who was all set to play at the mid-major level for Ohio University until then-coach John Groce left Athens for Champaign and chose to not bring LeVert with him. I guess Illinois’s loss is Michigan’s gain.

After an up-and-down freshman year that saw a young, gangly, skinny, and oft out-of-control LeVert go from surefire redshirt to inconsistent contributor on Michigan’s NCAA Runner-up team, the sophomore exploded onto the scene as a sophomore and played Robin to eventual lottery pick Nik Stauskas’s Batman.

Now, the reins are all his. LeVert has bulked up to a once-unimaginable 200 pounds and has as complete an offensive game as anyone in the country. Standing now at 6’7″ (will he ever stop growing?), LeVert should be Michigan’s go-to scorer from the wing and the secondary general to Derrick Walton. You’ll see plenty of pick-and-roll action drawn up for LeVert at the 3 position that Stauskas thrived in, and LeVert’s size, quickness, shiftiness, shooting, and passing ability make him a dangerous weapon off the curl. He will also be called upon to play solid perimeter defense, where his length and foot speed should lead to further improvements on that end of the floor.

The early returns for LeVert are very positive, after posting a team-high 16 points and six assists last night with only one turnover. What the stats don’t show, however, is the ease with which the veteran now operates. The Columbus, Ohio native was like a tub of Jell-O in human form when he arrived in Ann Arbor, sometimes to the point where it looked like he wasn’t even controlling his own extremities. Now, only two years later, LeVert plays with an air of cool and operates incredibly smoothly across the floor without comprising any of his quickness or shiftiness.

#3 Kameron Chatman – 6’7″, 210 – Freshman

For a complete look at Chatman, please see his freshman preview.

Kam Chatman arrived in Ann Arbor as one of the few players under John Beilein that chose Michigan over other top-ranked programs. That’s certainly no shot at Chatman; Beilein, after all, is highly selective when scouting high school players and considers off-the-court character perhaps more than any other coach in the country. It’s not Chatman’s fault that Beilein has consistently gotten the job done with more diamond-in-the-rough types.

Now Chatman has a chance to prove his high regard was not a fluke, and after immediately grading out as a rotation player under John Beilein and his assistants’ scouting, the Portland native looks to have locked up the starting 4 spot this season. In last night’s exhibition, Chatman appeared to be the most relaxed freshman on the court, and though his shot didn’t fall consistently (he air-balled two threes and swished another), his stat line was impressive: nine points, six rebounds (one offensive), four assists, and zero turnovers in 25 minutes. The freshman will still have plenty of learning to do and needs to find his stroke consistently as the season gets rolling, but he looks like a nice piece to the puzzle at this point.

The Bench

#2 Spike Albrecht – 5’11″, 175 – Junior
2013-14 stats: 3.3 pts (40.4% FG, 38.7% 3pt, 77.8% FT), 2 ast, 1.1 reb, .5 stl, .4 TO, 14.7 min/game
Projected 2014-15 stats: 5 pts (43.5% FG, 40% 3pt, 80% FT), 2.5 ast, 1.4 reb, .7 stl, .7 TO, 15 min/game

Let’s be clear on one thing: Spike Albrecht is a point guard. The only reason I am including him here is that John Beilein has said on many occasions leading up to this season that Spike Albrecht and Derrick Walton will share the floor for some time every game. Last night, Albrecht played 20 minutes while Walton notched 21 of his own (and probably would have had a few more if not for a cramp), and they were both on the floor for approximately 3.5 minutes. During the season, I expect to see Walton running the point for around 32 minutes a night with Albrecht getting all the backup minutes there and another seven or so at the 2-spot.

Albrecht’s role is very clear on this team. Beilein wants him to shoot when he’s open, find the open man, and take care of the ball. Albrecht did those three things very well last season, and with another year of experience under his belt, I expect more (albeit small) improvements. He’s under-sized and not super athletic, as evidenced by his casual layup on a full breakaway last night, but Albrecht is usually very smart with the ball and is adept at finding the open man for the corner three.

#24 Aubrey Dawkins – 6’6″, 190 – Freshman

For a complete look at Dawkins, please see his freshman preview.

Aubrey Dawkins should provide a nice outside threat and the rare “wow” dunk in limited minutes this season at the 3 and 4 positions. He has all the tools to become a very good player down the line, but he’s at the wrong position to make a huge impact this season. Look for similar output to LeVert’s freshman year but in fewer minutes.

