2014-15 big ten basketball
Big Ten tourney time is always weird for content what with games on at noon.
This was off an Irvin assist [Patrick Barron]
The light is on. Midseason complaining that Zak Irvin hadn't added very much to his game between his freshman and sophomore years was justified. Irvin was a bit more willing to get to the basket but he was a black hole that generated shots only for himself and the predictability of his game—Beilein once mentioned that he really needed to shot fake like, ever—was beginning to catch up to him now that the league had a scouting report on him.
Then Irvin had the light go on. Alex tweeted this out yesterday and it amply demonstrates Irvin's expanding game:
He's developed pick and roll options other than meh pullup jumpers. (He's good at them; they're still way less efficient than, say, asking Aubrey Dawkins to do his best GRIII impression on an alley-oop.) He's generating shots for his teammates, which will eventually make the shots he does take better.
This is necessary if Michigan's going to return to the outrageous offensive efficiency that drove their Final Four/Big Ten Champions outfits. I've grumbled about Michigan's unusually low assist numbers for big chunks of the year. Led by Irvin, Michigan acquired 15 against the Illini.
The king of yesterday's assists. I cocked an eyebrow with about 11 minutes left when Michigan executed a beautiful team sequence that got Doyle a bunny. All five Michigan players touched it after Spike dumped it to Irvin in the corner:
- Irvin drove baseline, drawing help D and kicking to
- MAAR, who passed it to
- Chatman standing in the short corner, who drew recovering attention. At this point
- Spike, who had zero players looking at him or checking him because of the ball movement, cut to the elbow, again drawing a double team from an unprepared on-ball defender and Egwu; Spike drove, whereupon
- Doyle was the recipient of an easy bucket at the rim.
It was a brief flashback to the last couple years, when Michigan would regularly delight with gorgeous basketball. It's coming back you guys.
Next year man. Caris offered some quotes about his upcoming NBA decision that sounded genuinely torn. Judge for yourself:
"It will probably be right up to the last day," LeVert said Thursday, following U-M's 73-55 win over Illinois in the Big Ten tournament.
As for his thoughts on returning to school or entering the draft, LeVert remains undecided.
"Coming back next year would be very fun for me and very beneficial for me and the team as well," LeVert said. "Going to the NBA would also be fun. That's a lifetime dream. It's definitely going to be a tough decision."
That sounds different than the Robinson/Stauskas decisions. As of a couple weeks ago, Sam Webb thought that LeVert was leaning towards returning. So that would be nice.
With or without him, though, Michigan should be very deep and reasonably experienced. An approximate depth chart:
PG: Walton, Albrecht
SG: LeVert, MAAR
SF: Dawkins, Robinson
PF: Irvin, Chatman, Wagner(?)
C: Doyle, Donnal, Wilson
Swap the 2-4 spots to your desire. It's hard to find enough minutes for everyone if LeVert comes back: if Walton, Irvin, and LeVert all get 30 minutes and Spike gets 20—estimates that seem conservative—then MAAR, Dawkins, Robinson, and Chatman are all fighting over 50 minutes a game. Even the scenario with LeVert gone those guys can comfortably split 80.
If Michigan stays healthy, I predict autobench complaining plummets.
MAAR will go at you. Nanna Egwu is not exactly a complete basketball player—I'll miss him getting outrebounded by his entire team—but he is very long and contests shots well. Abdur-Rahkman doesn't care about that. He will drive on anyone and get a reasonable shot up; if it doesn't go in he's set the team up for a Kobe assist. Another year of development and he's definitely a guy who can fill in the point guard minutes Spike will evacuate.
FWIW. Michigan did offer Wagner, as you would expect for a guy who flew in from Germany. Rivals's Eric Bossi gives a ballpark estimate of where he'd be if he was ranked:
His shot looks good and he's very good in pick and pop situations between 12 and 17 feet, he has good skill level, though he's perhaps a bit mechanical in his movements at this time, and he's a good high post passer who competes on both ends but needs strength.
