QB questions, running back non-answers. OL shuffling and WR issues. But Harbaugh?
Peppers deployment, Mo Hurst busting out, linebacker depth, secondary gents, excellent prospects. Plus a virtual punter shoutout.
GIMMICKY TOP FIVE
Stock up and stock down gents from the spring game.
"Across 110th Street"
"Fantastic Voyage," Coolio
"Personal Jesus," Johnny Cash
THE USUAL LINKS
Three's A Crowd?
Newest commit Matt Falcon has a ton of upside. [Nasternak]
Michigan's 2016 class went from two to six commits in less than a week, capped by four-star Southfield RB Matt Falcon's pledge last night. Tyrone Wheatley is proving to be a very impactful recruiter, as expected; he was the primary recruiter for Falcon, Kingston Davis, and David Reese. Falcon, who played youth football with the Washtenaw Wolverines, told Scout's Allen Trieu he's "been a Wolverine my whole life," and discussed Wheatley's role in his decision ($):
You mentioned Coach Wheatley, he's going to be your position coach. What made you feel like he was the right one to guide you for the next few years?
We could talk everything besides football. We would talk on the phone for a long time. He's known about me since 8th grade and he's been there for me. He's been loyal, and I trust him and wanted to come play for him.
You have some guys that you know, in-state guys, guys from your conference that are considering Michigan. Are you going to be a recruiter now?
Yeah, I'm trying to get everybody down to Michigan. Michigan is where it's at, so I'll talk to all of them and see where their minds are at.
With the recent wave of commits, Michigan moved up 25 spots to #20 overall on the 247 Composite team rankings. The Wolverines should be set at running back with Davis and Falcon, and Sam Webb mentioned on The Victors Board($) that's the case—unless four-star NC RB Robert Washington wants to join the class. Washington is set to announce his decision on April 25th, and prior to Falcon's commitment he told GBW's Josh Newkirk that Michigan was very much in the mix ($):
"They really want me, I'm their guy," Washington said. "Coach Wheatley is saying he would 'love' to coach me. He's been wanting to coach for me a long time. And Coach Harbaugh said I'm a 'special' player for him. So that was their message to me.
"My next step after I talked with Coach Harbaugh was he told me to put [Michigan] in my top-six. Michigan is a big school for me. I have always favored Michigan. So it's a big school for me, it's a no brainer to put Michigan in my top six."
The rest of Washington's top six is Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, Syracuse, and TCU. We'll see if Falcon's decision impacts Washington's thoughts on Michigan; if it doesn't, the backfield could get quite crowded.
In other commitment-related news, four-star IN QB Brandon Peters will enroll early at Michigan, per 247's Steve Wiltfong.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the roundup.]
What is this? Folks who cover the USMNT drop lists like this projecting the 23 guys who end up on the next World Cup team. I have appropriated it. Regarding the number of tickets: 22 starters on offense and defense + 2 kickers + nickelback + FLEX TE + fullback.
THIS IS THE POST-SPRING UPDATE: Spring has sprung.
PACK YOUR BAGS
1. HSP Jabrill Peppers, Fr.* [Last time: 2]
Peppers snatches the top spot as Michigan builds their freakin' defense around him. Also he gets the Hybrid Space Player positional designation as a man who is nickel and so much more than nickel. Peppers swiftly took command of the entire damn defense this spring and is ready to be the triple threat we have been waiting for since the dawn of the spread.
Lewis gave no indication he was giving up the #1 CB job this spring, blanketing players in the spring game and leading a secondary that looked far too good for Michigan's wideouts to cope with, especially with Darboh drawing Dennis Norfleet. All Big Ten type season beckons.
3. LT Mason Cole, So. [Last time: 5]
Cole saw a little time at center during Michigan's post-Miller, pre-Glasgow period, then returned to left tackle. With Magnuson auditioning on the right, Braden playing guard, and LTT struggling immensely in the spring game, all challengers are otherwise occupied or defeated.