#5 D.J. Wilson – 6’9″, 220 – Freshman

For a complete look at Wilson, please see his freshman preview.

John Beilein has made it clear that his long, versatile freshman will end up as a wing forward down the line, and that’s where the majority of his minutes should come this season as well, but he’ll also spotlight at the 5-spot along with Mark Donnal and Ricky Doyle.

Right now, Wilson looks more comfortable facing up on the wing, and he should see the majority of Chatman’s backup minutes there. His size and athleticism give him two valued assets defensively, and Wilson’s offensive range and driving ability will make him a very tough guard. His face-up game is in the mold of consensus All-American Frank Kaminsky from Wisconsin, and his varied skillset make him a very intriguing prospect. Look for Wilson to see 10-15 minutes a night at the 4 and another 5-10 at the 5 position.

#12 Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman – 6’4″, 175 – Freshman

For a complete look at Abdur-Rahkman, please see his freshman preview.

Luckily for basketball writers covering Michigan, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman looks to be a year or two away from being a major contributor in Ann Arbor. His quickness and slashing ability give him a skill set that not many on this team possess, but Rahk still needs to get the offense down and finds himself behind the likes of Derrick Walton, Spike Albrecht, and Zak Irvin for minutes.

In looking at Rahk’s profile, one number should stick out too – 175. Despite being five full inches taller than Spike Albrecht, Abdur-Rahkman is the same exact weight. And Spike is no heavyweight. I don’t think Abdur-Rahkman will redshirt this season, as Beilein continues to talk as if all the freshmen will get their opportunities, but he certainly won’t find the court in every game, especially against early heavyweights like Syracuse and Arizona.

Minute Breakdown

2-spot (traditional shooting guard):
32 Zak Irvin
7 Spike Albrecht
1 Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman
3-spot (traditional small forward):
35 Caris LeVert
2 Aubrey Dawkins
2 Kameron Chatman
1 Zak Irvin
4-spot (traditional power forward):
25 Kameron Chatman
12 D.J. Wilson
3 Aubrey Dawkins

A hero Hatched: Michigan 86 – Wayne State 43 (exhibition)

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014


Austin Hatch(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

With 12 seconds remaining on the clock in Michigan’s exhibition blowout of Wayne State last night, one Wolverine stepped to the line to shoot two free throws.

The first shot, perhaps a little rushed, clanged off the back left of the rim.

The second one found nothing but net to put Michigan up 86-43.

The ensuing roar of the crowd might have looked like a shallow celebration of doubling up an over-matched opponent to the outsider.

But those who have followed Michigan basketball and the story of Austin Hatch for the past few years knew it was so much more than that. The standing ovation for that one free throw was a celebration of life, an ode to a historical moment at the Crisler Center, a tear-soaked applause for a kid who has overcome more hardship than what most could even imagine.

Austin Hatch scored the first point of his Michigan career with a late free throw (MGoBlue.com)

Austin Hatch scored the first point of his Michigan career with a late free throw (MGoBlue.com)

Back in the summer of 2011, nine days after accepting an offer on the spot to play basketball at the University of Michigan, Hatch was involved in a deadly plane crash that took the life of his father, his stepmom, and a family dog. The 16-year-old Hatch was left completely unaware for eight weeks, as he lay comatose while doctors dealt with his punctured lung, broken collarbone, broken ribs, and, worst of all, a fractured skull that resulted in a bruised and swelling brain.

But that’s far from the whole story. It turns out that the family Hatch lost in that catastrophic accident was the only immediate family he had left.

Eight years prior, the eight-year-old Hatch was riding in a different plane that went down, taking the lives of his mom, his only sister, and his only brother. His father, who had his pilot’s license and was flying both planes, made it out of the first wreck and had become the younger Hatch’s self-proclaimed best friend.

Today, Hatch is still a shell of his former self on the basketball court. At the Canterbury School in Fort Wayne, Hatch thrived as a shooter and scorer for two years before suffering those injuries that knocked his development back to the point at which he says “it was almost like being born again”.

Hatch is noticeably the slowest player on the floor and has to think two steps ahead to be able to beat his man to the spot. He’s still a long way off from finding himself in a game that’s up for grabs.

But that doesn’t mean he’s settled. No, Hatch is perhaps more determined than ever to keep fighting. He admits that last night was a cool moment, a special moment, even monumental, but Hatch is the first to acknowledge that the actual point he scored was not a deciding factor in the preseason game.

