Despite losing star guard Caris LeVert for a month due to injury, Michigan currently sits in fourth place at 7-2 in the Big Ten; after a so-so non-conference showing, the Wolverines’ strong start to conference play has allayed any concerns about missing the NCAA Tournament. Still, there’s a lack of clarity with this team – even disregarding the uncertainty regarding LeVert’s return and ability to quickly and seamlessly reintegrate into the lineup.
With the notable exception of the win over Maryland, Michigan still is essentially a team that’s beaten the teams they should’ve beaten and lost to the teams they should’ve lost to (two neutral site games, UConn (loss) and Texas (win), were the only two against opponents close to U-M in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings). For the most part, the Wolverines’ wins in the Big Ten have been rather pedestrian: Rutgers and Minnesota were uninspiring home victories over terrible teams, sweeping Penn State isn’t a notable resume event, and the road wins in Big Ten play – over Illinois and Nebraska – were against teams that will surely miss the NCAA’s.
Still, between that win over the Terrapins, the complete lack of bad losses, and the tantalizing potential of adding an All-American level player to a team that’s already playing pretty well, there’s reason to hope that Michigan can round into a formidable squad heading into postseason play. The schedule from here on out in the Big Ten is undeniably harder – starting this week with home contests against Indiana and Michigan State. After Michigan’s solid start to the conference season, there are a few things we can point to as pretty important moving forward:
[After the jump, those things]
In the coming days (or hopefully weeks) we will wrap up the basketball season and there will be countless posts written about "what if...." or "looking toward next year" or any number of optimistic stories about the growth for next season. As a prelude to those pieces, I will throw out this question.
Can you name these three current or former John Beilein players based on their freshmen stats?
I'll post the answer in the comments, so don't look ahead if you want to guess. I obviously cherry-picked a few stats to tell a story and could have picked some other players as well. The message, however, is that there have been many examples of a "sophomore leap" under John Beilein and if we consider the huge number of freshmen on this year's team we should have reason to believe in next year.
A statistical reason for hope, if you needed any, for basketball next season.
When Caris LeVert & Derrick Walton went down, Michigan was suddenly down 85.4% of their scoring from last season. Only Zak Irvin (15.4 minutes per game), Spike Albrecht (14.7 minutes per game), and Max Bielfeldt (4.7 minutes per game) even played meaningful minutes in 2013-2014.
Next year if LeVert comes back, Michigan will return 92.9% of their scoring from this year while adding Duncan Robinson. Consider the fact that DJ Wilson will be back, as well as the fact that he is one of 6 freshmen, and at least some of them will likely improve going into their sophomore seasons (as some of them have already shown growth) and this team will be downright dangerous next year.
I know hopes are already high for next season for most people but I was pretty surprised by numbers. Aaaaaaaand Harbaugh for football. 2015-2016 will be a good year.
Here’s Michigan’s roster for the 2014-15 season:
2 Spike Albrecht 5-11 175 Guard JR Crown Point, Ind. (Northfield Mount Hermon School [Mass.])
3 Kameron Chatman 6-7 210 Guard/Forward FR Portland, Ore. (Columbia Christian HS)
5 D.J. Wilson 6-9 220 Forward FR Sacramento, Calif. (Capital Christian School)\
10 Derrick Walton Jr. 6-0 185 Guard SO Detroit, Mich. (Chandler Park Academy)
11 Andrew Dakich 6-2 190 Guard SO Zionsville, Ind. (Zionsville Community HS)
12 Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman 6-4 175 Guard FR Allentown, Pa. (Catholic Central HS)