All hail the boring safety who will play boringly behind the exciting Jabrill Peppers and be wholly unappreciated even though he's preventing long touchdowns very well. Hopefully this coaching staff won't jerk him around like jerks. Hail the providers of first and ten instead of extra points. Hail.
5. MLB Desmond Morgan, Sr.* [Last time: 4]
Auditioned for WR corps with spring game interception; still more likely to spearhead the linebackers as a thumper who specializes on third and one and still gets good depth on his pass drops. Some threat from Gedeon but seems likely that this will be a platoon experience rather than anyone truly supplanting another. No lemon bets this year though.
6. FLEX Jake Butt, Jr. [Last time: 6]
Spring game gave every indication that Butt is going to be one of the top receivers on the roster, especially if the tight end-mad Rudock does ascend to the top job. Someone's got to catch some things, you know? Blocking remains a question mark—from what I saw he remains middling in that department.
7. G Kyle Kalis, Jr* [Last time: 18]
Miller departure and David Dawson getting thumped by Mo Hurst clears up most of the uncertainty on the line. Would take a massive upset for two interior players to pass a healthy Kalis, who should be coming into his own as a road grader under the tutelage of proven steamroller architecht Tim Drevno. All aboard for high school photo reprise.
UNLESS SOMETHING STRANGE HAPPENS
8. C Graham Glasgow, Sr* [Last time: 10]
Moves up even after probation violation because of Miller's departure. Returned to operational status with team by the end of spring and near-certainty to be your starting center as long as he passes the hundred-plus breathalyzer tests that wait between him and opening day.
9. WLB Joe Bolden, Sr. [Last time: 12]
Lights-out spring performance encouraging but comes on heels of last year's lights-out spring performance. Can he be as instinctive against offenses he doesn't go up against daily? Can he hit instead of be hit? Initial returns pretty good. It's time for the light to go on. Gedeon and maybe Ross will platoon, especially if Michigan is as nickel-heavy as it seems.
10. WR Amara Darboh, Jr* [Last time: 17]
Clear top option at WR in spring even if he was being checked by Norfleet; also Michigan's top returning receiver. Good combination of ranginess, speed, and hands could be reminiscent of Junior Hemingway. Michigan is going to need him to be a deep threat with the "speed is overrated" WR mantra coming home to roost this year. /shakes fist at Hoke staff
Drops a bit only because it's unclear how much of a role a third LB will have in this defense. Well-regarded by DJ Durkin and seriously experienced, Ross will play somewhere. How much will be at SAM will depend on how many eight man fronts M wants to run and how many two-WR formations they face.
Sometimes there's a man… I won't say a hero, 'cause what's a hero… but sometimes there's a man, and I'm talking about Joe Kerridge here… well, he's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that's Kerridge. In Harbaugh's offense. And even if he's a fullback, sometimes there's a man…
13. NT Ryan Glasgow, Jr.* [Last time: 9]
This is actually a good thing, having Glasgow this low. Michigan has excellent depth with Bryan Mone and even Ondre Pipkins. Glasgow is still likely to get most of the at-bats, but your second NT is almost a starter anyway. Glasgow spearheaded a top-ten rush defense a year ago and should improve incrementally as a junior.
FAIRLY SAFE BET
14. 3TECH Willie Henry, Jr.* [Last time: 16]
Another situation where this is good uncertainty. Mo Hurst had a monster spring game at the same time Henry was ragdolling Mason Cole. One will be very good, and the other will still see a lot of playing time. Personally expecting that both will be on the field for passing downs. If Henry can just put it together he will be a flat-out monster.
15. K Andrew David, Fr. [Last time: 21]
Is the only scholarship kicker on the roster, so that's a nice head start. Big leg should slot in on kickoffs easily. Field goals? I dunno man, kickers are weird. Would like to have kept JJ McGrath around for competition. Options past David are… uh… Bueller?