"He's on the NBA radar but not as an early entry guy just yet," Bossi said. "He's more on radar as somebody to monitor when he makes it to a college program."
If he were a part of the 2015 class (and he would come in this fall), he'd be a top 20 to 40 type prospect as an American prep.
Previously: Gardening Lessons (The Story), Preview Podcast, Preseason All-Big Ten Teams, Point Guards, Wings Part 1 (LeVert, Irvin), Wings Part 2 (Chatman, Wilson, Dawkins, MAAR), Bigs (Donnal, Doyle, Bielfeldt), Media Day Player Interviews, Big Ten Newcomers, Big Ten Outlook Part 1
After yesterday's look at the bottom half of the Big Ten, it's time to check out the top seven squads in the conference. There's one certainty heading into the season: Wisconsin is the favorite. After that, question marks abound. Can Ohio State score? Can Michigan hold up inside? Can Izzo work his magic with an underwhelming roster? Is Nebrasketball for real? I don't claim to have answers, so here goes nothing...
1. Wisconsin (Last Year: 30-8, 12-6 B1G, lost in Final Four)
Frank Kaminsky (#44) is the prototype John Beilein big man. [Fuller]
Head Coach: Bo Ryan; 704-224 career, 321-121 at Wisconsin (15th year)
Preseason KenPom Ranking: 6th (#1 B1G)
Key Returners: G Traevon Jackson, G Josh Gasser, G Bronson Koenig, F Sam Dekker, F Nigel Hayes, C Frank Kaminsky
Key Losses: G Ben Brust
Top Newcomers: F Ethan Happ
When looking at the Big Ten predictions, there are only two squads that are locked into their positions: Rutgers, bringing up the rear, and Wisconsin, the unanimous choice to win the conference.
It's easy to see why the experts love the Badgers. Bo Ryan unleashed an offense that was eminently watchable (gasp!), finishing fourth nationally in adjusted efficiency, which allowed Wisconsin to not just overcome a step back on defense, but ride a stellar last two months of the season into a Final Four berth before falling to Kentucky by a point. (Know that feel, Wisco bros.) Ryan's squad loses just one major contributor, Ben Brust, and have a ready-made replacement in sophomore Bronson Koenig.
Frank Kaminsky is the leading preseason candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year after becoming an inside-outside force at the center position last season; John Beilein may go so far as to hurt a fly if it resulted in a seven-footer with Kaminsky's ability ending up in Ann Arbor. The rest of the frontcourt is excellent, as well; Sam Dekker is arguably the top draft prospect in the Big Ten, an athletic slasher who could be really difficult to stop if he gains consistency with his outside shot, while big-bodied sophomore Nigel Hayes was so effective on the block even the notoriously freshman-averse Ryan had to give him significant minutes.
One infuriatingly good shooting specialist, Ben Brust, is finally gone, but Josh Gasser is still around to break hearts and shatter dreams. (Death to backboards, amen.) Koenig should step into the starting lineup and provide a more diverse offensive skillset than Brust, though his three-point shooting isn't yet on Brust's level.
Arguably the weakest spot on this team is point guard, and that features senior third-year starter Traevon Jackson, a solid all-around player whose main weakness is a propensity for going heroball despite being surrounded by more efficient scorers. It'll be a surprise if Wisconsin doesn't finish atop the conference, and they'll be right in the mix for a #1 seed—perhaps even the #1 overall seed.
[Hit THE JUMP to see how the other contenders stack up.]
Previously: Gardening Lessons (The Story), Preview Podcast, Preseason All-Big Ten Teams, Point Guards, Wings Part 1 (LeVert, Irvin), Wings Part 2 (Chatman, Wilson, Dawkins, MAAR), Bigs (Donnal, Doyle, Bielfeldt), Media Day Player Interviews, Big Ten Newcomers
The hoops preview returns after a brief AD-chaos-related absence; in fact, Alex already got the jump on me this week with his impressively thorough look at the top newcomers to the Big Ten. It's time for me to also turn my attention to the conference at large. Today, I'll take a look at how I expect the bottom half of the conference to shake out. The "Wisconsin & Friends" portion will go up later this week.
