"This is really important to be here," Lewan said. "I'm here to give back and help out my teammate."
Previously: nominal backcourt
Starter: Zak Irvin (Jr.)
Backups: Kam Chatman (So.), DJ Wilson (Fr.*), Moritz Wagner (Fr.)
On a roster that is suddenly brimming with depth this is the spot at which minutes are tightest. The competition here is not really between Irvin and the guys listed as backups—Irvin's playing 30+ minutes guaranteed—but between Kam Chatman, DJ Wilson, Moritz Wagner, and the two guys we covered as "small" forwards. There's about 50 minutes to divide up between the five players.
This preview projects that the bulk of those minutes go to Aubrey Dawkins and Duncan Robinson. Chatman shot 36/26 last year, Wilson is coming off a redshirt after looking pretty bad in 26 minutes before his injury, and Wagner is physically reminiscent of a freshman Caris LeVert. Dawkins was already a pretty good Big Ten player last year and is likely to improve; Robinson is shooting is shooting is shooting on a John Beilein team. They're getting minutes. These guys will get the squeeze.
It is reasonable to expect that one of the three candidates here steps forwards to become a quality bench player. Who that will be is anyone's guess. Chatman settled down late in the year, using his handle and passing ability to create some baskets. The coaches have been talking up Wilson's "productive" redshirt year… and I've also heard that he stepped it up in a big way after Wagner came in on an official visit and took it to him.
A redshirt for someone seems like a good idea. That would probably be Wagner… if he's not clearly better. Which is a possibility. I just don't know, man.
What I do know: Zak Irvin's going to be on the court a lot. Last year we asked him to become a "threes AND" guy. Progress in that department was dubious at best until a late surge forced upon him by the injury issues. Alex covered his remarkable uptick in things other than shots:
Even on the post-apocalypse roster it took several games for Irvin to grok the fact that he had to be Nik Stauskas now. When he did grasp it, he turned in the finest stretch of his Michigan career by some distance. It felt like he had grasped not only his role but how to create shots in the Beilein offense. While his role should be less prominent on next year's roster if only because he's no longer Dion Harris, the efficiency of possessions he uses promises to shoot up.
Irvin will be a big deal for other things, as well. He's going to be drawing guys Caleb Swanigan at (apparently) Purdue. Nigel Hayes at Wisconsin. And so forth and so on. Michigan has never been particularly good defensively at the 4 because of the guys they run out there at the spot; Irvin seems better able to hack it than just about anyone Beilein has had at Michigan. Glenn Robinson was pretty good as a sophomore. Other than that…? If Irvin can rebound at the clip he did late in the year and prove something other than weak spot on D, Michigan will benefit greatly.
Minute projection: Irvin 30, Miscellaneous 10.
[After the JUMP: Doyle, rebounding philosophies, and so forth.]
Can Donnal and Chatman bounce back from underwhelming freshman campaigns? [Fuller]
This edition of the recruiting mailbag—now featuring hoops, too—covers the impact of KJ Costello's commitment to Stanford, a guess at when Harbaugh will land his first commitment, and some discussion of next season's basketball rotation.
Assuming Costello stays out West how big an impact does that have on all these other offers out there? Didn’t seem like too long ago we were hoping for Costello and a bunch of other guys to visit together? Would be great to have a West Coast Tentpole (it’s a thing I think), especially at QB, in the class to link up the offers (and optimism) with commitments.
Tx as always for your time.
Michigan's forays into California are always going to feature a lot of misses; they'll keep at it because the hits make it well worth the effort. Landing a whole group of Golden State prospects was always a longshot at best; even before Costello went off the board, receiver Theo Howard—who described Michigan as his "dream school" after receiving an offer—pledged to Oregon, and it looks like receiver Dylan Crawford could follow in Costello's footsteps.
