Hoops Preview 2016-17: Bigs

Submitted by Ace on November 3rd, 2016 at 5:03 PM

Previously: John Beilein media day transcriptBilly Donlon media day quotesMGoPodcast 8.7Alex's team previewPoint GuardsWings (Part I), Wings (Part II)

Moe Wagner can take M's center position to new heights. [Bryan Fuller]

Michigan entered last season hoping that Ricky Doyle would take full control of the center position and look the part of a reliable four-year starter. Instead, Doyle couldn't hold onto the ball or the starting job, and in March we learned he'd been suffering from undiagnosed sleep apnea. Mark Donnal supplanted Doyle even though freshman Moe Wagner, in brief early-season appearances, looked like the better player. An uninspiring Donnal-Doyle rotation lasted all the way through Big Ten season; after barely playing, Wagner broke through in the postseason.

Entering this season, the starting job is Wagner's to lose. Donnal looks destined to finish his Michigan career in a backup role; while Donnal is a redshirt junior, John Beilein has been understandably noncommital about bringing him back for a fifth year. Two very large freshmen, Jon Teske and Austin Davis, will battle for spare minutes; in all likelihood, one will get their feet wet while the other redshirts.

Please stay out of foul trouble, Moe.

[Hit THE JUMP for player breakdowns.]

Moe Wagner

In his second year, Wagner is more comfortable directing the defense. [Eric Upchurch]

Year: Sophomore
Measurables: 6'11", 240
Base Stats: 8.6 MPG, 2.9 PPG, 71/18/56 2P/3P/FT%, 1.6 REB/G, 4 assists, 16 turnovers, 6 blocks, 6 steals
Key Advanced Metrics: 17.6% usage, 107.7 ORating, 9.3 off. rebound percentage, 13.2 def. rebound percentage, 2.7 block rate, 7.3 fouls committed/40 minutes

Moe Wagner looked like a lanky wing in the DJ Wilson mold when he originally committed to Michigan, but the German import was center-sized by the time he got to campus, and a couple early-season performances made it look like he'd take over the starting role much sooner than anyone expected.

After playing a combined 22 minutes in the first four games, Wagner poured in 19 points on 8/9 shooting against Charlotte, and two games later he scored eight against NC State while displaying a knack for scoring off the high screen we hadn't seen from any of M's other centers:

While Wagner offered far more offensive upside than Donnal or Doyle, however, two significant issues kept him from seeing more time. Wagner often tried to do too much, especially off the dribble, and his turnover rate nearly doubled that of Donnal as a result. More problematic was Wagner's foul rate; he committed over seven per 40 minutes, and he had not grown out of that by the end of the season. The postseason stat lines encapsulate Wagner's freshman year (via KenPom):

Wagner didn't miss a single shot. He also committed 13 fouls in 57 minutes. It should come as no surprise that John Beilein turned a media day question about Wagner's physical development into a discussion of foul avoidance:

You know what he did, we think it’s very important that he got back to the homeland. So he went back right after the end of April, but he came back, instead of coming back June 27, for the start of summer school two, he came back June 1, so he could get another four weeks of workouts in. So he had 12 weeks of intensive workouts. That really, I’ve seen a big difference in that—his body, everything. So now, he’s got to continue to work on things. If he’s in foul trouble every game again, now he’s not making the right strides. You’ve got to play defense without fouling, handle the ball without turning it over. I like the progress that he’s making, and what a terrific teammate and young man.

If he can stay on the court, Wagner will take the lion's share of the minutes at center. Whether he can do that, for now, is anyone's guess. Wagner also needs to improve his rebounding, especially on the defensive end of the floor; even though the two posted similar numbers, Beilein compared Donnal's rebounding favorably to Wagner's in today's press conference:

That might be more motivational than anything else; Wagner ran exclusively with the first team in this week's student open practice, and Donnal's rebounding wasn't particularly laudable last year.