8. Illinois (Last Year: 20-15, 7-11 B1G, lost 2nd round of NIT)
oh was it ever so tempting to put Stauskas' end-of-half buzzer-beater here [Fuller]
Head Coach: Jon Groce; 128-84 career, 43-28 at Illinois (3rd year)
Preseason KenPom Ranking: 38th (#10 B1G)
Key Returners: G Kendrick Nunn, G/F Rayvonte Rice, C Nnanna Egwu
Key Losses: G Tracy Abrams (injury), F Joseph Bertrand, F Jon Ekey
Top Newcomers: G Aaron Cosby (transfer), G Ahmad Starks (transfer), F Leron Black
My #8 team in the Big Ten—and KenPom's #10—should make a push for the NCAA tournament bubble, in case you were wondering about the depth of the conference this year. Illinois gets a solid influx of talent in Jon Groce's third year while bringing back several key pieces from last season's NIT squad.
After finishing as the worst-shooting team in the conference last year, the Illini get a big boost in that regard from a pair of transfers, Aaron Cosby (39% 3-pt at Seton Hall) and Ahmad Starks (39.5% at Oregon State, where he holds the school record for most 3PM). The diminutive Starks, a shoot-first point with a solid outside shot and iffy efficiency elsewhere, should step right into the starting point guard spot to replace Tracy Abrams, who will miss the season with a torn ACL. Cosby should also get a big role in the rotation, likely splitting minutes on the wing with sophomore guard Kendrick Nunn.
Nunn and Rayvonte Rice give the Illini a pair of solid slashers off the wing, and while Rice's shooting comes and goes, Nunn connected well from deep as a freshman last season. The team is a little lacking in the frontcourt, however. Nnanna Egwu, their lanky no-offense, all-defense center, returns for his senior season; he is what he is at this point. Sophomore Malcolm Hill should split minutes at the four with top-50 freshman Leron Black; Hill emerged as a decent stretch four option as last season went along, while Black is the more physical and athletic option, which may be preferable next to Egwu.
The Illini should be a strong defensive team again this year; if they want to earn an invitation to the Big Dance, however, they'll have to be a much more efficient offensive squad. The addition of Cosby and Starks should help, but it'll take a more disciplined Rice (30% on 156 3PA in '13-14) and perhaps a breakout year from Nunn for them to really take the next step forward.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the bottom half of the Big Ten.]
The objective. [Fuller]
The Big Ten unveiled the complete conference schedule for the 2014-15 basketball season, so we can now take a look at Michigan's season in full. It is as follows (almost all game times and broadcast information are TBA):
|Michigan Basketball 2014-15 Schedule|
|11/10||vs Wayne State (ex)|
|Progressive Legends Classic (Regional Round)|
|Progressive Legends Classic (Brooklyn, NY)|
|11/25||VCU/Villanova||TBD/ESPN2 or ESPN U|
|11/29||vs Nicholls State|
|Regular Ol' Non-Conference Games|
|12/9||vs Eastern Michigan|
|12/22||vs Coppin State|
|Big Ten Schedule|
|1/6||at Penn State|
|1/13||at Ohio State||7pm/ESPN|
|2/1||at Michigan State|
|2/17||vs Michigan State||9pm/ESPN|
|2/22||vs Ohio State|
|B1G Tournament (Chicago, IL)|
Thanks to WolverineDevotee for putting this in table form.