Jim Harbaugh has already experienced some success recruiting the state, however. Getting five-star OLB Caleb Kelly to foot the bill for an unofficial visit was impressive, and Kelly's mentioned a desire to return for an official visit, which would be a great sign for Michigan's chances. Four-star OLB Camilo Eifler will take an unofficial days after the spring game. Four-star S CJ Pollard said he'd take an official visit as soon as he received his offer. Four-star TE Devin Asiasi is a good bet to take an official, as well. Several others at least have moderate interest; if I had to guess, I'd say Michigan gets at least one California prospect in the class.
That'd be a huge step in the right direction. Seth was kind enough to dig into his database when I asked him about California recruiting under previous coaches. The disparity between Lloyd Carr and the last two coaching staffs is huge:
Carr: Tom Brady, Russell Shaw (transfer), Patrick McCall, DeWayne Patmon, Justin Fargas, Hayden Epstein, Courtney Morgan, Charles Drake, Zach Kaufman, Calvin Bell, Tyler Ecker, Spencer Brinton (transfer), Matt Gutierrez, Leon Hall, Keston Cheathem, Morgan Trent, Eugene Germany, Jason Forcier, Chris Richards, Johnny Sears, Jonas Mouton, Zion Babb, Avery Horn, Donovan Warren, Michael Williams
Rodriguez (1): Tate. Unless you count Burzynski.
Hoke (2): Mags and Wile
Carr averaged about two California recruits a year, and he landed his fair share of big-time recruits, like Brady, Fargas, Mouton, and Warren. As Seth points out, a lot of those guys were from power programs, like Matt Gutierrez at Concord De La Salle—a connection forged back when Carr was the defensive coordinator and Michigan landed a wide receiver from DLS by the name of Amani Toomer. Reestablishing a strong rapport with California's top schools will pay off, even if it's more so in future classes than 2016.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the mailbag, which includes maybe the greatest reader email I've ever received.]
Disappointing lack of calves on the jersey plaque. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
Max Bielfeldt recorded his first career double-double. Aubrey Dawkins nearly tied the single-game school record for three-pointers. Michigan's game-ending lineup featured Austin Hatch, two walk-ons, and two student managers turned practice players.
Needless to say, the game wasn't nearly as close as the final score would indicate. Save for a 19-0 Rutgers run to close a contest that had long been decided, Michigan maintained a death grip from start to... well, almost-finish.
On his Senior Day, Bielfeldt opened the proceedings with a hook shot before going on to score 14 points (6/10 FG), pull down 11 boards, and even hand out three assists. Bielfeldt earned a couple ovations on the day, including a "double double" chant when he grabbed his tenth rebound.
While it was Bieldfeld's day, Aubrey Dawkins stole much of the spotlight. Setting a career high in points for the second consecutive game, Dawkins rained in eight of his 11 three-point attempts—finishing one make short of Garde Thompson's school record—on his way to a game-high 31. He also provided the highlight of the afternoon with a forceful two-handed finish of a Spike Albrecht lob.
Albrecht generated much of Michigan's offense despite scoring just seven points on eight shots. He repeatedly found open shooters after lulling Rutgers to sleep with his patented forays along the baseline, ultimately dishing out nine assists, tying a career high.
As a result, the Wolverines literally shot until the lights went out. After Dawkins knocked down his first four three-pointers, Kameron Chatman added one of his own to give Michigan an early ten-point lead; the lights in Crisler Center promply shut off, causing a brief delay in the action. It didn't seem to affect Michigan, which continued its assault right up to the halftime buzzer, when Chatman drilled another triple from the corner to boost the lead to 19.
Chatman would finish with 13 points on 4/5 shooting. Zak Irvin had an off day, knocking down just 5/15 shots on his way to 12 points, but it was barely noticable with all the offensive fireworks going off around him.
The second half mostly featured both teams playing out the string—or canning more threes, in Dawkins' case—until the late Rutgers run. While the final few minutes provided John Beilein with some teachable moments, it didn't threaten to change the final outcome. Bielfeldt gave himself a proper sendoff, while Dawkins continued a hot streak that should have Michigan fans very excited about his future.