20 Sean Lonergan 6-5 200 Forward SO Fishers, Ind. (Fishers HS)
21 Zak Irvin 6-6 215 Guard/Forward SO Fishers, Ind. (Hamilton Southeastern HS)
22 Duncan Robinson 6-8 190 Guard/Forward SO New Castle, N.H. (Phillips Exeter Academy (N.H.))
23 Caris LeVert 6-7 200 Guard JR Pickerington, Ohio (Central HS)
24 Aubrey Dawkins 6-6 190 Guard/Forward FR Palo Alto, Calif. (New Hampton Prep [N.H.])
30 Austin Hatch 6-6 215 Guard FR Fort Wayne, Ind. (Loyola HS [Calif.])
32 Ricky Doyle 6-9 245 Forward FR Cape Coral, Fla. (Bishop Verot HS)
34 Mark Donnal 6-9 240 Forward RS FR Monclova, Ohio (Anthony Wayne HS)
44 Max Bielfeldt 6-7 245 Forward SR Peoria, Ill. (Notre Dame HS)
Highlights courtesy of UMHoops
Michigan once again cruised to an easy victory in their third game in Italy, defeating Petrarca Padova 116-52 while limiting their opponents to just 16 second-half points. For the third time in three games, Zak Irvin led the team in scoring, netting 22 points while hitting 7/10 shots from inside the arc (he finally cooled a bit from outside, going 2/6 from three). Mark Donnal bounced back from a lackluster performance in the second game with a 20-point, 11-rebound double-double, while Caris LeVert posted an impressive 17-8-4 stat line.
Full box score (click to embiggen):
Postgame quotes courtesy of the athletic department:
Michigan Head Coach John Beilein
On how the team may be exceeding expectations thus far ... "Our defense exceeded what I thought we could do today. We started slow, but as the game went on they were very good at their dribble-drive attack. We made it difficult for them to get the ball in the paint and then they had to rely on three-point shooting and we guarded that as well. The defense then became our offense."
On Mark Donnal's development since coming overseas ... "We continue to show Mark and Ricky (Doyle) film so that they can get better. I really don't care what each one does; I care what they do collectively. Tonight was 29 points and almost 20 rebounds between the two of them. It would be too much to think about getting 20 and 20 from them, but if we needed to get double-figures, that's a heck of a big man."
On the value of experienced guards like Spike Albrecht and Derrick Walton Jr. ... "I'm glad Spike was out there (with them), but to be honest I don't pay attention to what year the players are. I just try to get everyone equal minutes and have everybody learn a little bit of rhythm. In games like this, we just want to get video on it so we can teach players why things work and why things don't work. That's what's real for us. We practice against ourselves and while we get better doing that, when you practice against others and you don't know their schemes and you have to guard their themes, that's very helpful to our progress."
On the team's experience at the U.S. Military base today ... "These young men have seen some special things on this trip, and they all really enjoyed today. To be with the troops, feed them and sit with them and then go see some of their weapons and trucks, tanks and humvees; the team loved that. We were on our feet a lot today. It has been about six straight days spent on our feet and they responded, so I'm happy about their whole attitude. They're enjoying it and embracing the culture that we're exposing them to. At the same time, they're coming to play."
U-M Sophomore Zak Irvin
On his mindset for today's game ... "My teammates told me, if my shot wasn't falling, to get to the basket and that's one thing I didn't do a lot last year. It's one of the big things I wanted to work on for this year."
On the effectiveness of the zone offense ... "We thought we were going to see some zone (defense) when we came over here to Italy. We didn't see it in the first two games but we did see it tonight so it took us a little bit of time to get adjusted, but we made our adjustments and we were able to counter what they were doing and make it productive."
On general feelings about the first three games from a team perspective ... "We've had three great games. Each game we're getting better. You can see it when we watch film, defensively we're getting better. Our goal was to hold teams under 60 points and we were able to do that again tonight; then scoring 100 points is something special."
On the team's experience with the U.S. Military today ... "To be honest, it was breathtaking seeing all those men and women fighting for us even though they're overseas. You have to give them all the credit in the world and be grateful for everything we have."
U-M Redshirt Freshman Mark Donnal
On his double-double performance today ... "It was definitely a good game for me coming off of yesterday's game. Yesterday I was in foul trouble, so this got my confidence up a little bit and I was pretty happy with my performance. My teammates found me open and I got some easy buckets."
On the biggest difference in his game from yesterday to today ... "Just getting past the defense in offensive transition. Spike and Doc (Andrew Dakich) were able to find me."
On his impressions of the team's adjustments so far ... "Especially with a growing team like us, it's important for us to see both zone and get some different looks on defense and I thought we executed pretty well today."
U-M Freshman Aubrey Dawkins
On his success in today's contest ... "I think I have been getting a little more comfortable every game, and a little more of my natural game came out today. I played within the offense, so things came to me and I capitalized."
On the importance of rebounding in today's offense ... "People have told me in the past that crashing the boards and getting involved in the game helps you stay in the game and not be passive on the court and zone out. It keeps you focused on doing something to help the team. That's what really got me going."