“I don’t want to be known, by the time my career comes to an end here, as a cool story. Obviously what happened to me is kind of unique, but that’s what happened. It’s not who I am. Obviously it’s a big part of my life, but I’m about moving forward and making the most of my experience here.”

This is coming from the same kid who would not allow his high school coaches to insert him into a basketball game until he felt that he could contribute in a meaningful way.

Austin Hatch has a lot of heart, faith, and determination. He knows last night was not the end of a road, a chance to ride off into the sunset. Last night, though the score will not go down in any record books, was just the beginning.

Freshmen Takes:

The exhibition was the first chance for most to see Michigan’s other five true freshmen in live action against a real opponent. Here are some quick thoughts on each:

Kam Chatman – Chatman looks to have locked down the starting spot at the 4 and shook off some early nerves to wind up with a nice night of nine points, six rebounds (one offensive), four assists, and zero turnovers in 25 minutes. The highest-rated player in this class seems to be operating comfortably within the offense and made a really nice drive from the top of the key where he used a pretty hesitation move and an up-and-under scoop to get past two defenders for his first bucket of the night. He air-balled two threes long from the same corner in the first half, but came back in the second half and stepped into a pretty catch-and-shoot three from the right wing and drained it. He also went 4-of-4 from the free throw line and had a couple nice passes.

Kam Chatman had a nice all-around game in his first collegiate action (MGoBlue.com)

Kam Chatman had a nice all-around game in his first collegiate action (MGoBlue.com)

Aubrey Dawkins – Dawkins was the first true freshman off the bench and was quiet for most of the night until scoring eight points, including two pretty-looking threes from the right corner, within three minutes near the end of the game. Like most freshmen, he looked lost a couple times on the floor and nearly turned the ball over the first time he touched it, but he didn’t make any glaring errors and has two skills – shooting and athleticism – that could see him settle into a nice role. He also drained two free throws and recorded an assist, a block, and a turnover each.

Ricky Doyle – The big Floridian notched four points and three rebounds in 15 minutes but has a ways to go before any of the big boys come to town. Doyle is a hard worker who arrived in Ann Arbor early to put in extra work with Strength and Conditioning Coach Jon Sanderson, and his body looks ready for Big Ten play, but his foot speed and hands stand out as major areas for improvement. Doyle jumped through a crowd on one occasion to get an offensive rebound and put-back, but too many times when he was on the floor he was nowhere near the carom. As the biggest player on Michigan’s team, he needs to rebound. He did throw a nice back-door pass to Zak Irvin but was not credited with an assist.

D.J. Wilson – Wilson just oozes potential. The lanky 6’9″ Sacramento native with a 7’3″ wingspan is going to be excellent when he really gets everything figured out. Wilson’s foot speed is much better than fellow big man Doyle’s at this point, and his outside shot looks smooth. Wilson’s final stat line – nine points (including a three), two rebounds (one offensive), two assists, one block, and zero turnovers in 15 minutes – is exactly what Beilein would love out of him.

Wilson did make one befuddling error early in the game when he caught a ball on the elbow and nervously threw up a shot that got sent right back in his face, but he really seemed to calm down as the game got going, and was calling for the ball on the wing by the end. All four of his buckets were pretty impressive for a freshman big – a monster dunk underneath from Spike Albrecht, a harder-than-it-looked layup in a crowd, a drive from the right wing capped by an awkward lay-in, and a three from the right corner. Wilson also missed a layup in the first half where he was more open than he thought and got blown by once on defense, but he made up for it with a nice block from behind. One troubling stat – Wilson’s three fouls in 15 minutes have him off to a rough 8 fouls per 40 minutes pace.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman – Rahk may be the furthest freshman from seeing meaningful minutes at this point. He has the quicks that should make him a dangerous player and a good defender down the line, but he rushed things a little bit and missed all three of his shots by a wide margin. He did make two of three free throws, though, and recorded a rebound, an assist, a steal, and a turnover in 12 minutes.

Quick Hitters:

 Zak Irvin’s improved athleticism has been a major talking point all offseason, and he finally got the chance to show it off here, recording a trio of rim-rattling dunks that got the crowd on its feet. He looks much markedly more comfortable operating within the offense and should see his 1-of-4 shooting from downtown improve significantly.

 There is no doubt that the core of this team is in its guard play. Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, and Irvin will all easily see more than 30 minutes a night and should carry the scoring load. All three looked to be in good shape and led the team with 16, 11, and 13 points, respectively, despite only making three of their combined 10 triple attempts.

