Hoops Preview 2014-15: Bigs Comment Count

Ace October 27th, 2014 at 3:00 PM

Previously: Gardening Lessons (The Story), Preview Podcast, Preseason All-Big Ten TeamsPoint Guards, Wings Part 1 (LeVert, Irvin), Wings Part 2 (Chatman, Wilson, Dawkins, MAAR)

Jordan Morgan graduated, triumphant. So, too, did Jon Horford, who chose to play his final year of eligibility at Florida. Mitch McGary, a victim of the NCAA's enthusiastic, aggressive stupidity, will suit up this winter for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

As a result, out of the 1490 minutes Michigan centers played in 2013-14, the Wolverines return just 89, in the form of 6'7" tweener Max Bielfeldt, a senior with all of 38 career points to his name. While Bielfeldt may play a bigger part in the rotation, he isn't expected to take on major minutes; those should go to two freshmen with distinctly different playing styles.

Mark Donnal

why did I start the tape here? oh, no reason.

Year: Redshirt Freshman
Measurables: 6'9", 240
247 Composite Ranking (2013): 4*, #18 PF, #86 OVR
Highest Ranking: 4*, #23 PF, #89 OVR (ESPN)
Lowest Ranking: 3*, #37 PF, #147 OVR (247)
Highlight Tapes: Senior Highlights, Three Minutes Of Dunks, Single-Game Reel From 36-Point Game, Summer 2012 HighlightsUMHoops Italy Rewind (stats & video)

Mark Donnal is the closest thing to Kevin Pittsnogle that John Beilein's had during his tenure at Michigan.

It's true, and you're going to hear it about half a billion times this season, so get used to it. Pittsnogle was Beilein's West Virginia version of Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky, a productive post player with a killer three-point stroke. If you haven't yet, hit play on the embedded YouTube video above.


Donnal redshirted last season while bulking up from 215 pounds to his current 240, a luxury Michigan could afford with Morgan/Horford/McGary manning the center position. By midseason, word was leaking out around the program that Donnal was really impressing in practice, and by the end he was reportedly hanging with his older, accomplished teammates:

If it wasn’t for the redshirt, Morgan and Horford might have had to worry about their job security.

“He’s becoming a force,” Morgan said. “He’s hard to guard down there in the post, and he’s definitely come a long way.

“Over the past couple months, he’s just become really good. Really dominates, shoots the ball well.”

The tentativeness that plagued Donnal through the season’s first couple months seemed to disappear.

“Now that I have my confidence back, I know that I can play with these guys,” Donnal said.

This summer, Donnal started all four games of the Italy tour, averaging 10.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game—numbers that Michigan would be over the moon about if he came close to replicating them during the season, wildly unlikely given the center's place on the offensive pecking order. While he was very efficient inside the arc, he went 0/3 on three-pointers during the trip, instead getting most of his buckets in transition or off pick-and-rolls.

Michigan doesn't exactly need huge production out of their center, of course, and the threat of Donnal's outside shot should open up space for everyone else if he's able to handle the more physical demands of the position. He can also diversify Michigan's high screen game; the Wolverines haven't had a center who's as much a pick-and-pop threat as a pick-and-roll threat, and that adds an entirely new dimension to guarding the screener. One thing to keep an eye on as the season progresses: while Donnal looks very comfortable on film finishing with his right hand, he rarely seems to use his left—and often goes out of his way to use his right. If/when opponents pick up on that he's going to have a more difficult time scoring around the basket.

A good rebounder in high school, Donnal should at least be passable in that regard, albeit a likely downgrade from the trio of very productive rebounders on last year's roster. The focus then turns to defense. While true freshman Ricky Doyle is a bigger guy who projects to be the better rim protector, Donnal showed off some nice shot-blocking himself in his high school film, and his year of practice experience should give him a leg up on Doyle when it comes to positioning and directing the defense from the all-important center spot.

If Donnal isn't a defensive liability, his diverse offensive game provides tantalizing possibilities on the other end of the floor—a Beilein-coached Michigan squad with five quality shooters on the floor... I'm not sure I can finish this sentence without getting faint.

I'm getting ahead of myself, though. Before DEATH FROM ABOVE is unleashed in its all-consuming form, Donnal must prove he brings enough rebounding and defense to the court to keep Michigan average in those areas, or he might lose playing time to...

[Hit THE JUMP to resolve this EPIC CLIFFHANGER.]

Ricky Doyle

Year: Freshman
Measurables: 6'9", 245
247 Composite Ranking: 3*, #50 PF, #203 OVR
Highest Ranking: 3*, #22 C (ESPN)
Lowest Ranking: 3*, NR (Rivals, Scout)
Highlight Tapes: Summer 2012 Highlights, Summer 2013 Highlights, 2013 NBPA Top 100 Camp HighlightsSingle-Game Reel (20 points in 18 mins), UMHoops Italy Rewind (stats & video)

Doyle is a relatively unheralded freshman who didn't make a big splash on the AAU scene; he fielded some high-major interest but Michigan was the only big-name program to seriously go after him. As we've learned, of course, that doesn't mean he's not a quality prospect, and there's a fair amount to like here.