16. QB Jake Rudock, Sr. [Last time: NR]
Two-year Iowa starter announced transfer on twitter; 61%, 7.6 YPA, 16-5 TD:INT last year as he was Big Ten's third-most efficient passer; conservative game manager type who fits in with Michigan's projected run-and defense configuration better than the thus-far turnover-prone Shane Morris. Morris biggest threat after spring.
17. WR Jehu Chesson, Jr.* [Last time: 23]
Nobody else impressed much and with slot receiver up in the air Chesson figures to maintain his position on the depth chart, which is currently #2. Thunderous blocking will catch Harbaugh's eye. Now, can he get deep? Supposedly faster than Peppers. For real.
18. T Erik Magnuson, Jr*. [Last time: NR]
Unusual to put the guy who ended last year at TE ahead of returning OL starter, but with Miller's exit seems likely Magnuson is playing either G or T, as he has seen time both places. Got tackle nod in spring, presumably as Michigan looks for Braden alternatives.
19. CB Blake Countess, Sr* [Last time: 11]
Looked good in spring but takes a hit as Peppers reconfig puts Countess in direct conflict with Wayne Lyons and other competitors. Lyons a more natural fit at boundary and may be better in man; Countess looks revitalized by the new secondary coaches.
20. DE Chris Wormley, Jr* [Last time: NR]
Escapes the defensive tackle logjam and gives Michigan needed depth at DE. Should be quality run defender… can he provide a semblance of a pass rush? Physical marvel, so it's possible. Need a leap from him if he's going to be an impact player. That hair tho.
IN A BATTLE
21. Delano Hill, SS [Last time: NR]
Tentative leader over Jeremy Clark and Dymonte Thomas for safety spot opposite Wilson. Has looked 38 for ten years and will look 38 for the next 40. Excellent athlete supposed to have a good feel for the safety spot, but did not push through even after reaching full health a year ago.
22. SLOT Freddy Canteen, So. [Last time: NR]
Pouring one out for Dennis Norfleet, but the writing is on the wall there. Canteen made a couple of sweet catches in the spring game and looks to fulfill the promise he started demonstrating in practice last year. Not too concerned about lack of production as a freshman, as WRs have an adjustment period.
23. DE Taco Charlton, Jr. [Last time: 19]
Keeping him in the 27 since he is the best combination of size and experience opposite Wormley. After spring injuries will have to fend off Ojemudia and a surging Lawrence Marshall to maintain spot. Should do so. Major X factor in season, as could be anything from backup to star. Guys don't come in his size with his athleticism often.
24. P Blake O'Neill, Sr.* [Last time: NR]
Aussie punter (and apparently model) visited and is planning a fifth-year transfer to M, whereupon he will win ladies' hearts by mooning on a beach and mine by rugby punting 45 yards without suffering a single return yard all season. Or he could lose the job to Kenny Allen.
25. RB De'Veon Smith, Jr.* [Last time: NR]
Best hair and best ability to not get injured amongst backs; also best spring game. Has reportedly impressed with his decisiveness a year after hesitation city. Excellent fit for Harball, very reminiscent of Stanford backs that weren't fast but also didn't get tackled ever.
26. T Ben Braden, Jr.* [Last time: 22]
Never good when you're being tried out at G after 1) starting at tackle the year before and 2) standing easily 6'7". Braden was shaky a year ago and Michigan is looking for options there. With Glasgow/Mags flexibility that could mean Kugler or Dawson pushes through to start.
27. TE AJ Williams, Sr. [Last time: 25]
Michigan spent spring moving any likely-looking body to tight end, so that bodes unwell for Williams. But no one supplanted him and by the end of the session all save Chase Winovich seemed to have resumed their duties as defensive linemen. It's clear there's going to be a massive playing time shakeout down the road; for now the default assumption is Williams.