Now that the Big Ten has expanded to 14 teams, single-plays are a lot more prevalent in conference play. Here's the breakdown of how many times Michigan plays each conference opponent and where:
Home-and-Home: Illinois, Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Rutgers
Single-Play (M Home Game): Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin
Single-Play (M Road Game): Indiana, Maryland, Penn State, Purdue
The single-plays work out relatively well for the Wolverines; the tougher opponents have to come to Ann Arbor, while two of the three worst teams in the conference last year—Penn State and Purdue—comprise half of Michigan's single-play road games. All four teams Michigan will host in single-plays have very tough home environments, as well; even after last year's win, nobody's going to mind not having to go to the Kohl Center.
While Michigan must play two favorites for the conference title twice—MSU and OSU, and I don't think anyone is complaining about getting as many of those matchups as possible—they get very winnable home-and-homes against Northwestern and Rutgers. The Wolverines also get to ease into the conference slate; the January schedule, especially early, isn't too hard, then the difficulty really turns up early in February. For a young team, that's probably ideal.
[Hit THE JUMP for the new B1G Tournament bracket and one reader's in-person impressions from Michigan's third game of their tour of Italy.]
It's Friday, my close childhood friend is making an unexpected one-day-only appearance in town, and my desire to write a whole lot is waning by the minute. We've fretted ever since Mitch McGary's departure about Michigan's status as a Big Ten title contender. Here's a quick reminder of what John Beilein can do even when handed a less-than-stacked deck. Apologies for the rather cumbersome chart:
2011-12 Starting Lineups & Top Bench Players
|Michigan||Michigan St.||Ohio St.||Wisconsin||Indiana|
|PG||Trey Burke (Fr.) (6’1, 175)||Keith Appling (So.) (6’1, 180)||Aaron Craft (So.) (6’2, 190)||Jordan Taylor (Sr.) (6’1, 195)||Jordan Hulls (Jr.) (6’0, 175)|
|SG||Stu Douglass (Sr.) (6’3, 190)||Brandon Wood (Sr.) (6’2, 190)||Lenzelle Smith Jr. (So.) (6’4, 205)||Josh Gasser (So.) (6’3, 190)||Verdell Jones (Sr.) (6’5, 185)|
|SF||Tim Hardaway Jr. (So.) (6’5, 185)||Austin Thornton (Sr.) (6’5, 210)||William Buford (Sr.) (6’6, 220)||Ryan Evans (Jr.) (6’6, 210)||Victor Oladipo (So.) (6’4, 210)|
|PF||Zack Novak (Sr.) (6’4, 210)||Draymond Green (Sr.) (6’7, 250)||Deshaun Thomas (So.) (6’7, 225)||Mike Bruesewitz (Jr.) (6’6, 222)||Christian Watford (Jr.) (6’9, 230)|
|C||Jordan Morgan (So.) (6’8, 240)||Derrick Nix (Jr.) (6’9, 278)||Jared Sullinger (So.) (6’9, 280)||Jared Berggren (Jr.) (6’10, 235)||Cody Zeller (Fr.) (6’11, 220)|
|6th||Evan Smotrycz (So.) (6’9, 235)||Adreian Payne (So.) (6’10, 230)||Evan Ravenel (Jr.) (6’8, 260)||Ben Brust (So.) (6’1, 190)||Will Sheehey (So.) (6’6, 195)|
|7th||Matt Vogrich (Jr.) (6’4, 190)||Branden Dawson (Fr.) (6’6, 216)||Sam Thompson (Fr.) (6’7, 190)||Rob Wilson (Sr.) (6’4, 200)||Derek Elston (Jr.) (6’9, 235)|
A reminder: Michigan shared the Big Ten title that year with MSU, OSU, and Wisconsin, while that Indiana squad finished a game back.
Keep in mind that Trey Burke hadn't quite become TREY M.F. BURKE, Tim Hardaway went through a sophomore slump in which he shot 28% on 187 three-point attempts, and Jon Horford suffered a foot injury that forced a redshirt, so Michigan's only viable backup big was Evan Smotrycz, who never appeared very interested in post defense and transferred following the season.
Here are the KenPom Player of the Year standings from that season:
The four other Big Ten contenders are all represented. Of the four Big Ten players to make the list, only Jordan Taylor wasn't a college big.