First of all, Doyle hits campus already big enough to man the post in the Big Ten, and he's able to play bigger than his listed 6'9", per GBW ($):

The first thing one notices about Doyle are he extremely long arms.    They allow him to play much bigger than his 6-7/6-8 height.  His offensive game is all about versatility.  He was very effective with jumpers out to 18 feet all around the court.  He was also very good on the block, establishing position well and was never ridden off his spot. He isn't going to wow anyone as an athlete but he plays with a mentality that would make Tyler Hansbrough proud. Doyle is as intense a competitor as you'll see and didn't back down from any of the other big men participating in the camp.

That report came from Michigan's Elite Camp in the summer of 2013; since then, Doyle's grown into his frame a bit, and he also got to campus this summer and trimmed quite a bit of fat at Camp Sanderson—in the tape from Italy, he gets up and down the floor quite well for a player his size. Even there, though, most of his damage came at the rim:

There were two things that Ricky really did well: rebound in traffic and finish in traffic,” John Beilein said after one of Doyle’s two double-double performances in Italy. “Those are big things for us. He’s only 6-9, but he plays even bigger than that on some occasions and today was one of them. “

That's precisely what Michigan needs from their center, along with passable defense, and if Doyle can provide the latter he could very well find himself with a starting gig. If he's got the conditioning to be a McGary-esque energy guy (minus the prodigious McGary offensive skill, of course), he'll at least find a significant role splitting time with Donnal.

Max Bielfeldt

Year: Senior
Measurables: 6'7", 245
Base Stats: 4.7 MPG, 3/12 2-pt, 3/9 3-pt, 8 off. rebounds, 12 def. rebounds, 2 blocks, 14 fouls
Key Advanced Metrics: 14.5% usage, 88.2 ORating, 12.0% OReb, 16.8% DReb

Bielfeldt mostly rode the pine last year, getting no more than five minutes in any Big Ten contest until the title game foul-fest against MSU forced him into 13 minutes of action that didn't go so well. He's limited by his size and doesn't possess the athleticism to make up for it, so he's got to get by on hustle; when he's on the court, Bielfeldt is usually working his way to the basket to clean up the boards.

Beilein gave Bielfeldt the green light to attempt a handful of three-pointers, and by hitting three of his nine attempts from distance he showed he can provide some offense when called upon; inside the arc, however, he had a lot of trouble finishing. On defense, Bielfeldt fouled at an untenable rate (6.3 per 40 minutes), and while his tempo-free offensive rebounding numbers were quite good, his figures on the other end left something to be desired.

Bielfeldt could work his way to a fringe rotation spot with his rebounding; if he's playing much more than 5-10 minutes a game, however, that should be a concern for Michigan's younger bigs.

And yes, Dan Dakich, he has very impressive calves.

If you're about to comment "hey, you big jerk, you forgot some guys," a preview of the Bench Mob is coming later this week. There will be GIFs.



October 27th, 2014 at 3:50 PM ^

But I think he belongs here until he proves otherwise. Wilson is a bit of a flex guy. His role depends on how Donnal/Doyle emerge. But he brings a skill (shot-blocking) that could be useful to Michigan right away, and that shot-blocking is going to be far more valuble at the 5 than the 4.

I see the argument: Chatman/Dawkins at the '4' vs Donnal/Doyle at the '5' is just a bunch of freshman and Bielfeldt is around.  But, IMO the 4 spot looks a lot more promising, and Irvin can still get a good bit of run there, if need be.  Bottomline is that Beilein has preferred to go small again and again.  It seems unlikely that he'd shift to something he's not comfortable with unless he has proven players (a la McGary/Morgan/Horford frontline) to do it with.



October 27th, 2014 at 3:39 PM ^

1.  We (may) have the UM jet in the South somewhere trying to get us an ESSS EEEE SEEEE coach

2.  Spaty is mocking us

3.  De-commitments everywhere

4.  Panic

5.  DOOM 

Anyway, great summary.  I predict JB turns both freshmen into top 50 NBA prospects.  He has done more with less in his career.




October 27th, 2014 at 4:03 PM ^

Could anyone blame Ace or the other writers at this point if they focused 100% of MGo's coverage on basketball?

Let's take a moment to consider John Beilein and Brady Hoke.  Can anyone think of a wider gap in coaching acumen between a football and men's basketball coach at the same school anywhere?


October 27th, 2014 at 4:14 PM ^

I like keeping Donnal as the nominal starter until Doyle actually proves it against real competition.  Doyle does seem a lot more Morganesque and without a more physical 4, we probably need that. But we don't know enough about any of these freshman yet to be sure of anything.

I would guess Bielfeldt does play more than 10 mpg. The foul rate can and probably will plummet. That was basically his job - come in and push people around to buy time until Horford/Morgan returned. "They can't call fouls every time." 

Whatever his limitations are, these types of seniors tend to play, if for no other reason than to show the younger guys what you are "supposed to do".  Bielfeldt at least knows where he is supposed to be, which may not be the case for our freshman.  Morgan's most important job was boxing out and setting screens - Bielfeldt can do those things.  He may not be tall but he's thick.

Against Kentucky, Bielfeldt played 4 minutes to Spike's 7.  Both guys are limited athleticially, but clearly there is a role for such players if they bring something else to the table.  With Spike it's shooting.  With Max it could be positional awareness.


October 27th, 2014 at 5:25 PM ^

I say we just go with the blacked out ghost pictured.  How do you possiby shoot against that?  It appears to be Boogeyman from Rise of the Guardians without his trail of evil stallions floating behind him.  Once he gets those back, there's no stopping him.


(Yes, I have kids}