Michigan is now locked in to the #9 seed in next weekend's Big Ten Tournament. Their opponent will be either a reeling Indiana squad or, if they lose to Purdue this afternoon, Illinois. Either way, the Wolverines managed to build a little momentum for themselves after a heartbreaker earlier this week at Northwestern.
For weeks now, I've had half-baked column-type things on Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins saved on my laptop, begging for an easy narrative the subjects couldn't provide. This is MAAR's offense now? Well, he just went 1/7 with four turnovers at Indiana. Dawkins provides a steady shooting presence? It's too bad he just shot 1/8.
This shouldn't be a surprise. Michigan's two late recruiting pickups for 2014 weren't supposed to have significant, let alone starting, roles on this team. As recently as December, when Michigan hosted Syracuse, both registered DNP-CDs. That all changed with the injuries to Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, of course. Instead of easing them into the college game, John Beilein had little choice but to throw them in headfirst and hope they could tread water.
MAAR and Dawkins combined for just seven points on 3/12 shooting against Ohio State; Sunday's game nevertheless displayed their progress.
Abdur-Rahkman drew the unenviable assignment of guarding future top-five pick D'Angelo Russell for much of the game, and he did better than anyone could expect of a freshman defending one of the top scorers in the country. Russell had a hard time freeing himself as Michigan jumped out to a big first-half lead, going just 1/4 in the first stanza; he'd finish with 16 points, but needed 17 shot equivalents to get there, and he turned it over five times.
Time and again, MAAR fought his way over and around screens to stay in Russell's hip pocket, forcing a series of difficult shots. He knew where to be—no small feat for a freshman on defense—and he seemed acutely aware that he'd have to expend most of his energy on that end of the floor. Then, at the end of a rough day on offense, he came through with one of the biggest assists of the game, finding Zak Irvin on a drive-and-kick for a corner three that gave M a six-point lead with six to play. It was the type of play we'd hoped to see from MAAR for weeks.
Dawkins, too, came through late after struggling for much of the day. Shortly after MAAR's critical assist, Dawkins got past Marc Loving and tried a short pull-up from just outside the paint. Although the initial shot went off the mark, Dawkins corralled the rebound after a tip, then pivoted past Jay'Sean Tate to scoop in the putback (above, Fuller). I don't think it's a play he makes in December, when Michigan's freshmen had to think their way through all 40 minutes.
They're still developing, of course. Dawkins made an ill-advised foray to the basket early in the shot clock with Michigan clinging to that late six-point lead; while the Buckeyes blocked the shot, Max Bielfeldt bailed out his teammate with a tough rebound. MAAR got himself trapped next to the Buckeye bench and had to sweat through a lengthy replay in the final minute. Overthinking (or underthinking) is still an issue.
Especially when one notes Kam Chatman's unexpected six-point run in the first half, though, it's hard not to be encouraged by the progress of Michigan's freshmen after Sunday regardless of what showed up on the box score. MAAR is hitting 55% of his twos in Big Ten play while developing an outside shot and building confidence on defense. Dawkins has that tantalizing athleticism and truly impressive shooting numbers—he's fourth in the conference in true shooting percentage.
Michigan doesn't have a superstar like Russell in the freshman class, but it's becoming easier and easier to see what John Beilein envisioned when he recruited these guys. It's still hard to come up with a smooth game-to-game narrative to attach to them. That's kind of the point, though—freshmen are unpredictable. Instead of waiting for them to string together enough similar performances to declare they're here, sometimes it's best to note the highs and the lows and realize they're getting there, and that's just fine.
You should really look at the big version for the background faces [Patrick Barron]
We have a theme, a palpable theme. Michigan plays about as well as they can, is right in it with a team headed to the tournament, and cannot finish the job. Three of Michigan's last four losses have followed that pattern, with the exception a home blowout against suddenly incandescent Iowa.