Somehow, Michigan put together the nation's #19 offense despite (1) having only two rotation players shooting above 40% from three, and (2) attempting a higher percentage of three-pointers than all but seven teams in the country. The defense finished a respectable 61st in efficiency in spite of a relatively inexperienced lineup, a complete lack of shot-blockers or pickpockets—Evan Smotrycz, of all people, finished first on the team in both block and steal rate—and that whole 6'4" power forward thing.
At the time, Smotrycz was the team's highest-rated recruit on the roster—yes, including Burke and Hardaway. Backup guard Carlton Brundidge, a Southfield product in the same class as Burke, was the second-highest regarded prospect on the team. He transferred to Detroit after barely seeing any time as a freshman.
Sure, Michigan was fortunate to share the conference title that year, and they bowed out of the NCAA Tournament before any of the other Big Ten contenders. But look at that Wolverine roster, then look at this upcoming season's—talent-wise, at least by recruiting standards, there's no comparison, and even knowing how much Burke overachieved I'd take the 2013-14 roster over the 2011-12 roster in a heartbeat. How that team went 13-5 in that conference—one dominated by exceptionally talented big men, and featuring plenty of talented point guards to match up with U-M's best player—still perplexes to this day.
This is a long way of saying that you probably shouldn't count out John Beilein, because he's a wizard masqerading as a basketball coach/sub enthusiast.
Since the draft deadline is now past, it's time for a three part early Big Ten basketball preview, starting from the top. After scouring Kenpom and my memory I have grouped the Big Ten teams like so:
OBVIOUS FAVORITE: Wisconsin
CONTENDERS: Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, Iowa
ONE IN, THREE ON THE BUBBLE: Michigan State, Maryland, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana
NOPE: Penn State, Northwestern, Purdue
And tackle them in approximate order, except I haven't really ordered the tiers. I am projecting a relative down year for the conference, because they've added one middling ACC program and Rutgers while MSU is poised for a major drop and Indiana/Illinois are still muddling along.
THE FAVORITE: Wisconsin
Generally excellent outside of a shocking run of five losses in six games—including two at the normally impregnable Trohl Center—Wisconsin was, like Michigan, downed by an improbable Kentucky three-pointer. In their case they'd already taken down Arizona to reach the Final Four.
WHO'S GONE: SG Ben Brust (all positions approximate)
WHO'S BACK: C Frank Kaminsky, PF Nigel Hayes, SF Sam Dekker, SG Josh Gasser, PG Traevon Jackson, PG Bronson Koening, PF Duje Dukan
WHO'S NEW (or close enough): sophomore C Vitto Brown
From that team Wisconsin loses only Ben Brust, who was mostly a three-point gunner (39% on 244 attempts). With Josh Gasser back and Kaminsky capable from the perimeter, Wisconsin won't be shooting deficient. Gasser was a deference machine last year, taking only 11% of Wisconsin's shots while he was on the floor despite hitting 44% from three over the past two years. If he leaps up to Brust's level the Badgers only have to replace about 100 efficient threes—very manageable.
- Experience. Wisconsin will start three seniors, a junior, and probably sophomore-to-be Nigel Hayes.
- Kaminsky. Developed an intimidating back to the basket game to go with his shooting en route to a 124 ORTG while taking 27% of Wisconsin's shots. Shockingly few TOs for a big man. Idea that senior bigs are surprisingly good downright frightening when applied to Kaminsky.
- Point guard. Traevon Jackson's actions in the late stages of the Arizona and Kentucky games were appalling, repeatedly going into isolation despite being a terrible isolation player when Kaminsky was on the block against guys much smaller than him. With a TO rate of nearly 20 and a 2PT% of 42%, Jackson is the primary weak point in the Wisconsin offense. Worse, he does not seem to know this.