DENNIS NORFLEET MEMORIAL DENNIS NORFLEET SECTION FOR FUN PLAYERS WHO NEVER GET USED AND HAVE GIFS
I think he was doomed either way. Tommy Tuberville entered at Cincinnati, and if there's a more dour, less tiny-person-friendly head coach I can't think of him. Probably should have gone to West Virginia, where wide receivers shorter than most girls in heels are an art form.
PUSHING FROM BEHIND
QB Shane Morris—leader coming out of spring
QB Alex Malzone—looked too raw to contribute this year
QB Wilton Speight—can he overcome the Borges curse?
QB Zach Gentry—probably needs some seasoning but upside in spades
RB Derrick Green—maybe the vision issues were Fred Jackson caused?
RB Ty Isaac—huge; limited in spring.
RB Drake Johnson—ACLs are not his friends
C Patrick Kugler—sure thing (for OL, anyway) entering third year
G David Dawson—added significant weight and should push
T Logan Tuley-Tillman—chatter from inside program is that light has come on, poor spring game though
WR DaMario Jones—slot playing time available
WR Moe Ways—Hemingway 2.0?
WR Brian Cole—much talk about his after the catch ability
NT Ondre Pipkins—concussions knocked him out in spring, time running out
NT Bryan Mone—I've been waiting for a large Tongan DL my whole life.
3T Maurice Hurst—dominated spring game
3T Matt Godin—could be drafted at SDE
WDE Lawrence Marshall—pushing hard
WDE Mario Ojemudia—bit of a forgotten man
SDE Shelton Johnson—freshman probably needs a year
SDE Henry Poggi—SDE now, still needs some time. Maybe trying out at TE, which…
SAM/WDE Royce Jenkins-Stone—Ross rebuffed challenge last year
WLB Mike McCray—should be the year he threatens for real.
MLB Ben Gedeon—will usurp some PT in prep for next year
CB Channing Stribling—will be good if he just stops phasing out.
CB Terry Richardson—maybe the coaching change will be good for him
CB Keith Washington—Harbaugh favorite probably needs seasoning
S Jeremy Clark—lots of PT, meh production
S Dymonte Thomas—insane burned redshirt makes it late early for him
— Matt Falcon (@mfalcon21) April 8, 2015
Southfield (MI) RB Matt Falcon committed to Michigan tonight. Falcon had named Tennessee as his leader as recently as a couple weeks ago, but he's visited campus several times since Jim Harbaugh was hired, and with Kingston Davis committing over the weekend time was of the essence if he wanted to secure a spot in the class. Falcon is Michigan's sixth commitment of the 2016 class.
Michigan may not be done with commitments in the near future, either. Scout's Allen Trieu put us on commit watch this afternoon, and he posted on The Victors Board that he wasn't referring to Falcon.
4*, #8 RB,
|4*, #13 RB||3*, NR RB||
4*, 90, #10 RB,
4*, #13 RB,
Every recruiting outlet save ESPN—which hasn't updated Falcon's evaluation since the summer before his junior season—considers Falcon a solid four-star; Rivals has him just a hair outside their top 250, as their #12 RB is #220 overall. Scout is especially bullish on him.
At 6'1", and listed between 200-215 pounds, Falcon has nice size for a high school back and the frame to add plenty of weight.
Falcon turned heads on the camp circuit in 2013 before suffering a torn ACL prior to his sophomore season. It didn't take him long to reestablish himself as a top prospect, as he stood out to Scout's Allen Trieu at Ohio State's camp last June ($):
Southfield High's Matt Falcon is an extremely impressive prospect. He has good size and excellent shiftiness and burst for a kid of that size. He also caught the ball very naturally out of the backfield. The question on him was the health of his knee which was injured last year but he looked to be 100% at camp and he has a chance to be a very highly recruited national prospect.
Shortly thereafter, Falcon made a significant move up the Scout rankings, with Trieu citing his "immense physical talent."
