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Posts Tagged ‘Xavier Simpson’

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

Friday, February 10th, 2017


(MGoBlue.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick Hitters

My Oh My, the Inconsistency

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

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

Speaking of Brackets…

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

Looking ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 5th, 2016


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

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

The newbies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The returners
dj-wilson-shorts

(Dustin Johnson)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick takes

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

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

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

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

2015-16 Michigan basketball season review: A season of what-ifs

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016


UM BBall(MGoBlue.com)

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. A year after struggling to a .500 record while two potential stars watched from the bench nursing injuries, Michigan was supposed to bounce back this season. This would finally be the season that John Beilein had some seasoning in his team, with senior leaders that had been to the National Championship before and a pair of juniors who played key roles on an Elite Eight team the following year.

The Michigan Wolverines entered the 2015-16 basketball season primed to show what their healthy, veteran squad could do in a college basketball landscape that lacked any team that clearly stood head and shoulders above the rest.

Senior Caris LeVert was returning from injury after deciding to forego a likely guaranteed NBA paycheck for an opportunity to prove himself.

Fellow senior Spike Albrecht was also coming back after a junior season that saw him sometimes spectacularly lift a shorthanded team to victories that should have never been possible – and he was also supposed to be healthy and ready to roll with a pair of new hips.

Junior Derrick Walton, like LeVert, entered the season at 100 percent after missing the majority of his sophomore season with an injury. And classmate Zak Irvin was back to show everyone that his end-of-year evolution from Just A Shooter to All Around Threat was real.

Sprinkle in a promising group of sophomores that included an eye-popping athlete in Aubrey Dawkins, a quiet but creative playground-style baller in Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, and a promising big man on the rise in Ricky Doyle, and it looked as if the 2014-15 season could be just a blip on the timeline of a dominant five-year run for Michigan basketball.

Alas, sometimes the world of basketball is a cruel place.

Perhaps Irvin’s offseason back injury and ensuing surgery should have been a bigger omen than it was perceived to be at the time.

If that wasn’t, then a couple early drubbings at the hands of Xavier and UConn would prove to be all the foreboding necessary.

Sure, Michigan bounced back with an impressive win over Texas and managed to squeak into the NCAA Tournament with a few big time conference home wins and a heart-pounding win over Big Ten champion Indiana in the conference tournament – the season’s unquestionable highlight – but the season certainly didn’t meet some lofty expectations.

A nail-biter victory over Tulsa in the First Four of the Big Dance preceded a season-ending loss to Notre Dame that could not have been a better microcosm. After jumping out to a 12-point halftime lead behind crisp offense, hot shooting, and an efficient fast break attack, the Wolverines faded just as fast in the second stanza with defensive miscues, a brutal scoring drought, and a lack of a killer instinct.

UM BBall 2(MGoBlue.com)

Unfortunately, the team we all thought was going to help us forget last season ultimately became almost a mirror image of that group.

LeVert, an All-American candidate who looked every bit the part in the non-conference, went down at the end of Michigan’s first Big Ten game and missed all but 10 minutes of the rest of the season.

Albrecht, a vocal leader, an excellent passer, and a tremendous shooter, shut it down much earlier on after realizing that his hips had not healed nearly enough to allow him to play effectively or pain-free.

Walton remained healthy for the most part, and his three-point shooting returned to freshman form, but his tantalizing finishing ability from two seasons ago continued to lag behind all year without LeVert around to distract opposing defenses.

Irvin, a deadeye shooter just two seasons ago who blossomed into a big-time athlete and passer as a sophomore, started the season in a major funk and never fully developed into the go-to guy many expected. Certainly his offseason procedure didn’t help matters there, as his athleticism took a noticeable hit and his shooting became increasingly sporadic. After shooting 42.5 percent from deep as a freshman and 35.1 percent last season, the former Indiana Mr. Basketball failed to crack 30 percent by season’s end, while his free throw shooting followed the same mysterious downward spiral (71.4%, 68.9%, 65.8% year-to-year-to-year).

In turn, what everyone saw as a memorable season in waiting became a year that may soon be forgotten.

But it’s hard to put the disappointment on any one player or coach. Beilein was once again dealt a hand that few, if any, coaches around the country would have been able to compete with.

Think about it. Take two veterans – one the undisputable star player and another an ultra-reliable vocal leader, ball-handler, passer, shooter, and all-around charmer extraordinaire – away from any team in the country in a year dominated by upperclassmen and try to find one that marches on to the same beat. Many, I would venture to guess, would run straight into a brick wall while others would struggle to power their proverbial engine up the side of a mountain.

