Some In-Depth Thoughts on why I Think Next Year's Team Will Compete for the Big Ten Title (Part 1)

Now that Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson, and Mitch McGary have all made their respective intentions known, we now have a pretty good understanding of what next year’s Michigan team will look like.  Most programs would endure a rebuilding year after losing the kind of talent the Wolverines are losing…but Michigan isn’t ‘most programs.’  Under John Beilein and his staff, the expectations have become that his teams will reload each season, not rebuild.  After what Beilein’s teams have accomplished these last few years, there’s no reason to think next year will be any different.

However, there will still be naysayers out there (as there always is) who will insist that the losses of the three aforementioned players, along with Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford, will be too much to overcome. Beilein and his staff have proven, though, that they excel when attrition and adversity hit.

Will next year’s team be as good as this year’s was? No, I don’t think so, as this year’s group was one of the best in the country by the time March rolled around. With that being said, I still think next year’s team will compete for a Big Ten title. Wisconsin looks to be the overwhelming favorite heading into next season (and rightfully so), but other than the Badgers there doesn’t appear to be a great team in the conference. That is the main reason I think Michigan will be in the hunt for a conference title late in the regular season for a fourth straight year.

Michigan may not necessarily look like a contender early on. College basketball’s regular season is quite long, though, spanning from November to early March, giving these young Wolverines plenty of time to grow and mature as a team. We saw a perfect example of that this year. Michigan got off to an ugly 6-4 start, during which it showed an inability to win close games. The team simply did not have that “it” factor, or killer mentality it takes to out-will an opponent.

Suddenly, everything changed. It was almost as if a light switch had been turned on and this young team had grown up. Whether it was the thrilling win over Stanford in Brooklyn or the gutsy victory in the Big Ten opener over Minnesota, this team showed it had found the will to win. That statement was solidified during the latter half of January when they beat Wisconsin, Iowa, and Michigan State in three straight games. The Wolverines went on to win the Big Ten outright and make a thrilling run to the Elite Eight.

Not hating, but is there a reason you did not just make part 2 a comment in part 1? Is there a shorter word limit on comments?

Edit: now fixed!

Will next year follow a similar script?  Honestly, I think it will in a lot of ways.  Even though the non-conference schedule isn’t completed yet, we do know it will be absolutely brutal once again.  The Legends Classic appears to be a very solid field, with Villanova, Oregon, and VCU being the other three participants.  Michigan will also likely welcome an elite ACC program into Crisler for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.  Toughest of all, though, will be a trip to Tucson to take on an Arizona team that looks to be one of the three or four best in the country.

There will be plenty of growing pains throughout the non-conference slate, just as there was this year. However, it will only help, and in the long run the team will be better off having gone through it. For example, we saw how much a youngster such as Derrick Walton matured as this year progressed. By the end of the season, he didn’t even resemble the player he had been early on. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the same result with another youngster on next year’s team, Kameron Chatman. Chatman will certainly provide plenty of highlight reel plays next season, but he’ll have his fair share of struggles as well. The key is that he continues to improve as the season goes along, and honestly, there’s no reason to think he won’t.

Gradual improvement is not only the key for Chatman, but basically every player on the team. The two I think it will be most important for, though, are Walton and Zak Irvin. Along with Caris LeVert, these three players will determine just how successful next year’s team will be. Both Walton and Irvin had nice freshman seasons, but neither was asked to carry the team. Next year they will be asked to do that very thing.

I expect Walton to emerge as much more of a scoring threat. He showed that he could both hit from long range and get to the basket this year. Irvin’s progression, though, will be every bit as important as Walton’s. The only part of Irvin’s offensive repertoire we saw this year was basically his ability to shoot and make threes. His role will expand greatly, and I expect him to make a Stauskas-esque leap from freshman to sophomore year. Those expectations may sound a bit high to some, but had this kid as a former 5-star for a reason. I don’t think he’ll be as good as Stauskas was this year, but I don’t think he’ll be far off. Irvin will obviously be dangerous from deep again, but I also expect him to display a midrange game, and be able to drive and finish at the basket.

The final and arguably most important piece of next year’s backcourt will be LeVert. He will likely be the “go-to guy” in this offense, and it will be interesting to see if he can answer the bell. He was able to shine playing alongside Stauskas this year, but now that he is gone, the spotlight will be placed on LeVert. I expect him to be every bit as good as he was this season, but I don’t know how much more he’ll progress. That’s not a knock on him at all; I just don’t think his ceiling is as high as it is for Irvin and Walton. Limiting turnovers will be key for LeVert, as will his shot selection.

