B1G Basketbal Preview: Michigan
After two consecutive deep NCAA Tournament runs, the Michigan Wolverines had their fair share of struggles last year, highlighted by home non-conference losses to Eastern Michigan and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. The Wolverines stumbled to a 16-16 finish and were not invited to participate in the postseason. Michigan enters the season ranked 25th in the AP poll and they look to return to their former glory with a long run in March.
Key Returning Players
The Wolverines have been blessed with the luxury of returning all five starters. They return their top six scorers from last season and nine of 10 overall. Senior Caris LeVert is coming off a strong 2014-15 campaign in which he led the Wolverines in scoring and rebounds (14.9 and 4.9 respectively).
Junior guards Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin also look to build off of nice seasons a year ago. Walton Jr. will assume the point guard duties while Irvin looks to continue to be a mainstay on the wing after starting all 32 games last year.
If there is one area in which Michigan lacks, it’s size. Sophomore Aubrey Dawkins will probably start at the four position, but he is more of a stretch forward than anything, leading the team in three-point FG percentage last season at 43.5 percent. Ricky Doyle and Mark Donnal will likely split minutes in the post, but neither one stands above 6’9”, which could be an issue for the maize and blue.
Forward Max Bielfeldt is the lone player not returning. He played in 30 games last year, but only started three and he only averaged five points and 3.6 rebounds per game.
Michigan hovered around the bottom of not only the Big Ten, but the entire nation in both scoring and rebounding. Their 30.2 rebounds per game were good for 329th in the nation, meaning only 22 teams in all of college basketball had a lower average. One thing Michigan did do well a season ago was protecting the rock, as they averaged only 7.5 turnovers per game, the sixth best mark in the nation.
The defense had a rough year as well, only tallying 5.4 steals and 1.8 blocks per game. The only area in which they had any sign of success was the scoring defense, sitting at 101st in the country at 64.0 PPG.
The Wolverines have a very tricky schedule outside of the Big Ten with several interesting matchups. A stretch of five games between Nov. 20 and Dec. 8 highlights the schedule when the Wolverines welcome Xavier to Crisler Arena and then play No. 20 Connecticut at a neutral site.
Michigan only has two true road games in the non-conference slate, and both are filled with intrigue. The Wolverines travel to Raleigh to face NC State as part of the annual Big Ten-ACC challenge and then a week later head down to Dallas to face the defending American conference champions SMU.
As with any schedule in the Big Ten, the Wolverines’ slate is packed with contenders. They will play seven games against teams currently ranked in the preseason poll including squaring off against the No. 3 Maryland Terrapins twice. They will also travel to New York to take on Penn State as part of a hoops and hockey doubleheader at Madison Square Garden.
The key Big Ten stretch for Michigan lies between Feb. 2 and Feb. 16. Three Top 25 teams (Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue) come to Ann Arbor and they will have some great chances for signature wins in front of the home crowd. They also have two tricky road games during that stretch, traveling to Minnesota and Ohio State.
John Beilein shouldn’t need to worry about losing his job anytime soon. The Wolverines, despite not reaching the NCAA Tournament, finished admirably given their situation. Beilein has proved he can procure talent out of young teams as he did in 2012 when he led a team of mostly freshmen and sophomores to a national championship game appearance.
This Michigan roster is full of capable shooters and will rely heavily on the outside shooting game to carry the offensive workload. However, to win in the Big Ten, you need to be physical inside and I don’t know if these bigs can run with the likes of Maryland, Michigan State, and others.
Don’t expect Michigan to drop more than two games non-conference, but they will run into some problems once Big Ten season starts. Depending on if the bigs can play well, I see the Wolverines winning anywhere from 10 to 12 games in conference, finishing near the middle in the standings. They have the pieces to upset a few of their Big Ten foes, but they also could easily lose a few games to lesser opponents if they are inconsistent.
At the end of it all, this will be an NCAA tournament team. I see them as somewhere around a 10 seed with a good chance to pull off a first round upset. Irvin, Walton Jr., and LeVert have the skill set to help this team make some noise, but I don’t see them making it past the first weekend.
Tom Shively is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.