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, Big Ten Outlook Part 2, Mailbag Part 1
Who will get the bulk of the minutes at center? The panelists disagree. [Fuller]
The preview is almost done, but first, Alex and I attempt to answer perhaps the longest mailbag question in this blog's history. Without further ado, a five-part query covering everything:
Can you predict the minutes by position for the roster this year given the unique nature of this team compared to the past rosters?
I'm very intrigued to see how Beilein deals with the youngest but probably deepest and most versatile roster he's ever had. For most years we were scrambling to find 8 usable scholarship athletes and this year we have 11 guys who could see meaningful minutes in any given game. How will he handle that? How will he handle the frustrations that come with so many freshmen learning a complex system? How will he handle the unique skills that guys like MAAR or Wilson offer if they aren't quite the fit into his system?
Ace: I'm going to start from the end—first of all, Wilson is an ideal fit in the system (more on him later), and second of all, if a player is good enough to get on the court, Beilein is going to adjust his team's approach to fit his personnel, as we've seen time and again.
Also, talk about good problems. There really are 11 players who could see at least a consistent bit role this season, though I highly doubt Beilein is going to go with an 11-man rotation; I think he'll whittle it down closer to eight or nine as the season goes on.
My best guess at how the minutes breakdown will look when this team settles into a rotation—in the early going, I expect some experimenting as Beilein figures out what his freshmen can and can't provide:
1) Walton - 30, Albrecht - 10
2) LeVert - 35, Albrecht - 5
3) Irvin - 30, Dawkins - 10
4) Chatman - 25, Wilson - 15
5) Doyle - 20, Donnal - 10, Wilson - 10
Positions matter less than minutes distribution here—Irvin and Dawkins can both play the two, and LeVert can play the three, for example, and those positions very similar in Beilein's system, anyway.
Of the freshmen, I think Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman is the most likely to fall out of the rotation. Michigan has plenty of guards that can handle the ball, Walton's ability as a spot-up shooter will allow for the Walton/Spike backcourt to get a good amount of run, and Rahk's iffy shooting is going to hold him back, especially once M hits the meat of the schedule—Beilein's system doesn't work nearly as well if defenses don't have to respect the outside shot of one of the guards.
Aubrey Dawkins, meanwhile, has the skill set to be an immediate bench contributor. He can defend multiple positions and he can shoot the three; add in his outstanding athleticism, which should make him a good finisher on the break, and it's easy to see a role for him as a three-and-D guy with some upside.
I'm of the mind that all three freshman centers, including DJ Wilson, will get extensive time, and their minutes will wax and wane depending on the matchup; Wilson should see more time at the five against smaller, athletic teams, while Doyle may be leaned upon heavily against a bigger squad like Iowa. I believe Doyle will end up playing the most minutes at the five; I'm a fan of his combination of size and ability to finish near the basket, and for some reason it doesn't feel like Donnal is currently living up to expectations.
[Hit THE JUMP for Alex's guess at the rotation plus our outlook on DJ Wilson, picks for this year's breakout players, and comparable players to this year's freshmen.]
Alex: I'll give it a guess:
1) Walton - 32, Albrecht - 8.
2) LeVert - 32, Rahk - 4, Albrecht - 4.
3) Irvin - 28, Dawkins - 8, Chatman - 4.
4) Chatman - 24, Wilson - 12, Irvin - 4.
5) Donnal - 24, Doyle - 12, Wilson - 4.
Building on #1, what do you think DJ Wilson's role on this team will be?
I've been speculating that he would redshirt considering his injury, the fact that 5-8 mpg as a mopup guy is a waste, and the depth at the 4/5 positions offered by his fellow freshmen. But others (including Dylan from UMHoops) think that you don't bother with the redshirt if he could fill the Max Bielfeldt role from last year better than Max.
In Europe you saw Dawkins fill the backup wing role very well and the two centers split time evenly. With the depth and flexibility at G & F offered by so many players I struggle to see what Wilson will bring differently unless he's really good. I would be very tempted to redshirt him.
Ace: Based on my previous answer, you can probably guess that I highly doubt Wilson is redshirting—I don't think any of the freshmen will redshirt, and Beilein has indicated as much.
Wilson brings a level of versatility that Michigan simply doesn't have anywhere else on the roster. He's long and athletic enough to play the five and alter more than his fair share of shots. He's got the on-the-ball skill to play the three; he had a decent outside shot in high school, his stroke looked good during Monday's exhibition, he can put the ball on the floor, and he's a decent passer.
He may be overmatched at the five against bigger squads, but Michigan should be able to stick him at the four in those situations, and I expect his role to grow as the season progresses. His skill/size/athleticism combo is a rarity, and as he puts it all together he could really be special—while that may not come this year, I think we'll see flashes of extremely high potential all season.
Alex: I love Wilson's game so I might not have a reasonable answer, but based on my guess above, I have him playing 16 minutes per game. More than anything else, his length and athleticism brings the type of shot-blocking from the four position that Beilein's never had at Michigan.