That was also going to happen—the ugly blowouts against teams that can exploit the various holes in Michigan's roster—but overall it's a familiar theme: Michigan's got a bunch of guys trying their best and not quite making it. This is also known as "the Amaker tenure."
In this case Michigan had to get raided by the NBA draft, lose their top two players, and have their touted freshman spectacularly underperform. They'll be a lot better next year. Take this team, add Walton, Duncan Robinson, DJ Wilson, and a year of experience for literally everyone and you're back to being a tourney team.
Levert? FWIW, I was talking to Sam Webb during my weekly WTKA thing (Thursdays, 9 AM) and LeVert came up; he said that it wasn't a slam dunk he'd go, and I was like "er, what" and he said he likes school, loves the team, and might stick it out. He is very young for his grade. Obviously, the prospect of a guaranteed seven-figure contract is and will remain tempting.
It would be nice to finally get a guy who could go back.
Irvin bust out. Indiana does not have a good defense. Let's stipulate that. But Michigan actually saw a good deal of, you know, offense. Michigan's 13 assists were the most they'd had since the Penn State game, and rarely have they cracked double digits. That's symptomatic of an offense that's struggling and resorting to a lot of heroball.
Nobody has been more negatively impacted by this than Zak Irvin, who was an excellent microwave last year and has struggled to initiate his own offense or find kickouts from his teammates. This leads to a pattern of frustration followed by contested shots off the dribble—not good eats for your offensive efficiency.
Irvin shook that against Indiana, finishing a few buckets around the basket that were set up by his teammates and finding small windows of space for his threes. He initiated a little offense himself. He was efficient. After, Beilein praised his improved "acumen for the game," and that's about right. This was also right, unfortunately:
But if there was one nagging frustration with Irvin on Sunday, it was his struggles to finish at the rim. With eight minutes left and Michigan down nine, the forward missed a fairly routine layup. A minute later, he went up for a layup with his right hand despite being on the left side of the rim, and the shot was blocked as a result.
“He’s got his head on right, and he knows that everybody has parts of their game they need to work on,” Beilein said. “He realizes what some of those are, and he’s working on them.”
Major points to the color guy for pointing that latter problem out immediately and informatively.
Anyway, priority one for the rest of this year is for the rest of the offense to pose enough of a threat to opponents that Irvin can either find open threes or, at the very least, closeouts. He can attack those; when he's just trying to straight up beat a guy he doesn't have the lateral mobility to do that without a bunch of spins and other such moves that bring help defenders into play.
MAAR bust. Freshmen are up and down and hoo boy was MAAR down in this one. His missed bunny after a steal was followed by another Irvin missed bunny and those buckets combined to rankle the remainder of the game, no more so than when Michigan ended up three points short on the scoreboard.
This is no doubt an adjustment period. Teams have seen what MAAR can do and have a scouting report on him; now it's up for Michigan to get MAAR playing better than he's scouted. One priority needs to be moving him from a guy who seems to make up his mind whether it's pass or shot before the drive to one who can find the open guys under the hoop when he draws help.
And then Doyle surges. (Also Donnal.) Meanwhile, Michigan's bigs kept moderately-big Max Bielfeldt (three minutes) on the bench for the first time in forever. Donnal put up seven points on four shots; Doyle had 15(!) on 8 shot equivalents. He was one made FT from having as many points as you can without an and-one or three pointer, on 19% usage in 27 minutes.
This has a lot to do with Indiana, which got a total of five minutes from guys bigger than a willowy 6'7".
Negative: even so they still got crushed on the boards. Doyle's trying to block shots that are not good shots to block: in the first half Irvin or Dawkins or MAAR had successfully contested a drive, forcing Indiana into difficult runner from five feet. It missed, but Doyle had tried to block it and his guy was there for an easy putback. Unless you are a pterodactyl man like Anthony Davis, that's a bad idea.