THE QUESTION: Can Hayes and Dekker play at the same time? Nigel Hayes looked like a star to be at certain times this year and does bring a lot more banging and rebounding than the slight Dekker. But Hayes's face-up game does not extend to the three-point line and Wisconsin cannot have more than one non-shooter in the game at a time. Dekker's a mediocre shooter right now… he needs to have a leap there if Wisconsin can play what seems like their best lineup.
THE OTHER QUESTION: Is Wisconsin tolerable now? Yes, yes I think so. I am deeply alarmed by this development but with the FF run and the changes to defensive rules Wisconsin is way less annoying than they used to be. No longer does their good league record make the Big Ten look silly when they exit the tournament quickly.
PRE-SCHEDULE WAG: With Payne gone and Amir Williams probably not having an epiphany as we speak it's hard to see who in the league is going to match up with Kaminsky. (Hammons you say? 16 and 22 last year against Hammons.) Meanwhile Wisconsin's outside shooting should only dip slightly. Defense should improve if The Question above is answered in the affirmative. Wisconsin wins the league at 14-4 and gets a one seed.
Iowa fell off a cliff late last year after finding themselves in the top ten for a brief period, but it was still a little tiny bit of a breakthrough season for the Hawkeyes. While Iowa fans may feel that a First Four exit is hardly a tourney appearance at all, their game against the Volunteers felt more like a Sweet 16 battle than Dayton fluff and the Kenpom rankings of the participants suggested as much.
WHO'S GONE: SG Roy Devyn Marble, PF Melsahn Basabe, PF Zach McCabe.
WHO'S BACK: PF Aaron White, C Adam Woodbury, C Gabriel Olaseni, SF Jarrod Uthoff, PG Mike Gesell, SG Josh Oglesby, PG Anthony Clemmons
WHO'S NEW (or close enough): SG Peter Jok, JUCO PG Trey Dickerson
With 6'9" guys falling all over themselves for playing time the departures of Basabe and McCabe should be manageable, possibly even beneficial. Iowa had a whopping 11 guys average at least seven minutes and was in the unusual position of having two guys designated "starters" by Kenpom who were off the floor more often than not. This is a team that could stand to tighten its rotation.
- Hugeosity. Despite losing a 6'6" guy and two 6'7" guys, Iowa projects to play six guys 6'5" or above, with only the PG spot below. This served Iowa well on the boards last year as they were 19th on offense and a respectable 68th on D; they finished in the top 40 at blocking shots as well.
- Depth. Iowa will still have the option to go ten deep and can sustain foul trouble to its front line better than anyone in the league.
- Shooting. Iowa typically plays a two-big formation with White at PF, and he is not a threat from deep. No one on the team was particularly accurate except Oglesby, who was buried down the depth chart… and he was coming of a THJ-like sophomore year during which he hit 27%. With Marble gone, Iowa has to have a prominent and functional Oglesby.
- Defense. More on this later, but Iowa fell apart on D late in the season, tried to dig themselves out with a zone that hurt more often than it helped, and project to have some of the same issues this year.
THE QUESTION: Who picks up Marble's playmaking and "oh crap do something" shots?
After initial flashes of promise, Anthony Clemmons became very turnover prone and has now settled into a limited, defensive role. Meanwhile Jok and Oglesby, the most likely replacements, are shooters, not creators. That puts an awful lot of weight on Mike Gesell to create shots in the half-court, which was already a struggle a year ago.
Iowa's best hope here may be an explosive debut from JUCO PG Trey Dickerson, who's averaging 20 points a game in North Dakota and is on JUCO AA lists after one season.
THE OTHER QUESTION: Can the Hawkeyes match up on D?
The big lineup caused defensive issues, as anyone who watched White try to stay in front of Nik Stauskas remembers.
Late in the year, Iowa tried a zone defense. It got shredded.
MSU shooting at 70.4% effective rate. This is no longer a coincidence. The zone is a miserable failure.