Added bulk—Wagner's up to 240 pounds after playing around 225 last year—should help Wagner avoid some of those pesky fouls, as he'll be better equipped to maintain position in the post. Some Camp Sanderson-produced improvement in his vertical should make him even more dangerous as a roll man off the high screen and hopefully improve his shot-blocking—that four-block Tulsa game represented two-thirds of his entire season output even though the physical ability was apparent.

All the pieces are there for Wagner to take a position that's been average at best since Jordan Morgan departed and turn it into a strength; the guess here is he'll go a long way towards doing that, though foul trouble is likely to keep the backups very much in play.

Mark Donnal

Despite posting decent numbers, Mark Donnal hasn't made finishing look easy. [Fuller]

Year: Redshirt junior
Measurables: 6'9", 240
Base Stats: 19.4 MPG, 7.8 PPG, 63/30/70 2P/3P/FT%, 3.7 REB/G, 12 assists, 24 turnovers, 25 blocks, 12 steals
Key Advanced Metrics: 19.3% usage, 120.6 ORating, 11.2 off. rebound percentage, 12.6 def. rebound percentage, 4.0 block rate, 5.0 fouls committed/40 minutes

Donnal's efficiency numbers suggest he's a better player than his reputation, but there's a lot to be said for the eye test, too. While Donnal converted 63% of his two-pointers and posted a good offensive rebound percentage, he looked physically overwhelmed on both ends far too frequently. The Wagner dunks off pick-and-rolls were especially notable because Donnal rarely, if ever, finished with such force; Donnal had some frustrating misses at the rim because he laid the ball up on plays Wagner would go for the flush.

At media day, it was hard not to take note of Beilein's lukewarm answers to two questions about Donnal:

Is there any timetable for Mark Donnal’s status as far as a fifth year? Also, as the senior member of that position group, what are you looking for from him?

It’s the same thing. He’s a senior right now, and he’s playing in his fourth year, but he does have that extra year. We’re going to stop putting the redshirts next to the name, you know, you guys can figure that out. He’s in his senior year, and he’s been practicing okay. He’s got to get himself in great shape right now, but we’ve all seen what he can do. We need about 35 games like that at least from him this year.


Then you mentioned Mark has to get in great shape. Did he do enough over the summer and did your guys, do you feel—


Yeah, all our big guys really have to get in tremendous, a big guy has to be in better shape than maybe anybody else on the team. He’s no exception.

At least, as Beilein noted, Donnal has had a few breakout games. He had four games with 15+ points last year, including a 25-point outburst on 10/15 shooting against Maryland and their one-and-done center, Diamond Stone. On the flip side, however, he would disappear for long stretches on offense, and on defense he occasoinally made opposing bigs look unstoppable—Northwestern's Alex Olah looked like the next coming of Hakeem Olajuwon in last year's too-close-for-comfort game at Crisler.

As a backup center, Donnal is serviceable. While he may not finish with authority, he's got good touch around the basket, and he adds a different dimension to the team with his ability to step out and hit jumpers—he's a career 33% three-point shooter and looks capable of doing better. If he can hold up better on defense, the rest of his game is adequate; he gets his share of offensive boards, avoids turnovers, and blocks more shots than his reputation would suggest.

While I don't want to see Donnal thrust into the starting lineup again, he can provide solid minutes in a backup role. He should approach an even split in minutes with Wagner because of the inevitable games when Wagner gets into foul trouble; ideally, it's more of a 25-15 split in Wagner's favor.

Austin Davis

At Onsted, Austin Davis dominated the Lilliputians. [Upchurch]

Year: Freshman
Measurables: 6'10", 240
Recruiting profile: Three-star, #23 SG, #175 overall (247 Composite)

Jon Teske

Year: Freshman
Measurables: 7'0", 245
Recruiting profile: Three-star, #17 C, #144 overall (247 Composite)

I'm discussing the two freshman centers together, as they're in the same situation. Both will get an audition in the exhibition game tomorrow night; only one is going to avoid a redshirt barring the unexpected.