The bigs are what has most fans concerned about next year’s group, and rightfully so. At this point I’d be surprised if Mark Donnal doesn’t wind up being the starting center, but it’s impossible to know what to expect out of him. I could actually see him being quite good right from the get-go, but I could also see him struggling mightily early on. I do think he’ll have a very productive career at Michigan, but again, it’s impossible to know how he’ll perform early on. Veteran Max Bielfeldt will play a role as well, but it may not necessarily be a big one. He’ll be entering his fourth year in the program, and it just feels like his opportunities may have come and passed. Freshman Ricky Doyle will also likely be in the rotation, but like Donnal, it’s incredibly difficult to predict how he’ll perform. If this group of bigs is at least adequate and somewhat productive, it will go a long way in determining how successful this team will be.

As for the bench, Spike Albrecht looks to be the most valuable piece. He is a more than capable point guard who can spell Walton at times, and one who can be on the court with him at the same time. Plus, his experience and leadership qualities can’t be undervalued. Needless to say, Albrecht will be a very key piece to this team. It’s hard to say how much the other freshmen will play. D.J. Wilson will certainly see some time, but how much is yet to be determined. Both Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins seem likely to redshirt, but even that’s certainly not a guarantee. Given Beilein’s track record, I wouldn’t be surprised if one, maybe even both, become key players a few years down the road.

Considering everything that has happened to Michigan since this season ended, there will be plenty of criticism and negativity from the media surrounding them this offseason. However, Beilein has been criticized before during his time at Michigan, and his teams have generally responded incredibly well. As long as he is the head coach in Ann Arbor, I’m going to have high expectations heading into every season. He, along with his outstanding staff of LaVall Jordan, Jeff Meyer, and Bacari Alexander, have proven that they are one of the elite coaching staffs in the country. Whether it’s developing talent, handling adversity, or teaching mental toughness, this staff has shown there isn’t much it can’t do. Apparently some fans and folks in the media haven’t realized that yet, though, and that’s totally fine. On-court results are what matters, and Michigan has done pretty well in that department as of late. Michigan will have its fair share of doubters heading into next season, giving Beilein and his team another opportunity to prove them wrong…yet again.

Ha, complete brainfart on my part; never even thought of doing that.

I would offer that I think there is some benefit if MAAR and Aubrey do not redshirt this upcoming season. It would give the opportunity for all of the incoming freshman (and Irvin/Walton) to have really defined roles on the team. That might be easier for everyone to pick up the offense early on if they aren’t trying to learn more than one position at once (caveats about versatility of Beilein’s positions apply).

That said, if MAAR, Aubrey, and Hatch all redshirt, that’s still a 9 man rotation of Walton, Albrecht, LeVert, Irvin, Chatman, Wilson, Donnal, Doyle, Bielfeldt. That’s probably about as deep as we would have gone had Mitch not gotten injured.

I have to believe that Hatch will redshirt regardless, but I would not be surprised if one of MAAR/Dawkins gets in the mix as a backup at the 2. Beilein will want to play 3 guards pretty much all the time, and it’s tough to do that with only Albrecht available to rotate in. Chatman could conceivably slide down to a big guard spot, but then you’ve probably got to depend on both Doyle and Wilson to be playable, and they may not both be. Also, having Chatman on the floor along with two of Doyle/Wilson/Donnal would be an uncharacteristically big lineup for Beilein. I don’t see Beilfeldt getting too much playing time unless both Doyle and Wilson are not ready, and that would be a concern.

Lots of uncertainty when you have players who are both untested and potentially versatile. At this point, I would project a starting lineup of Walton, LeVert, Irvin, Chatman and Donnal, With Spike and Maar or Dawkins backing up at guard, and Doyle or Wilson rotating in at the big.

There won’t be enough time for this very young team to jell before it is too late to challenge for the Big Ten title. Without looking at the schedule, if they start out 3-3 or 2-4, they could be out of it before they even get to the midway point. Remember Wisconsin hitting their bad stretch early this year? Even though they may have been the best team by year’s end, they were too far back to catch us.

That’s why the Euro trip will be so very valuable to this young team. We will have time to gel without having to do so “on the clock” so to speak. Not saying it will make us Big 10 champs but we should be ready to compete come conference season.

Most teams have weaknesses. Very few teams are complete without holes. With regards to the bigs, that happens to be our perceived weakness. Same story, different year. If Horford was being honest and not speaking with a mouth full of sour grapes, then his story certainly holds consistent with respect to our big play. We don’t emphasize it, so the idea that it is a weakness is not of great concern to me. Our success is dependent on our pg and wing play. And that just happens to be a perceived strength of our team.

As long as we continue to limit fouls and turnovers and shoot the ball well, we will have success.

I think it is easy to get caught up in the euphoria of the last two years. This incoming team is absolutely going to struggle immensely in defending the interior. Gone is a 5 year stalwart who was an All Big Ten defensive 1st team performer. Gone is another 5 year player whose knowledge and leadership will be greatly missed, if not his lack of foot speed. Max is vastly undersized, and all the rest of the potential inside spots will be manned by players who have never put on a Michigan uni yet, ( Wilson, Doyle, Chatman ). It will be extremely difficult to expect that group to put up any semblance of resistance, especially in their first year. Wilson still developing physically, Doyle playing mostly against guys 5-6 inches shorter than him and not the most gifted athlete, and Chatman seemingly needing to increase his lateral movement and foot speed. Possible? Yes, but the odds of all that coming together in year one is a stretch IMO.