In many ways, the job that Beilein and these players did to even play their way into the Big Dance was remarkable. A team lacking its biggest sure things managed to take down the likes of Maryland and Purdue in the regular season before grinding out a win over the class of the Big Ten in a virtual road game. Sure, there were a number of losses mixed in, and many of them not pretty, but by season’s end, Michigan would have wins on its resume over three five seeds and a six seed.

Likewise, it’s hard to criticize a group of players that had to adapt to completely unfamiliar circumstances midway through the season. One day the do-it-all senior was there to carry the torch and the next day he was done. How do you adjust to losing a guy that leads the way in scoring, assisting, and rebounding overnight — the guy that runs the show and has the ball in his hands with the shot clock winding down?

Quite simply, you don’t.

Yet again, a promising year faded into a chorus of what-ifs. There’s no denying that it was a disappointing season in many ways, but there’s also no denying that much of it was out of the team’s power.

For better or worse, the group that ended this season together should be back almost in its entirety come fall. And while the what-ifs of this season pain Michigan fans now, they will eventually fade and make way for newfound excitement and frustration, more expectations and heartbreak, and more promise and surprise on the horizon.

‘Tis the game of college basketball.

The Far-off Season
Reasons for Optimism

1. Everyone is Back!
For those fans who think college basketball revolves around the freshmen sensations at Kentucky every year, take a look at the remaining 16 teams left in the Tournament today. Nearly every team relies on a junior or senior to be the key cog, or at least to be one of the prime performers. From Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden at Kansas to Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes at Virginia to Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige at North Carolina to Elgin Cook and Chris Boucher at Oregon (oh, those are all 1 seeds? interesting…), experience is the name of the game.

Experience has been a foreign concept to the past few Michigan squads until this last one, when much of the experience disappeared somewhere between a quarter and halfway through the year. For the first time in what feels like forever, the Wolverines figure to start all upperclassmen, including seniors in Walton and Irvin. And while the improvement hasn’t been as rapid as hoped in those two, I expect another leap.

For a couple quick examples, feel free to look at Denzel Valentine and Buddy Hield’s numbers over their first three seasons before emerging as the top Player of the Year candidates as seniors (hint: Hield has nearly doubled his free throw rate and 3pt% since his freshman season while Valentine went from shooting liability and turnover machine to…well, we all know how good he was this year). Rising junior Duncan Robinson should also figure to improve now that he has a full season of live ball under his belt at the highest level.

2. The Newbies
Michigan welcomes a four-man class in 2016 that includes an undersized point guard recently named Ohio Mr. Basketball (NO I AM NOT TRYING TO DRAW PARALLELS TO TREY BURKE), a lanky wing from Pickerington Central in Columbus who looks to do a bit of everything (NO I AM NOT TRYING TO DRAW PARALLELS TO CARIS LEVERT), and a pair of big men to add to the mix at arguably the weakest spot in the lineup (see? No parallels).

Xavier Simpson figures to back up Walton at the point and should add some creative scoring punch after averaging 27.2 points per game in high school (buoyed by a couple of ridiculous scoring nights) while Ibi Watson should be in the minutes mix on the wing. Bigs Austin Davis and Jon Teske are both probably a season away from getting big time minutes but will add competition down low. Teske in particular could develop into a nice rim protector not seen around Ann Arbor since Ekpe Udoh swatted anything within five feet of him.

3. A More Manageable Big Ten
The Big Ten should be strong as usual next season, but take a quick glance at some of the top teams and there’s reason to believe Michigan should be able to make up some ground. League champion Indiana loses Yogi Ferrell, Max Bielfeldt, and Nick Zeisloft (and possibly Thomas Bryant and Troy Williams as well); Michigan State waves goodbye to Valentine, Matt Costello, and Bryn Forbes; Maryland will see Rasheed Sulaimon and Jake Layman depart (almost certainly along with Melo Trimble and Diamond Stone); Purdue graduates A.J. Hammons and Raphael Davis, etc. Yes, other players will also come and go, but there is rebuilding to be done in almost every Big Ten city but Ann Arbor.

Reasons for Pessimism

1. Everyone is Back
Sure everyone is back…but everyone is back from that. Will a team with ultimately the same core be able to make a big enough jump? Only time will tell, but there is certainly improvement needed in the offseason.