Falcon's Southfield squad hosted a four-team scrimmage with Ann Arbor Skyline, Cass Tech, and East English Village prior to the 2014 season; with several Division I prospects on the field, Falcon had the best performance, per The Wolverine's Brandon Brown ($):
Falcon was the star of the day among all four squads. The No. 21 running back in the country and No. 7 player in the state of Michigan is entering his junior season after missing his entire sophomore campaign with a torn ACL. He appears to be in top form and didn't show any signs of physical ailment from the injury. Falcon showed great speed, terrific balance, and power behind his pads on every run. He scampered for a touchdown of more than 40 yards against Cass Tech's No. 1's twice. He also punched in a short touchdown run later in the day.
I caught Southfield's matchup with Orchard Lake St. Mary's at the season-opening Prep Kickoff Classic; while Falcon was limited by his team's overmatched blockers and a balky ankle, his physical talent was evident:
After missing all of his sophomore year with a knee injury, Falcon didn't get many opportunities to show off his ability, due to both the failings of his offensive line and a dinged-up ankle that held him out of a large chunk of the game. He finished with five yards on five carries—and that could've been worse considering the blocking—while doing most of his damage on swing passes, catching four for 29 yards.
Even though Falcon had no room to run, I thought he looked quite impressive, with nice speed and agility for a 6'1", 215-pound back. On those swing passes, he planted hard and got upfield in a hurry, and once he got a head of steam it wasn't easy to bring him down. He managed to get out of the backfield on one run (1:01 mark in the video), making a couple very nice cuts to make two men miss, then powering forward for some decent YAC. The next two plays on the reel are very representative of the blocking he got on Friday; on the second, he still manages to elude two free hitters in the backfield, then impressively bowl over another before the cavalry arrived. Whether on runs or receptions, Falcon finished with power; he refused to go down at first contact and made sure he fell forward.
That ankle would cause Falcon to miss part of his junior season, though I think worries about his injury history are overblown; he hasn't suffered multiple knee injuries or anything like that. Rivals moved him up to a four-star following the season:
Falcon missed part of the season with injury, but in the games he did play, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound back showed unusual speed and agility for a running back his size. Falcon can be a 20-25-carry back in college and wear down a defense between the tackles, but he also is quick to the edge and can be an asset in the passing game. We'll see if injuries continue to be an issue, but from a talent standpoint, he is one of the best backs in the Midwest. -- Helmholdt
In February, 247's Clint Brewster broke down his junior film ($):
Falcon is a bigger/stronger running back that can put his foot in the ground and get north. He an explosive back that can run through defenders and has good downfield speed once he gets going. He can cover ground as a long stride type of running back. He's got a high ceiling because of his size mixed with his speed. Falcon's got raw strength to pick up the tough yards. He's a downhill runner. Falcon displays an excellent stiff arm and the ability to get past defenders. He's got a strong plant foot to burst through creases. Tough to bring down once he's got a head of steam. Falcon is a running back that can play all three downs and block or catch passes out of the backfield.
If Falcon gets through his senior season healthy, he's a good bet to move up in the rankings; trepidation about his injury history seems to be the main thing holding him back. Otherwise, he's got a great size/speed combo with plenty of power and versatility.
The injuries haven't scared off top programs. Falcon named a top five of Michigan, Tennessee (his leader as recently as late March), Oregon, Arkansas, and Arizona State recently, and he also held offers from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, NC State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue, UCLA, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, and West Virginia, among others.
Southfield hadn't been a major talent producer during the Rivals era (2002-) until it's recent run of Big Ten signees, including Michigan DE Lawrence Marshall, MSU DT Malik McDowell, and Minnesota athletes Dior Johnson and Ray Buford, all of whom came from the 2014 or 2015 classes.
According to his Rivals profile, Falcon rushed for 1109 yards and seven TDs in just six games during his junior season.
FAKE 40 TIME
None of the four sites lists a 40 time.