— Patrick Vint (@HS_BHGP) March 7, 2014
Now down their best perimeter defender, Iowa has to figure out whether they're going to double down on the zone or hope Olaseni and Woodbury can erase enough perimeter mistakes to keep their head above water.
PRE-SCHEDULE WAG: Iowa leaned heavily on Marble to fill in the holes in their offense and he has no obvious replacement. That'll drag down both Iowa's transition and half-court offense. But big guys develop slowly and one of Woodbury or Olaseni seems likely to bust out, providing back-to-the-basket shot generation that will help paper over those issues.
Assuming that Iowa either figures out the zone or figures out they should abandon it and gets their defense in order, they should poke their head above .500, especially in a weakened league. 12-6, 4 seed.
Another year, another beating taken from the NBA draft. The falloff last year was microscopic, if it even existed, thanks to massive sophomore leaps from Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert. Can Beilein do it again?
WHO'S GONE: C Jordan Morgan, C Jon Horford, C Mitch McGary, PF Glenn Robinson III, SG Nik Stauskas
WHO'S BACK: PG Derrick Walton, SG Zak Irvin, SF Caris LeVert, PG Spike Albrecht
WHO'S NEW (or close enough): C Mark Donnal, C Ricky Doyle, PF DJ Wilson, PF Kam Chatman
That is an awful lot to lose from the one true post spot in the Michigan offense and not very many guys in the "who's back" spot, but those first three are doozys. LeVert had a massive leap, essentially replacing NBA ROY candidate Tim Hardaway Jr's production, except with more efficiency. Irvin and Walton are the first top-50 guard recruits John Beilein has ever had and look to make the patented Leap after promising freshman years. And Spike's not bad either.
- Shooting. The four guys returning shot 41%, 41%, 43%, and 39% from three on piles of attempts. To that Michigan adds a starting center with true three-point range and a couple of Beilein-standard stretch fours.
- More shooting. That previous bullet probably deserves to be mentioned twice.
- Diversity of weapons. Few teams in the conference will have as many places to go for shots as Michigan. LeVert is obvious; Walton is likely to come into his own in year two; Irvin just launches when given a sliver of space. Five-star-ish recruit Chatman is regarded as a point forward who can get his and set up his teammates. And Donnal adds a pick and pop element Beilein has lacked since the days of Pittsnogle expired. While the departure of Stauskas is a blow, he only took 23% of Michigan's shots. That's extremely low for a go-to lottery pick and is a testament to the pieces surrounding him.
- Rough 'n' tough stuff. Michigan seemed a little flimsy inside last year, and now they've lost their entire center corps and starting PF. They'll be taller, with two 6'8" PFs and Cs an inch or two taller than Morgan, but unless Max Bielfeldt presses his way into the lineup the vast majority of Michigan's minutes in the frontcourt will go to freshmen—three of them true freshmen. Rebounding and meanness have never been Beilein strengths; this year will really push the limits of what you can do with a fleet of B-52s.
- THE QUESTION: Is this an infallible assembly line? Based only on the returning gentlemen, Michigan is probably not a contender. But that's what everyone thought last year when Michigan sat at 6-4 and McGary went out for the year. Then Stauskas, LeVert, and Morgan blew up and when the dust cleared Michigan had won the conference by three games. It is irrational to expect that sort of improvement on an annual basis, touted recruit or no. Or is it?
- THE OTHER QUESTION: Is the defense really going to be worse? Michigan's D took a huge step back last year, from 48th to 109th. They were 10th in the conference, down from 6th, and the absolute worst at preventing two-pointers. They had the second-worst defense in the league over the course of the entire season, ahead of only Iowa. It might not get better but since it was already scraping the bottom of what a non-Rutgers Big Ten D might do, there might not be much of a drop.
- PRE-SCHEDULE WAG: The offense is a given what with Beilein and at least three plus guys on the back end. The defense… well, it's not going to be great. It may not be as bad as you would think, at least relative to last year. 12-6 after a rough nonconference schedule sees Michigan enter the tourney a 5 seed.