 Derrick Walton went down hard on a late drive to the basket and limped his way to the locker room after not being able to put any weight on his left leg, but he emerged jogging just a few minutes later with no noticeable limp and entered back into the game shortly after. Players and coaches confirmed after that it was just a cramp.

 The battle for 40 minutes at the five position is not close to being settled. Mark Donnal started and scored four points while grabbing five boards in 12 minutes, but needs to continue to build muscle to deal with stronger players down low. He also did not attempt any outside shots – a disappointment for me. Doyle saw 15 minutes of action while a few of Wilson’s 15 minutes also came at the five. The most impressive of the bigs, however? That would be seasoned vet Max Bielfeldt, who didn’t see a minute in the first half, but immediately grabbed an offensive rebound for an easy put-back when entered in the second. The senior also drained a nice 10-footer and made his only free throw attempt (in place of Walton after his injury) while blocking two shots in just seven minutes. Bielfeldt clearly has the lowest ceiling of any of Michigan’s big man options, but he may also have the highest floor for quite some time as well.

• The crowd, listed at 10,510, looked much smaller than that and was very late to arrive and quiet when it did.

Three Stars:

***Austin Hatch***
1 point (1-of-2 FT) in 1 minute

**Caris LeVert**
16 points (6-of-10 FG, 1-of-3 3pt, 3-of-4 FT), three rebounds, six assists, one turnover in 30 minutes

*Zak Irvin*
13 points (5-of-11 FG, 1-of-4 3pt, 2-of-2 FT), five rebounds (two offensive), one assist, one steal, two turnovers in 29 minutes

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
03 Kameron Chatman* 2-6 1-3 4-4 1 5 6 1 9 4 0 0 0 25
34 Mark Donnal* 1-2 0-1 2-4 2 3 5 2 4 0 0 1 1 12
10 Derrick Walton Jr* 2-6 1-4 6-7 0 4 4 2 11 0 0 0 1 21
21 Zak Irvin* 5-11 1-4 2-2 2 3 5 1 13 1 2 0 1 29
23 Caris LeVert* 6-10 1-3 3-4 0 3 3 3 16 6 1 0 0 30
02 Spike Albrecht 2-3 0-1 0-0 1 2 3 1 4 2 1 0 3 20
05 D.J. Wilson 4-8 1-3 0-0 1 1 2 3 9 2 0 1 0 15
12 M-A Abdur-Rahkman 0-3 0-1 2-3 0 1 1 2 2 1 1 0 1 12
20 Sean Lonergan 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 2 2 0 0 0 1 1 0 4
24 Aubrey Dawkins 2-3 2-2 2-2 0 2 2 0 8 1 1 1 0 9
30 Austin Hatch 0-0 0-0 1-2 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 1
32 Ricky Doyle 2-2 0-0 0-0 1 2 3 1 4 0 1 0 0 15
44 Max Bielfeldt 2-2 0-0 1-1 1 0 1 0 5 0 0 2 1 7
Totals 28-56 7-22 23-29 9 31 40 17 86 17 8 6 8 200
Wayne State 14-54 4-12 11-13 10 23 33 23 43 8 18 2 3 200
Full Stats

Michigan basketball Italy trip review and translation

Monday, October 13th, 2014


Michigan bball Italy(UMHoops)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2014-15 Michigan basketball projections

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014


UMBB

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

You might want to get used to that talk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what does that mean for the Wolverines?

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

Now, the philosophy of next man up must continue.

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

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

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

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

The Bigs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Point Guards

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

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

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

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

Starting Lineup and Team Predictions

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

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

How Michigan’s points and bigs performed relative to expectations

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014


J-MO

On Monday, we took a look at how Michigan’s wings performed relative to the expectations that Sam set in his season preview series back in November. Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert outperformed in most statistical categories (Stauskas for the second straight season), while Glenn Robinson III and Zak Irvin under performed. The latter, however, was tough to forecast as a true freshman and had some of his potential production eaten up by the emergence of LeVert.

Today, we take a look at the point guards and big men to see how Derick Walton Jr., Spike Albrecht, Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, and Mitch McGary performed.

For a look back at Sam’s preseason team preview and player previews, here they are: the wings, the big men, the point guards. He made his predictions for each player’s points, rebounds, assists, steals, turnovers, and minutes. Later this week, Sam will take a very early look ahead at what the 2014-15 season could bring.