There are no sophomore highlights for what should be obvious reasons.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
Since it's been all of two days since I wrote up the running back situation, I can safely copy-and-paste this from Kingston Davis' commitment post, with a couple minor alterations:
Michigan doesn't have any senior running backs on the roster, so unless [Falcon] proves he's better than much more experienced players, he should take a redshirt in 2016, even though he's got college-ready size. After that, he'll compete with Ty Isaac, Karan Higdon, and [Kingston Davis] for carries.
Falcon's ability to make an impact in the passing game could get him on the field earlier, either as the every-down back or in a situational role. There's some serious thunder-and-lightning-with-a-side-of-thunder potential with Davis and Falcon in the same class, and each has an obvious situational role if they're getting the lion's share of the carries—short-yardage back (Davis) and third-down back (Falcon). I really like this pickup; Falcon's injury concerns are mitigated by the presence of another back in the class, and if he fulfills his physical potential he's going to be really good.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Michigan should be set at running back with two in the class plus a potential fullback in Farmington FB/ILB David Reese. There are now six total members of the 2016 class, which we have projected to 14, a number that will surely rise before the end of the cycle. Michigan still has needs to fill pretty much everywhere except the offensive backfield.
Falcon's commitment also adds to the optimism Michigan can clean up on the in-state recruiting trail. Reese is already in the fold, and the Wolverines are right in the mix for Farmington WR Des Fitzpatrick, Farmington Hills Harrison DE Khalid Kareem, Detroit King WR Donnie Corley, Plymouth OT Michael Jordan, and Cass Tech OG/DT Michael Onwenu; all but Fitzpatrick, who's just off the pace, are considered composite four-star prospects.
I say we call him "Quick Burst, Mo Hurts." Nobody is on board with me on this. [Fuller]
- The Question:
- Seth: After the spring game which player are you bullish on, and which are you hedging?
Ace: Brian and I did a segment on this during the podcast, so I'll keep this relatively brief. (That's called a teaser, folks.)
MAURICE HURST had arguably the best performance of anyone during the spring game, lining up at multiple spots and blowing up plays at all of them. His first step, which was his greatest strength coming out of high school, is still very quick after adding weight, and he looks very ready to see a significant role this fall.
Given that some practice reports had him as a potential starter, it's hard not to be a little disappointed in Logan Tuley-Tillman's showing, which featured three flags and a couple olés. He was a major project coming of high school, to the point that this year was the earliest he could feasibly see the field, so it's not a devastating blow that he doesn't look ready yet. He has so much upside, though, that it would've been really encouraging to see him push into that starting five.
Adam Schnepp: I was looking for a weakness. There had to be one; the practice reports had practically reached tall-tale status, but now I see why. It almost feels like I need to pick someone else because this is too easy, but I'm bullish on JABRILL PEPPERS. I know that we've been bullish on him since last August, but now it's like Raging Bull(ishness). Except not about boxing. Or self-destruction. I was really just going for the bull imagery here.
As a hybrid space player, Peppers is going to have to read run/pass and react immediately. On the Blue offense's first play Peppers peers into the backfield, reads the handoff from Morris, and comes off the edge to take out Shallman, limiting him to a one-yard gain.
While his run stopping was adequate for an HSP, I was more impressed with Peppers' coverage skills. He played almost exclusively with a seven-yard cushion and not only was able to jam guys who had already built up a head of steam but consistently re-routed them to the side he had a help defender. I can't find a good example of this on the video thanks to BTN's zoom-o-matic cameras, but Ace can confirm that if I tweeted the above as many times as I said it to him you'd all either unfollow me or think I accidentally set up a scheduled tweet.
I'm hedging on BRIAN COLE. It's important, however, to delineate "hedging" as separate from "disappointed with." It's hard to judge a receiver when they aren't targeted often, and doubly so as the offense's predilection for two- and three-wide sets often left Cole on the sideline. I expected him to compete for time with the known commodities; I did not expect him to have the same number of receptions and receiving yards as 5-9 walk-on fullback Joe Beneducci. I wouldn't rule him out as a contributor in the fall*, but I expected the ball to be thrown his way more often last Saturday.