While Chatman will deservedly get most of the minutes there, Wilson can shoot it well enough to play the four and I suspect that's his long-term position. The five might be a mess, so it's likely that he'll see time there as well to find out if he can outplay Donnal and/or Doyle. He's more of a long-term prospect, but he could be the next diamond-in-the-rough Beilein recruit to vastly exceed his recruiting profile.
How will you judge success for this team?
In past years we've set sights on the conference title or making a certain round of the tournament. Given the loss of 5 rotation players including so many NBA prospects plus so many freshmen this year I've been struggling with where to set my expectations. I tend to look at this team as a "right side of the bubble" team who you won't want to play late in the year but will lose some games early. I'd like to see them comfortably make the tournament and get into the second round.
Ace: At this point, making the tournament is the bare minimum expectation for a Beilein squad, and this squad shouldn't have much trouble getting there. I don't think they've got the same level of talent they did last year, and with Wisconsin looking like a serious Final Four candidate a conference title would be a very pleasant surprise. For this squad, I think the reader is spot on—getting into the tourney and winning the first game would constitute a success, and another Sweet Sixteen trip would exceed expectations.
Alex: Two years ago, Michigan made the National Championship Game, and last year, the Wolverines won the Big Ten easily and made the Elite Eight. Based on that, this year's iteration will almost definitely fall short of that standard. Still, Beilein's built a team that's fun as much as anything, and while his brand of fun basketball has provided a lot of wins recently, this team will probably not finish as a top-ten team in the country. They're young and they should be extremely fun to watch and that's my expectation now that an NCAA Tournament bid seems almost like a given: I just want this team to be fun.
A springier Zak Irvin is poised for a breakout sophomore season. [Fuller]
Who will be the biggest pleasant surprise of this season?
Last year it was probably LeVert making a huge sophomore leap considering we had high hopes for Stauskas and the freshmen has solid if unspectacular seasons. I assume your choice will be Walton or Irvin for obvious reasons, but anyone else excite you?
Ace: I'll throw a curveball and say Ricky Doyle. It might take him a while to reach this point, but I think when he gets comfortable this season, he's going to be a bruising presence on both ends and a candidate to post the occasional double-double without requiring many touches; he's got the size, rebounding acumen, and finishing ability to be a major threat on the offensive glass.
Alex: I'll take Irvin as the breakout player, if only because he's going to play more. Beilein plays his starters quite a bit (which is the right move in college basketball) and Irvin has an eternal green light right behind the basket. I'm not sure how many set plays they'll run for him, but he's going to shoot the ball a lot this season - and since he's a >40% three-point shooter, he'll score a lot as well. Behind him: Walton, Doyle, Wilson as the "pleasant surprises."
Could you do a YMRMFSPA for the freshmen?
One of my favorite features in the football profiles is picking out a past player that the new guys may remind us of. Given that there are seven freshmen on this team I think it would be a fun exercise to help your readers get to know them - even if you have to use players from other teams or from long ago.
Ace: Alex went with a bunch of non-Michigan guys so I'm going to try to keep this to former Wolverines; this obviously limits the options a bit.
Kam Chatman - LaVell Blanchard. Not the biggest guy, not the most athletic guy, but a productive rebounder with plenty of skill.
DJ Wilson - A 6'9" Caris LeVert. That's about the best I can come up with if I'm doing my best to stick to Michigan players of recent memory. Long, skinny, skilled, developmental prospect with serious upside and a shot that's coming along—you know, I think this works.
Mark Donnal - A poor man's Kevin Pittsnogle. He's not going to be the centerpiece like Pittsnogle was under Beilein at West Virginia; if he can just stretch the floor, rebound well, and play passable defense, though, this team could really go places.
Ricky Doyle - Jon Horford. Naturally big-bodied guy, not outstandingly athletic, productive on the boards, rim protector. Horford never really got his due for being a solid finisher, outstanding rebounder, and a guy who drew a good number of fouls—of course, he also committed his fair share.
Aubrey Dawkins - GRIII. The easy comparison but one that works. Tons of athleticism, NBA bloodlines, now it's time to refine the skills.
MAAR - Carlton Brundidge. I know, this is bleak, but Brundidge is the last Beilein recruit I can think of who wasn't a great shooter and relied largely on attacking the basket and drawing fouls to produce points. MAAR could make a far bigger splash than Brundidge by turning himself into a defensive specialist, and his recruiting profile suggests he can make that happen.
Austin Hatch - I'm not going to try for one here. Hatch provided a wonderful moment on Monday, and I expect we'll see something like that again in the regular season; that said, he's still got a long way to go just to get back to his athletic level from high school, and that's very understandable, of course. Making a comparison doesn't feel fair to him right now.
Alex: Okay, I'll try to go with a recent college hoops YMRMFSPA (and some of these are very optimistic projections, to say the least):
Chatman - Kyle Anderson (UCLA)
Wilson - Cleanthony Early (Wichita State)
Donnal - Walter Pitchford (Nebraska)
Doyle - Jack Cooley (Notre Dame)
Dawkins - Sam Thompson (Ohio State)
Rahk - Isaiah Taylor (Texas)
Hatch - Trevor Cooney (Syracuse)