Sorry, meant to include Donnal as the other player who has never played a minute in a real game yet. His defensive prowess is open to debate, but he at least has been in the system for a year. Hard for me to see this group as a formidable presence in their first year.

SMU fans are claiming we will play a home-and-home series with them.

The last two years were pretty euphoric, but three years ago we went 13-5 in conference and won a share of the B1G. We also finished almost 50 spots better in kenpom’s defensive standings with Novak, Smotryz, and Morgan manning the 4-5 spots. The year before that, we finished another 25 spots higher in kenpom’s defense with Novak, a freshman Smotrycz, and a RS-freshman Morgan in the 4-5 spots. If we’re better stopping dribble penetration on the perimeter next year – and with Walton and Irvin as sophs and LeVert a Jr, we should be – we have a very good shot to be significantly better defensively overall. We’ll also have more size at the 4-5 spots. As great as Morgan was, the effect of his departure is being somewhat exagerated. We may not win the conference next year, but we’re still likely to score a bunch of points and do quite well.

Hope your right, our defense was deplorable last year. What I saw of Irvin on the perimeter does not inspire confidence. Caris although extolled as a stopper was repeatedly torched off the dribble. Seems logical that a completely inexperienced front line is going to take time to show any semblance of continuity. What was our KenPom rating last year?

Hope your right, our defense was deplorable last year. What I saw of Irvin on the perimeter does not inspire confidence. Caris although extolled as a stopper was repeatedly torched off the dribble. Seems logical that a completely inexperienced front line is going to take time to show any semblance of continuity. What was our KenPom rating last year?

Defense was awful last year and they still won a lot of games. That’s almost encouraging to a degree. Almost more worried about replacing offensive firepower in the backcourt, but I think there are some obvious options there.

Difficult to believe that our offensive effiencey will rival last years. That was a career program year. We won what, 8-9 games that were in reality one possession games last year? That is going to eventually catch up to you if you can’t make an impression on the defensive end.

2013 was also a career program year offensively :slight_smile:

I don’t think anyone expects next year’s team to be a Big Ten Champ caliber team – especially with Wisconsin returning so much, and especially not by three games – but there are still some really good pieces. It will be interesting to see how they fit together.

I think Caris and Walton should be better on-ball just from reps and another year S&C.

Irvin has more length, a bigger frame and better footspeed than Nik and was a known lockdown guy in HS. His knock is lateral quickness.

Add in MAAR.

We should be good defensively on the perimeter.

GR3 and Morgan were great positional defenders but not rim protectors. Not many guys with back to basket games in college and the height/length/athleticism of Wilson/Doyle/Donnal leads me to believe they will do a better job of sealing off the paint. Defensive rebounding and post defense are my biggest worries.

I think the offense will take a moderate step back. From a 9.8/10 to an 8.5/10. It’ll be close to impossible to duplicate what we did last year, but an 8.5 offense will still be better than most teams in our conference. Wisconsin is obviously the top dog, but besides them I can’t imagine a team being ahead of Michigan on the offense end.

The defense will take a step forward. If last year was a 3/10, I think this year could be up to a 7/10. Sure, we lose JMo, Horford, and Mitch. Yeah, we’ll be small/skinny up front. But we’ve said that every year and survived. Other than Wisconsin, which team has the tools to really exploit interior defense? Donnal may be better equipped to guard Kaminsy/Payne stretch centers. Chapman and Wilson, although skinny, have reputations as quality rebounders (at the AAU level) with more height. I think nose for the ball and rebounding instinct is more indicative of success on the glass than GRIII type athleticism and strength. Meanwhile, I predict the perimeter defense will take a huge jump forward. Walton and Irvin will have college experience and be Camp Sanderson grads. LeVert has all the tools, and enough experience to reach his defensive potential. Spike will have the saavy to survive. MAAR and Dawkins seem to be good enough athletes to count on for high energy on the defensive end. And Chatman and Wilson are LONG. I expect to create plenty of turnovers, and see the 1-3-1 more than we’ve ever seen at Michigan.

Europe will be important for the new contributors. Final note, MAAR and Dawkins won’t redshirt under any circumstance. They’re like 20 years old already and are both probably four year players. If there’s any role for them at all, they’ll both play.

Thank you. I completely agree with you on MARR and Dawkins. People seem to either forget or over look their age. There is no way they both redshirt, being that both will be 20 coming into camp.

Europe will be important for the new contributors. Final note, MAAR and Dawkins won't redshirt under any circumstance. They're like 20 years old already and are both probably four year players. If there's any role for them at all, they'll both play.

Man, I’ve started to get this crazy idea that Wilson can be our 3rd big and get time at C. It seems more logical than Max.