On making so many adjustments, such as the shot clock difference and learning the new offense ... "I think it's coming along nicely; that showed up in the game today. It's becoming more fluid and natural."
On staying in the game mentally despite a lopsided score ... "You never want to get lazy on the court, because that's practicing bad habits. You want to keep playing the way you should play, no matter what the score is. Whether it's high or low, keep playing the same game so when there are close games there's no difference and you're always ready to go."
The men's basketball team defeated the Perugia Select Team, 99-60, in the opening game of their Italy exhibition tour. Zak Irvin led the way with 27 points on 10/13 (5/8 2PT, 5/5 3PT) shooting, followed by freshmen Kam Chatman and Ricky Doyle chipping in 12 apiece. Most importantly, Austin Hatch entered the game for the last few minutes, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd:
— Michigan Basketball (@umichbball) August 17, 2014
The full box score, which was compiled by hand by the Michigan staff—hence no minutes played tally—is below (click to embiggen):
Visual proof of Irvin being Not Just A Shooter™:
Postgame quotes from John Beilein, Hatch, and more courtesy of the athletic department:
Michigan Head Coach John Beilein
On the opening victory on U-M's Italian exhibition tour ... "Offensively, that first quarter was not what I was expecting. With us playing so well offensively that led to us playing so well defensively. You don't know what to expect in games like these. The first quarter was probably a little above what I thought we would do. The last three quarters were a little more predictable for a team on a trip like we are on."
On what he learned that will help going into the next game ... "We will have 48 hours before our next game. This film will be invaluable. There will be plenty of it that will coach the coaches on what we have to teach better. The second part is we will have a chance to sit down with players on the train tomorrow when we go to Verona. It will be just a great teaching tool."
On getting Austin Hatch getting into the last three minutes of the game ... "It was a special moment. Austin even led us in the fight song after the game was over. It's something he has worked very hard for. It was a great moment for our team; however, it was truly special for Austin and his grandfather, Jim, who was here in the stands."
Freshman Austin Hatch
On getting into the game ... "(long pause) As you can imagine it has been a heck of a journey to get here. Playing basketball at the University of Michigan has been my goal since I was a little kid. It was unreal to be here and to have actually played a game. I really feel like I have that game under my belt now and I really feel like a Michigan basketball player."
On almost getting an opportunity to score ... "I am not going to take a shot if it is not the right point in the game. For example if I have an open three and I have a teammate who is open under the basket, you better believe I am going to be passing it to him. Yeah, it would be cool if I made a three. It would be a good story, but I am about my team and my teammates."
On leading the team in 'The Victors' ... "It was unreal. To lead the team in the fight song after the game is a big tradition. I learned that early on in the recruiting process and watched U-M sing it a lot on my visits. I always thought to myself, 'I hope someday I am in position to be able to do that.' Just like everything else that happened today, it was just unreal to be able to do that."
Sophomore Zak Irvin
On his opening 27-point, 11-rebound game ..."I really shot the ball well today; however, I have to give my teammates credit because they were looking for me and getting me the ball. The big thing for me was getting to the hole and I was able to do that. I was able to score inside and outside. It was a great start for us, a great game and hopefully we can keep this going."
On U-M's red hot first quarter ... "We came out shooting the ball really well. That just speaks volumes for our team. We are all looking for each other and playing unselfish basketball."
On how this team progressed ... "We are a growing team. There were a lot of things that went well today, but there is plenty we still have to work on. We can do better communicating and on the defensive end. We came out to Italy and had a great game, but we also just have to enjoy and really take in everything on this trip."
On Austin Hatch getting into the game ..."It was great to see that, especially after everything that Austin has been through. To see him step out onto that floor just meant so much. I have known Austin since the eighth grade so to see him out there playing was just incredible. I hope he is able to do that a lot more during this trip and beyond."
Freshman Ricky Doyle
On playing his first game in a Michigan jersey ... "It was a lot of fun. Finally getting out there with all these guys was a great experience. There is a lot more to come. It's going to be a great year."
On Austin Hatch getting into the game ..."He has been through so much and for him to be out here with us, it is phenomenal. He is part of our family. He is one of our brothers. Seeing him going out there was just as important to all of us as it is to him."