Upchurch / Upchurch / Sherman
With the news that Kam Chatman is transferring, what was a five-man rising junior class is now just two. Four players (including Spike – who will be playing for Purdue next season) who played last season are leaving with remaining eligibility. Ordinarily, this would be cause for considerable depth concerns, but since Michigan returns all five starters from last season’s tournament team – something that very few teams can say in this day and age – experience is actually an advantage for this team moving forward. Very rarely are teams able to sustain five-man lineups year over year and it’s reasonable to expect that Walton / Rahkman / Robinson / Irvin / Donnal will execute crisp offense together on the floor. If improvement from Wagner vaults him past Donnal (who’s much more of a known quantity) on the depth chart, all the better.
Right now, that depth chart might look like this:
We’ve seen the effect that limited depth can have on players, and it might be a concern again. Walton will have a very capable backup in Xavier Simpson, and fellow freshman Ibi Watson will get a shot behind MAAR, so the guard situation is much better than it was a year ago. There are enough big men: Donnal and Wagner will run into foul trouble, so there’s a need for a third option to emerge, but all in all, there are enough bodies at the five.
The main concern comes on the wing – and that’s why the departures of Dawkins and Chatman might be felt the most. Michigan has two open scholarships for next season and desperately could use a wing with immediate eligibility (either as ideally a grad transfer or a 2016 recruit) to offset those losses: Dawkins was Michigan’s sixth man and played just under 40% of available minutes, while Chatman chipped in 12%. By the postseason, both were essentially used only to rest the starters – Robinson and Irvin each played right around 90% of available minutes in the Wolverines’ five postseason games. As it stands, those two are the only wings left with any experience.
None of the departures – Aubrey Dawkins, Ricky Doyle, and Kam Chatman – are particularly unexpected; Dawkins fell behind Duncan Robinson and saw his dad take a mid-major coaching job; Doyle and Chatman were on the periphery of the rotation and a path to significant minutes for either was hard to find. Still, all three were good enough to play last year, and their minutes will need to be replaced. Doyle’s minutes will be split easily between Donnal, Wagner, and the freshmen bigs; Robinson and Irvin probably can’t handle many more minutes, let alone taking all the minutes vacated by Dawkins and Chatman.
[What will Michigan be losing? Find out after the JUMP]
Kam Chatman and DJ Wilson could play major roles in 2016-17. [Fuller]
With the news that Aubrey Dawkins will transfer to UCF, Michigan suddenly has an open scholarship spot and a few different options for what to do with it. Before I get into the different scenarios, here's my attempt at a depth chart for next season if the roster remains unchanged:
|Derrick Walton||M-A Abdur-Rahkman||Duncan Robinson||Zak Irvin||Moe Wagner|
|Xavier Simpson||(Walton)||(Chatman)||Kam Chatman||Mark Donnal|
|(MAAR)||Ibi Watson||(Wilson)||DJ Wilson|
There's not much depth on the wings at the moment, especially if three-star SG Ibi Watson isn't ready to jump into the rotation right away. While much of the offseason consternation has focused on point guard and center, Michigan's most pressing need is another contributor at SG/SF, and there are a few ways they can make that happen.
John Beilein mentioned in his press availability today that the team will look to use DJ Wilson more on the wing—for Wilson, that would mean backing up Zak Irvin at the four—which would allow Kam Chatman to be Duncan Robinson's primary backup at the three. While that would go a long way towards alleviating M's depth concerns, both Wilson and Chatman would have to show considerable improvement for that to be an ideal solution. Unless one of Austin Davis or Jon Teske is ready to play spot minutes at center, which seems unlikely, Wilson will be needed at the five, too.
Of course, Michigan has that open scholarship, and it'd be a huge surprise (and failure) if they don't use it. I see four scenarios potentially playing out for Michigan, which I'll list in order of likelihood as I see it.
1. Add A Grad Transfer Swingman
|Derrick Walton||M-A Abdur-Rahkman||Duncan Robinson||Zak Irvin||Moe Wagner|
|Xavier Simpson||(Transfer Swingman)||(Chatman)||Kam Chatman||Mark Donnal|
|(MAAR)||(Walton)||(Transfer Swingman)||(Wilson)||DJ Wilson|
|Ibi Watson||Austin Davis|
This seems to be John Beilein's first choice. Michigan has already reached out to Columbia grad transfer Grant Mullins, a 6'3" combo guard who functioned as a point guard this season but would likely be an off-the-bench shooter; he took just over half his shots from beyond the arc and made them at a 44% clip. Mullins would bolster Michigan's depth at three spots: he'd primarily play shooting guard, alleviate the need for Derrick Walton to slide over when MAAR needs a break—and he could play the point himself if something happens with Walton/Simpson—and give Beilein the flexibility to play some smaller lineups featuring MAAR at the three.