Teske's primary appeal is his size. He's a legit seven-footer—he dwarfs Donnal when they stand side-by-side—with shot-blocking prowess. After Michigan's "secret" scrimmage against Akron, Tony Paul relayed that Teske had moved ahead of Davis in the battle to be M's third center:

Jon Teske got the most reps among the two freshmen big men and appears the front-runner for the third big-man spot, with Austin Davis possibly redshirting.

Davis has gotten more publicity since signing with Michigan and had a good summer in pickup games on campus, but Teske seems to have separated himself during the early workouts and practices.

That continued in the open practice, per UMHoops's Orion Sang:

Tony Paul over at the Detroit News mentioned he had heard from a source who attended Michigan's closed scrimmage against Akron the other day that Jon Teske has the edge on Austin Davis for minutes behind Mo Wagner and Mark Donnal. From the way Michigan ran its scrimmage during tonight's practice, that appeared to be true. Teske subbed in for Wagner — who ran with the first team — while Davis subbed in for Donnal, who was on the second team. What was notable about this was that initially, Teske came in for Donnal for the maize team and Davis for Wagner, but Beilein yelled at hiim to switch because he wanted him coming in for Mo and playing with Walton, MAAR, Irvin and Robinson (the first/blue team).

Teske surprised me at media day by sinking a good number of his outside shots in drills; that apparently continued in the open practice, and could be another way Teske distinguishes himself from Davis—a seven-footer with range is a rare breed indeed. He knocks down his fair share of shots from long range in this UMHoops junior scouting video, and shows natural shooting form, though Dylan also notes that he hit 28% of his three-pointers as a senior—that number would need to at least get into the low 30s before he gets the green light in games.

Where Teske may struggle is on the glass; while he's added bulk, Scout's Brian Snow said as recently as January that Teske needs to play tougher:

What really stands out about Teske is his physical size. He is a legit 7-footer, of which there are very few, and he has long arms. Also Teske can run the floor fairly well, and is a decent shot blocker, especially from the weakside.

While he has some physical tools, Teske right now has to get stronger and tougher. He is good in pick and pop situations, but he gets pushed around on both ends of the floor and tends to shy away from contact.

That will give Austin Davis a shot, even though he's apparently a bit behind right now.

Davis is difficult to project because of his high school competition. Coming out of tiny Onsted High, he's only the 14th player from Lenawee County to play D-I baskeball, per his official bio. While not quite as tall as Teske, he's another huge body—he cut quite a bit of weight over the last couple years to get down to his listed 240, and the nickname "Big Country" has already stuck. Beilein considers him an excellent rebounder, but with a caveat:

That's no surprise given his high school competition. Davis is running out of time to get up to speed if he wants to avoid a redshirt, but if Teske needs a year before he's something other than Bigger Donnal, he could get that opportunity. Either way, this particular compeition shouldn't have a significant impact on this season—third centers on Beilein teams tend to get only occasional spot minutes when foul trouble affects the first two options, and DJ Wilson can play a few minutes at the five in a pinch.



November 3rd, 2016 at 5:39 PM ^

Neither Teske nor Davis redshirts.  I think Wagner's foul trouble and struggles by Teske end up leading to Davis playing at some point.  It's hard to keep your best rebounder on the bench even if he has big flaws.


November 3rd, 2016 at 11:33 PM ^

I think honestly they both need to redshirt for different reasons. Teske does not look the part physically, it doesn't look like he's lifted a lot of weight, he may have the edge due to his defense. Davis looks strong and I believe will be pretty ripped by next season if he redshirts. The obvious complaint for Austin is the difference in the speed of the game, which I think is a concern for Teske too. I'm hoping Davis redshirts because I believe it will allow him to develop and make good improvements. I think this will help him long-term be a pretty damn good ball player here, plus, not that it matters, Davis is pretty young, he either just turned 18 or does shortly. Just my 2 cents on the whole deal!