Derrick Walton Jr.
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 6.0 2.5 4.0 1.5 2.0 25.0
Actual 7.9 3.0 2.9 0.6 1.5 26.7
Difference +1.9 +0.5 -1.1 -0.9 -0.5 +1.7

Derrick Walton Jr.Recap: While Nik Stauskas had the challenge of replacing Trey Burke’s production, it was Walton that was tasked with replacing his command of the offense. The freshman from Detroit wasn’t expected to score at Burke’s rate, but needed to run the offense effectively, finding the open man and taking care of the ball.

In Sam’s preview, he wrote, “Walton is a very quick player with the ball in his hands who will be looking to create for others before looking to shoot himself. He will never be the same player that Trey Burke was in Ann Arbor, but Walton clearly has the potential to make a similar impact, and with the talent of this Michigan team, it should be felt instantly.”

And it was, as he finished with a 2:1 assists-to-turnover ratio while contributing just under eight points a game. He had a season-best 19 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists in Michigan’s win at Michigan State on Jan. 25. He also recorded a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, in addition to six assists, in the win at Ohio State.

Future: Walton finished third on the team in assists behind Stauskas and Caris LeVert. With Stauskas gone, and LeVert stepping into his role of go-to guy, it will be up to Walton to make a big sophomore leap. He will still likely share time with Spike Albrecht, but will need to keep his assists-to-turnover ratio roughly the same and increase his scoring production by a few points. He proved  to be a capable three-point shooter this season. Now he needs to show he can create off the dribble like Burke did.

Spike Albrecht
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 3.5 1.2 1.5 0.5 0.8 10.0
Actual 3.3 1.1 2.0 0.5 0.4 14.7
Difference -0.2 -0.1 +0.5 0.0 -0.4 +4.7

SpikeRecap: Albrecht burst onto the scene in last year’s national championship game with 17 points, his first and only double-digit performance of the season. While no one is confusing him with Trey Burke, the performance eased at least some concern following Burke’s departure.

Sam wrote, “This year, expect a year of practice against Burke to pay dividends for Albrecht and a few more girls to flutter their eyebrows while walking by the boyish-faced Spike on the Diag. But most of all, expect to be happy with Albrecht’s contributions. Those contributions won’t be great, and oftentimes they will go unnoticed, but a back-up point guard who flies under the radar is usually a back-up point guard who is doing his job.”

Albrecht did just that, providing a steady hand in 15 minutes a game while splitting time with Walton. He turned the ball over just 16 times in 545 minutes — an average of once every 34 minutes of action — with a 4:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He contributed 3.3 points per game and was usually good for one big three-pointer per night.

Future: Albrecht will continue to play an important role for John Beilein as a four-year guy who provides consistency while others leave early for the NBA. His role next season will be about the same as this season, sharing time with Walton, taking care of the ball late in games, and knocking down the occasional open three. He’s the perfect point guard option off the bench and will remain so.

Jordan Morgan
Points Rebounds Blocks Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 3.5 3.0 0.2 0.5 0.8 10.0
Actual 6.4 5.0 0.4 0.4 0.9 20.1
Difference +2.9 +2.0 +0.2 -0.1 +0.1 +10.1
2012-13 Difference -3.9 -1.5   -0.5   -6.1

Jordan Morgan cutting net 3-8-14Recap: Perhaps the feel-good story of the season was the senior-year emergence of Jordan Morgan. He committed to Michigan in 2010 when the program was very different than it is now, stuck with the program despite losing his playing time to Mitch McGary last season, and became one of the most beloved players on the team by season’s end. A year ago, Sam held fairly high expectations for Morgan, but he performed below every one. This year, he over-performed.

In his preview, Sam wrote, “A couple seasons ago, Morgan’s own dad admitted that he was very surprised when Beilein called Morgan in the first place to express interest and ultimately offer him a scholarship. After all, Morgan’s future would be as an engineer. But Beilein did give him that chance, and Morgan has embraced his role in playing basketball for Michigan, no matter what it might be.

“This season, his last, might be Morgan’s most unspectacular in the scoring column, but his leadership and experience will undoubtedly be needed if Michigan is to make another run. Many fans will end up forgetting Morgan’s seemingly insignificant contributions, but Morgan himself will never forget his own journey.”

He was never a star, but Michigan fans most certainly won’t be forgetting his contributions any time soon. Just like the charge he drew late in last year’s Final Four win over Syracuse, Morgan saved Michigan’s season with a drawn charge in this year’s Sweet Sixteen win over Tennessee. Those are the kind of plays that don’t show up in the stat sheet, but are just as important.