*(I don't think any of the receivers have locked down a spot with the exception of maybe Darboh, who was lined up against a dude who'd been a corner for maybe four practices.)
[Jump for the defensive backs are gonna be good, even if the passing game makes them look so.]
Bryan Fuller / MGoBlog
Michigan entered the season with an ostensibly high-powered “Big Three” – Caris LeVert had superstar potential and a dazzling arsenal of offensive skills; Derrick Walton was an aggressive, tough, and relentlessly driving point guard; Zak Irvin was a reliable artillery piece with plenty of room to grow. In hindsight, all fell short of expectations in their own way: Caris suffered under the burden of being an alpha dog, Derrick was perpetually nagged by a toe injury, and Zak’s shot abandoned him without an offsetting improvement elsewhere.
Eventually, injuries whittled the Wolverines down to just one of their three musketeers – Irvin. With all three, Zak often took an overly deferential role; without his running mates beside him and with Michigan’s season locked in firmly as a disappointment, he thrived and expanded his game, finding success with the ball in his hands and providing one of the brightest spots of a largely wasted year.
* * *
A Rocky Position Switch
Judging Zak by his aggregate body of work as a sophomore provides a much different picture than evaluating his strengths near the end of the year. On the whole, he averaged 14.4 points, 1.5 assists, and 4.8 rebounds per game while shooting 45 / 35 / 69 (2P% / 3P% / FT%) – solid, albeit inefficient numbers. With his move from the four to the three, he assumed a much larger responsibility in Michigan’s offense: operating from the left side of the floor opened up dribble handoffs into the middle of the lane (as well as other opportunities driving with his dominant right hand) and offered a bigger role than the one he occupied in end-of-the-rotation minutes as a freshman.
He didn’t adjust well, especially at first. More so than most former threes in Beilein’s system, he still remained one-dimensional much like he was two years ago – though considerably less efficient. His playmaking – which was missing for the first several months of the season – was sorely needed after turf toe sapped Derrick Walton’s explosiveness and Michigan’s offense eventually contorted to put a nearly impossible amount of pressure on Caris LeVert to generate quality looks. Between uncertainty at the four and five spots (Kam Chatman, while playing, utterly wrecked Michigan’s spacing and the cast of inexperienced posts struggled to replicate Jordan Morgan’s pick-and-roll prowess), it was a mess – a stark departure from the two seasons prior.
Here’s how Zak compared to all of Michigan’s other starting three men (starting after Beilein’s messy first year):
Though it’s tough to compare a sophomore to some of Michigan’s better players in recent memory, Irvin was a five-star and did have an impressive and encouraging freshman season – one that suggested a possible breakout season as a sophomore. It didn’t happen. The two things that stand out most are his low assist rate and free throw rate (and percentage).
2011 Tim Hardaway and 2013 Nik Stauskas weren’t relied on to create offense because of the excellent passing of Darius Morris and Trey Burke, respectively – Zak wasn’t able to provide his teammates with enough quality looks and Michigan desperately needed that. Irvin’s low free throw rate is disappointing for a different reason: after a freshman year as Just a Shooter™, a natural development track and much more playing time might have made Irvin into a player who could attack the basket. Like his passing, his ability to drive and score improved over the course of the season, but on the whole, it was lacking. Because of his less effective outside shooting, a reliable way to score – from the free throw stripe – would have been ideal, but Irvin only averaged 2.4 free throw attempts in 36.2 minutes per game.
Even with the late surge, Irvin was too one-dimensional. In hindsight, expecting a Stauskasesque leap from spot-up shooter to all-around offensive menace was probably too much. Fortunately Zak did diversify his game and flashed signs of a well-rounded game on the offensive end, but Michigan’s season was effectively over at that point.
[Hit the JUMP for the rest of the analysis]