Go Blue in MN

November 4th, 2016 at 11:12 AM ^

It would be nice if both could redshirt since both appear to have significant weaknesses that could be mitigated through an additional year.  However, we don't have that luxury with only two big men ahead of them, one of whom gets in foul trouble a lot.  Thanks, Obama.


November 3rd, 2016 at 7:43 PM ^

I am probably one of the biggest Donnal fans here. I like his game and he was a solid piece for us especially in Big Ten play. If Wagner earned a starting spot over him that is big news. Plus that makes Donnal a very solid backup Center.

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November 3rd, 2016 at 7:46 PM ^

the center position has not been a strength in recent years. I think that changes this year. If this year's rotation ends up as Wagner/Donnal/Teske, I think that is significantly stronger than Donnal/Doyle/Wagner. It will give us an advantage over many opponents.

Lucky Socks

November 3rd, 2016 at 11:09 PM ^

I think that Donnal is better than he's given credit for, and though he'll come off the bench - I think he and Wagner form one pretty good center.  Hopefully they can sharpen each other's skills in practice.

Somebody is definitely going to redshirt, but I'm done guessing who.  They both have useful skills, but they're both gonna look like overwhelmed freshmen at times.  Whoever plays will tell us what the team needs more (bulk; boards vs. length; range).  


November 3rd, 2016 at 11:51 PM ^

Only Ace could look at these stats and prefer the first player.

Key Advanced Metrics: 17.6% usage, 107.7 ORating, 9.3 off. rebound percentage, 13.2 def. rebound percentage, 2.7 block rate, 7.3 fouls committed/40 minutes

Key Advanced Metrics: 19.3% usage, 120.6 ORating, 11.2 off. rebound percentage, 12.6 def. rebound percentage, 4.0 block rate, 5.0 fouls committed/40 minutes

Did Donnal steal your lunch money? Seriously, you've put more weight on a 9-9 shooting performance OVER FIVE GAMES than is reasonable. Why are we supposed to believe that Wagner is going to make this incredible leap forward while Donnal is going to be stagnant? If it's this "eye test" you are referring to, you might want to visit an opthalmologist.


November 4th, 2016 at 12:30 AM ^

To be fair, it's pretty much everyone on this blog. It comes from expectations that Centers should not miss shots. Also Wagner's potential is tantalizing.

I also am a Donnal supporter though. Reports are that Wagner will at least be starting over Donnal at game 1 which is good news imo. That means at worst we have a solid Center to play of Wagner has some bad moments or is another year away. At best, we now have a game changer at C with a really steady backup.

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November 4th, 2016 at 12:50 AM ^

Sick as a dog. The line that got my goat was saying he could be a serviceable backup. If Wagner does overtake him for the starting spot, Donnal will be the best backup in the Big 10 now that Haas should be starting in Purdue.

Donnal was 5th in the Big 10 last year in FG Pct., but yeah, I guess he doesn't dunk enough.



November 4th, 2016 at 5:17 AM ^

If FG% were everything, Ricky Doyle would be our starting 5 this year. His FG% was better than Donnal's last season.

Granted, it's far from a sure thing that Wagner is going to take a huge leap. But come on: If Donnal is clearly superior, why is UMHoops saying Wagner has a slight edge entering the season? It's rather silly to rip Ace's assessment when Beilein appears to think the same way.

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November 4th, 2016 at 7:32 AM ^

I'm not sure if you are referring to me as saying Donnal would be a serviceable backup because that is certainly not what I said or meant to imply. He'd be as good of a backup C as M has had since I've been watching (post sanctions).

To me it's similar to Mitch McGary and JMo in 2013. JMo was a good player that was very under appreciated (until his senior season) as he was a below the rim C. But Mitch had more skill and we were a better team when he was playing well.

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November 4th, 2016 at 12:35 AM ^

I agree. Davis appears to me as a natural baller in the post in an old school way. He's a big body with strength and great footwork around the basket. If he maximizes his physical ability. He'll be really good in a couple years.