If Mullins doesn't end up here, Michigan would still benefit from going after a guy who could play the two and the three; I'd love to see Beilein go after a strong defender to fill that role.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the scenarios.]
Like it says on the tin:
— Michigan Basketball (@umichbball) April 6, 2016
Dawkins had a really promising freshman year that he did not follow up on. He's is an efficient low-volume shooter but he lost his starting job to Duncan Robinson once it became clear that Robinson had more offense and they were both equally bad on defense. Robinson edged towards okay at the tail end of the season; Dawkins not so much.
Michigan now has an open scholarship and can pursue a transfer or late-blooming recruit if they so choose. They've been asking after a couple guys. Our favorite dude on the market is Alec Peters of Valpo, a 6'9" dude who shot 85/55/44 last year with high usage and rebounded well, albeit in the Horizon. Michigan also inquired after Columbia combo guard Grant Mullins, who'd probably be just a shooter.
Michigan's top options had a tough time creating good looks at the rim.
Injuries. Let's get this out of the way. Michigan managed to make the tournament despite losing Caris LeVert, who was playing at an All-American level when injury struck, and Spike Albrecht, whose absence kept Derrick Walton on the court for huge minute totals and caused John Beilein to give Andrew Dakich a spot at the end of the rotation. Add in Zak Irvin's wonky back, which affected his shot well into the season, and Derrick Walton still not looking like the player he was before his sophomore-year injury, and it's fair to say health cost the Wolverines at least a couple wins.
The center position. Moe Wagner's late emergence provided hope for the future. For most of the season, however, the center position was the source of much consternation. Ricky Doyle, the presumed starter heading into the season, took a huge step backward as a sophomore; his turnover rate nearly doubled and his teammates clearly lost trust in him as a result. Doyle's struggles may be attributed to the late-season revelation he suffers from sleep apnea, but that realization came too late to save his season or, ultimately, his career at Michigan.
Mark Donnal stepped into the void and improved markedly from his first year of game action. That said, he still had obvious deficiencies, especially on defense. Getting beat up by AJ Hammons is one thing; making Alex Olah look like Hakeem Olajuwon for the second straight year is another. Unless Donnal gets a lot stronger or becomes a legitimate three-point threat, he seems best suited as a backup center; deploying him against opposing backups would mitigate his weaknesses. For that to happen, though, Wagner must cut his foul rate significantly.
Perimeter defense. It was bad, even by the mediocre standard of previous Beilein squads. Michigan's best perimeter defenders, MAAR and Derrick Walton, had uneven seasons on that end of the floor—especially Walton, who'd vacillate from awful performances to good ones with little indication of what he'd bring on a given day. The three spot the biggest sore spot with Duncan Robinson somehow looking sigificantly less bad than Aubrey Dawkins by the end of the season; Robinson was still quite far from good.
The Wolverines were especially poor in the halfcourt. While their transition eFG% allowed fell in the middle of the NCAA pack, they were 273rd out of 351 teams in non-transition eFG% defense, per hoop-math. The problems were myriad: fighting through screens, guarding isolation, contesting shots, weakside rotation—you name it, really. The problems on the perimeter were amplified by the lack of a rim protector; they still started on the perimeter.
via Shot Analytics
Stars taking one step back for every step forward. There were encouraging developments out of both Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton this season. Irvin did an admirable job playing out of position on defense and rounded out his offensive repertoire, nearly doubling his assist rate. Walton posted center-level defensive rebounding numbers and returned to his freshman form as a perimeter shooter.
But with their bigger roles, flaws were exposed. Irvin's forays to the hoop increasingly resulted in turnovers as the season wore on; his handles still need work and teams exploited the fact that he was far more likely to try to kick the ball out than finish in traffic. Walton simply couldn't finish at the rim, continuing an alarming trend from his injury-plagued sophomore season.
This is where LeVert's absence hurt the most. The only player Michigan could rely upon to consistently generate a decent look—MAAR—still had a limited game; while he could weave his way to the basket in LeVert-like fashion, he wasn't nearly on LeVert's level as a shot-creator for others. Rahkman becoming a better all-around offensive player would be huge for the 2016-17 squad. It's becoming harder and harder to expect Irvin or Walton to live up to the expectations set by M's previous top options.
Dawkins, Wilson, and Chatman give M three non-Wagner breakout candidates.
Part one of the postseason mailbag, which definitely didn't include an egregious error in the original post, can be found here. Part two got quite lengthy, so let's get right to it.
A Spike return is very unlikely.