2. Defensive Woes
I’m not sure how Michigan’s defense will take a substantial step forward with all the same personnel and the same coaching staff short of a miracle. LeVert probably had the most potential on that end, and while I generally like Walton and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman’s defensive skill set, there are still some giant holes that have no apparent quick fix.

3. Where is the Improvement?
Unfortunately, one could make an argument that Rahk and Mark Donnal were the only two Wolverines to take major steps forward. Arguments could be made that a handful of other players actually regressed (Irvin, Dawkins, Doyle) while some merely treaded water. If the team is going to improve greatly a season from now, the individuals on the team are going to need to improve along with it; unfortunately we don’t have too much to go off in that regard. The big man problem could be solved if Donnal continues to make strides and Moritz Wagner emerges as a consistent option as well, while there should be plenty of options on the wings to find serviceable parts.

A Couple Offseason Happenings to Make Note Of

1. On the way out?
With four freshmen coming in and only three scholarship spots opening up, someone is going to need to leave town to make room. I won’t speculate too much on individual players, but one might presume that a jumbled big man or wing rotation, declining minutes, and/or a sense of homesickness could influence a Wolverine or two to seek greener pastures.

Alternatively, Austin Davis could hypothetically take a prep year to even out the numbers, but I expect to see some attrition instead. To make things a bit more complicated, Spike is eligible for a medical redshirt and could also figure into scholarship discussions. If he and the coaching staff agree on his return, one fewer scholarship would be opening up.

2. A New Look Coaching Staff?
Some are calling for a shakeup in Beilein’s assistant coaching staff of Jeff Meyer, Lavall Jordan, and Bacari Alexander, and I think we will see some movement in that department – but not necessarily by way of firing. Meyer is approaching the end of his career and could foreseeably step down if he thought it was best for the team while Jordan and Alexander will certainly get looks from mid-majors looking to fill head coaching vacancies. My best bet would be that Bacari leaves for a head job while Jordan and Meyer remain – but that’s merely a guess. Regardless, if at least one assistant does not return, expect Beilein to scour the coaching ranks hard for a defensive-minded assistant.

3. Donnal Reclassifying?
Early on this past season, John Beilein abruptly changed Mark Donnal’s class standing from redshirt sophomore to true junior, meaning he was at the very least considering the Max Bielfeldt treatment for the third-year big that was struggling to meet expectations despite considerable opportunity. Just as abruptly, Donnal then emerged as Michigan’s no doubt top option at the five spot with a 26-point, nine-rebound, three-block performance at Illinois in the conference opener. And while Donnal’s head-scratching mistakes and mysterious aversion to dunking the ball did not fully disappear, he was a generally reliable finisher and rebounder throughout the season. As Brendan Quinn from MLive quipped a few weeks ago, I believe Donnal is due to be reclassified back to his redshirt status.

New in Blue: 2016 PG Xavier Simpson

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015


Xavier-Simpson

Xavier Simpson – PG | 5’11, 165 | Lima, Ohio – Lima Senior
ESPN: 4-star, #12PG, #66ov Rivals: 4-star, #87ov 247: 4-star, #16PG, #86ov Scout: 4-star, #12PG, #55ov
Other top offers: Illinois, Wisconsin, Miami, Iowa State

John Beilein pulled off a stunning upset Wednesday afternoon when Top 100 point guard Xavier Simpson committed to the Wolverines over Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa State, and Miami. The four-star recruit left Michigan off his final list in the morning, but committed to Beilein’s team at a press conference at his school.

Simpson reportedly took a last-minute visit to Ann Arbor over the weekend after visiting Illinois and Wisconsin in the past two weeks.

The 5-foot-11, 165-pound guard is known for his vision and excellent defensive prowess. Though it’s not his calling card, Simpson is an adequate scorer and can shoot from the outside. But his value to Michigan will be in his on-court intelligence and toughness. In high school, he’s developed a reputation for embracing the big moments and coming through in the clutch. Beilein likely sees Simpson as a future leader in the locker room.

Scout.com lists Simpson as the top point guard out of Ohio, No. 12 point guard in the country, and No. 55 overall recruit in the 2016 class.

Simpson is the fourth commit in the 2016 class. He joins forwards Jon Teske and Austin Davis and guard Ibi Watson in what is now a top 20 class for the Wolverines. He will arrive next season when Derrick Walton Jr is a senior and Spike Albrecht departs.