Evidence of offensive improvement. Michigan's last shot went through all five Wolverines before landing in MAAR's hands in the corner for a wide open look. It didn't go down, but to be able to execute that is something resembling progress.
Also, an alley-oop! It seems like forever ago when Michigan got two or three of those a game from Robinson.
[@ right: Patrick Barron]
Evidence they've got a ways to go. Blackmon (sigh) and Ferrell had a great sequence against the 2-3 in which Blackmon attacked, drawing both high defenders. Ferrell saw this and made a cut to the soft spot of the 2-3, receiving the pass and finishing and and-one against a highly disadvantaged Irvin.
That's not something we've seen much of from Michigan during their extensive opportunities to go up against a 2-3. Very, very rarely does anyone force the zone to react before attempting to get a pass inside the arc, and a lot of the time Michigan spends 20 seconds or so trying to make a pass to initiate their offense against a zone that hasn't been deformed or stretched.
Chatman thing. He did little in his ten minutes. This is something of an improvement. I did wonder what was going on on several possessions where he sat in the middle of the floor like he was flashing to the post against a 2-3. He brought a defender with him, which almost made it look like Indiana was running a 1-3-1. It was a confusing time.
Then I figured out that Indiana was just in man to man and Chatman kept flashing to the post because he didn't recognize that. This happened on three or four possessions and is another ominous sign about how far he has to go.
Must… fight… old man sportswriter… feels. SPOCK. I am not a fan of guys sitting back from their typewriters proclaiming some dude they don't know a scourge of society because he is a bit of a showoff. I think this is more reflective of the person writing it than the subject.
But, man, Troy Williams takes it to another level. Troy Williams flexes at his mom after he successfully pours milk in his cereal. Troy Williams goes to children's hospitals and mean-mugs at cancer patients because he is to date free of same. Troy Williams makes me an old man sportswriter and therefore I dislike him.
Hatch bits. ESPN story and video:
Thing I never want to see again. A Yogi Ferrell pull-up three. I would like him to not be at Indiana, please.
Ace: Michigan's basketball season is almost certainly lost, but there's always the prospect of seeing one or two players transform under Beilein's continued tutelage, especially now that most of the freshmen have bee n thrust into major roles. Which freshman do you expect to show the most improvement over the rest of the season, and which do you want to see show the most improvement?
|Nnanna nnanna, nnanna nnanna, hey hey hey, that's pretty high. [photo: Upchurch]|
Dave Nasternack: Expect: Ricky Doyle. I think this is probably the most obvious choice. First, he's been starting for awhile, now, and has already shown improvement in various areas. I'm guessing he's leading in 'freshman minutes played?' If not, he's got to be close. So, just due to experience on the floor, he's got the be as comfortable in his role as any of the other contenders. Plus, the areas of improvement for Doyle are closely related to experience and mental understanding: positional awareness and some body control (almost always for bigs) vs. increased shooting %s, building muscle, better technique, etc. In addition to a couple of post moves, Doyle has shown patience inside and flashes of passion/GAF, which is exactly what you want to see to fuel his improvement. It would also be ideal if he could grab a few more rebounds.
Hope: While there is definitely something to be said for Aubrey Dawkins, I'm going to go with Kam Chatman. Chatman came into school with a ton of hype and excitement—not to mention a little more hair—but has only showed flashes of his potential in short bursts. While Chatman has looked lost both offensively and defensively for long stretches of this year, I do believe that he has the highest ceiling of any freshman on the roster. Plus, unless Donnal were to move down a position, Chatman is the ideal 4 on this roster. His length, size, and athleticism would make him the most ideal fit for the position that Beilein has had in his M tenure. Chatman will definitely have to improve his court awareness, positioning, and definitely his shooting consistency in order to do so, however. Based on losing his starting spot, a further decrease in minutes, and the eyeball test when he was playing more consistently, I'm guessing that his "growth jump" will come over the summer or in 15/16 rather than in the next couple of months.