Future: Morgan was the lone senior on this year’s team and got a fitting sendoff on Senior Night. He leaves Ann Arbor with an engineering degree, two Big Ten titles, and the program’s career and single-season field goal percentage records. Those are some great accomplishments for a big man out of Detroit that wasn’t highly recruited.

His departure leaves a gap both inside and in terms of leadership. If McGary opts to return next season Michigan will still be in good shape, but if he follows Stauskas and Robinson to the next level, Beilein will need some young guys to step up.

Jon Horford
Points Rebounds Blocks Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 4.5 3.0 0.8 0.5 0.8 12.0
Actual 3.8 4.2 0.7 0.3 0.5 13.8
Difference -0.7 +1.2 -0.1 -0.2 -0.3 +1.8
2012-13 Difference -3.8 -2.3 -1.4 -0.3   -6.2

Jon HorfordRecap: Horford has battled the injury bug throughout his career at Michigan, but entered the 2013-14 season as healthy as could be. He was still battling Morgan and McGary for playing time, but as the season went on it became apparent that even with McGary sidelined with a back injury, it was Morgan who had earned the coaches’ trust and Horford was left coming off the bench. He proved a capable rebounder, averaging over four per game in less than 14 minutes, but struggled on the offensive end of the court.

In Sam’s preview, he wrote, “Over the course of two preseason games, Horford recorded four blocks and 21 rebounds, 17 of which came on defense. If he can continue to provide that kind of production while finishing wide open looks in the paint, Horford will see a nice uptick in minutes and could occasionally see the floor next to McGary – a potentially devastating look for opponents.”

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way as Horford scored in double figures just three times all season — all in a five game stretch at the start of Big Ten play — and had just one more double digit rebounding performance the rest of the way.

Future: Horford could have returned to provide leadership as a fifth-year senior next season and likely see more playing time as a result of Morgan’s graduation, but he announced his decision to transfer elsewhere for his final year of eligibility. This leaves a hole in the front court, depending on what McGary decides to do and means redshirt freshman-to-be Mark Donnal is in line for a big role next season.

Mitch McGary
Points Rebounds Blocks Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 12.0 9.5 1.0 1.5 2.0 28.0
Actual 9.5 8.3 0.8 1.9 1.6 24.6
Difference -2.5 -1.2 -0.2 +0.4 -0.4 -3.4

McGaryRecap: Sam’s predictions for McGary were made with an asterisk because his status was unknown at the time, so any under- or over-performance should also be noted with an asterisk.

In his preview, Sam wrote, “Already this season, McGary has been deemed a preseason AP All-American, but he has one more physical hurdle to climb before fulfilling his vast potential – a lower back “condition” that has severely limited McGary’s practice time this fall and has many wondering when he’ll be back to full strength. Beilein maintains that Michigan is just being extremely cautious with McGary right now, and McGary himself is constantly wearing a smile as he says he feels “fine”, but any back injury for a guy of McGary’s size is worrisome.

“If the super sophomore is completely healthy by Michigan’s first big game, though, the Wolverines should be one of the most talented teams in the country and one of the few with exceptional players at every position. And of course, if McGary picks up where he left off, this condition will just be the latest bump on the rise to stardom.”

Ultimately, McGary played in just eight games, starting four, before he had back surgery and was shut down for the season. It’s impossible to tell how healthy he actually was in the games he played, but he certainly wasn’t 100 percent. Still, he averaged 9.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, and two steals per game.

Future: McGary is the one remaining piece of the puzzle that needs to be placed for next season. He hasn’t yet announced his decision of whether to return or to enter the NBA Draft. In one sense, it seems like an easy decision — will an NBA team want a player coming off back surgery who has really only had a dominant NCAA Tournament run that shows his potential? On the other hand, he’s old for his class and his NBA future is getting shorter the longer he waits. If his back is healthy enough for pre-draft workouts, he could work his way solidly into the first round.

A return to Michigan would immediately solidify Michigan’s front court, allowing McGary to play the five and Donnal the four with Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert as the wings and Derrick Walton Jr. handling the ball. That would be a lineup worthy of Big Ten title consideration. If he doesn’t return, however, there will be plenty of questions to be answered inside.
______________________________________________________________________________

Check back at the end of the week for Sam’s look ahead to the 2014-15 season with some very early team and player predictions.