— Erik in Dayton (@erik_dayton) March 29, 2016
While that door isn't completely closed, it would shock me if Spike ended up back on the roster next season, and I think it would shock him, too:
With that, Albrecht and Beilein shook hands and parted ways. According to Albrecht, Beilein told him that if an additional scholarship should open up at Michigan, the program would "entertain the idea of" him returning, but added that such a scenario is unlikely.
"That's a long shot," Albrecht said Monday. "And really, I don't even know if they'd want to bring me back because they'll already have two very talented point guards on the roster next year."
I know it's hard to come to terms with this because Spike is such a beloved figure, but this is the best arrangement for both parties involved. The issue with bringing Spike back, even if a spot does open up, is you're then impeding the development of a highly regarded player at the same position. Xavier Simpson is the future at point guard for this program and they justifiably want him to get plenty of time next year. If he's stuck behind Walton and Albrecht, it's hurting the team down the road just so the team can have a marginal one-year upgrade at backup point guard—and that's not a slight against Spike, just an assessment of Simpson's talent. Plus, Albrecht isn't exactly a sure thing after coming off surgeries to both his hips.
As Spike mentioned above, returning to Michigan isn't necessarily his ideal scenario, either. If he's healthy, there's a good chance he'll start at another program—he'll be able to choose a school with that role available to him. That's not going to be the case in Ann Arbor with Walton coming back and Simpson arriving.
If there's further attrition, I'd rather see Michigan go after a grad transfer shooting guard, preferably one who's a positive on the defensive end—that's a far bigger need than a third point guard. Alternatively, they could go after a stretch four to take pressure off Zak Irvin if there's attrition in the frontcourt. That's far from the sentimental choice, but I think it's the best one for the team.
It appears John Beilein is thinking along the same lines. According to ESPN's Jeff Borzello, Michigan is one of the programs that's contacted grad transfer Columbia combo guard Grant Mullins, who's a 44% three-point shooter. At 6'3" with a PG-like assist-to-turnover ratio, Mullins could play either guard position. The coaches also reportedly contacted Sacred Heart transfer Cane Broome (that is apparently a real name), but there doesn't appear to be strong mutual interest; Michigan isn't listed among the schools Broome plans to visit, per CBS's Jon Rothstein.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the mailbag.]
As time winds down on the regular season, Michigan finds itself squarely on the bubble – the classic meh major-conference team that gets sent to Dayton as an 11-seed. Big Ten play is almost over and we know the Wolverines were a middle-of-the-road team (as of right now: 7th in Sagarin’s and Pomeroy’s ratings, 7th in conference efficiency margin, and are likely to tie Ohio State as the 7th place team in the league). When your best resume asset is that you haven’t lost to any bad teams, it hasn’t been a great season. The very real possibility that Michigan misses the NCAA Tournament would qualify this year as a big disappointment.
Still, even though Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht have combined to play just 48 minutes against Big Ten opponents, Michigan will finish with a winning record in Big Ten play and (probably) a positive efficiency margin in league play. This season’s path was very comparable to last season’s: the teams had uninspiring non-conference performances and Caris was lost near the beginning of league play (and Spike and Derrick Walton were injured this year and last, respectively). A year ago, the Wolverines finished 8-10 in Big Ten play – losing four overtime games and winning one – and this year, 10-8 or 11-7 will be the final result. Since Michigan didn’t drop a stinker like NJIT or Eastern Michigan like last season, we’re going to be nervously watching on Selection Sunday – can 3 good wins and a bunch of chalk get us in?
The reason why Michigan hasn’t been better is fairly obvious.
I don't expect Michigan to be actually good at defense for a lot of different reasons, but there's a difference between Michigan's usual meh and this. The trend is worrying. Defensive efficiency in the Beilein era:
- 2008: 100th
- 2009: 69th
- 2010: 58th
- 2011: 37th
- 2012: 61st
- 2013: 48th
- 2014: 109th
- 2015: 107th
- 2016: 145th
This is the third straight year of a triple-digit ranking. While you may remember things as "not good" even when the larger picture was much prettier, this is a whole new era of ineptness only matched by Beilein's first team of castoffs and runaways. This year's team is in fact considerably worse despite than those guys despite having a reasonable amount of experience. For the first time in a while Michigan doesn't have a freshman playing major minutes; for the first time in a while they've crawled out of the 300s in Kenpom's experience stat. This was the first year in a while you could reasonably expect year to year improvement, and yet.
Big Ten 2-pt defense:
1. MSU (41.4%)
13. Rutgers (52.4%)
14. Michigan (55.3%)
WORSE THAN RUTGERS
— Alex Cook (@_ac616) February 29, 2016
When you’re worse than Rutgers at something as critical as 2-point FG % defense, you have a major problem.
[After the JUMP, a lot of graphs]