Hoops Preview 2017-18: Bigs

Submitted by Alex Cook on November 16th, 2017 at 2:50 PM

The bigs_preview

Photos/graphic: Marc-Grégor Campredon

Previously: Point Guards, Wings, Big Ten (Part 1, Part 2)

While the college basketball season is underway in earnest for some programs – Duke and Michigan State have already met up for a #1 vs. #2 matchup – Michigan is easing into its schedule before its trip to Maui next week. We’ll get the previews done before then. Maybe. Probably. We’ll see.

Anyways, the Wolverines will be playing their third game tonight against Southern Miss. Michigan’s 2-0, but the first two wins over North Florida and Central Michigan were not encouraging, as each team had a narrow lead with about 12 minutes left in the game before Michigan pulled away down the stretch. Those games were similar in other areas as well: UNF and CMU each ran effective zone defenses, they combined for 19 made threes on 49% shooting from deep, and Michigan forced plenty of turnovers. The 20-point margin in the win over North Florida (a team that had lost in East Lansing the night before) was comfortable; the 7-point margin in the win over Central was not.

Former Nebraska head coach Doc Sadler has had a rough go of things as the head coach in Hattiesburg, as Southern Miss has won single-digit games and lost 20 or more in the three seasons he’s been in charge – and those three teams finished outside the Top 300 nationally according to Kenpom. It’s unlikely that they’ll mount an upset bid, so we’ll (hopefully) be in self-scouting mode as we watch the game.

Since BTN is only streaming it online (and at a cost), I’m guessing there won’t be very many viewers. If you’re interested:

WHAT: Michigan vs. Southern Miss
WHERE: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
WHEN: Thursday, 7:00 pm EST
TV: BTN Plus ($, online stream only)

* * *

There are quality big men throughout the Big Ten: Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ is an All-American candidate, Michigan State’s extremely deep in the frontcourt, Minnesota’s Reggie Lynch and Penn State’s Mike Watkins are excellent rim protectors, Northwestern’s Dererk Pardon is legit, Iowa has promising young centers… you get the point. Fortunately, Michigan’s set at the position and may have the best big man of the bunch.

Had Moritz Wagner followed DJ Wilson into the NBA, the center spot may have been a huge weakness, but he stayed in Ann Arbor – so Jon Teske and Austin Davis will have a chance to grow as backups. Wagner burst onto the scene a year ago and still seems to have untapped potential; Michigan’s ceiling could hinge on whether he takes another leap this season.

[Hit THE JUMP for individual player previews.]

Moritz Wagner


Paul Sherman

Year: Junior
Measurables: 6'11", 245
Base Stats: 23.9 MPG, 12.1 PPG, 66/40/73 2P/3P/FT%, 4.2 REB/G, 39 steals, 14 blocks, 54 turnovers
Key Advanced Metrics: 23.9% usage, 24.4 shot %, 117.0 ORating, 7.6 off reb %, 15.2 def reb %, 2.7 stl %
This season: UNF – 30 minutes, 18 points (19 shot equivalents), 12 rebounds; CMU –  29 minutes, 10 points (11 shot equivalents), 11 rebounds

First things first: Moe Wagner needs to be able to stay on the floor. Young bigs almost always foul too much, and those who don’t improve in that regard are limited in their impact. He trimmed his foul rate from 7.3/40 minutes as a freshman to 4.5 as a sophomore (and to 3.4 through two games as a junior), so there’s hope. 

He was yanked in favor of DJ Wilson at times last season due to being a defensive liability, and it seems unlikely that John Beilein will turn to Jon Teske in those situations, but it’s theoretically possible. Hopefully Wagner took his NBA evaluation – which surely focused on the need to improve his defense and rebounding – to heart and becomes at least passable on that end. Through two games, his defensive rebounding percentage is an absurd 41.4%, so early returns are encouraging.

Anyways, if Moe can stay on the floor, he should be one of the best players in the conference and John Beilein will have another star in his lineage of offensive weapons . To call him skilled or versatile seems to sell him short somehow, as Wagner has pretty much every trait you’d want in a scoring big man: he can shoot from anywhere, he can beat people off the dribble, he can score with his back to the basket, and he can roll or pop from ball-screen action effectively. He does it all efficiently too – he led the Big Ten in true shooting percentage last season. There were times when Moe was unstoppable, most notably in the second half of Michigan’s Round of 32 upset over Louisville. If those stretches of NBA-Jam-ball-is-literally-on-fire mode become more frequent…


Michigan’s unevenness on offense in the first two games is going to continue through much of the non-conference portion of the schedule (given the uncertainty at point guard and considering how many new players there are in the rotation), and that could negatively impact Wagner. In any case, he won’t have a partner in the two-man game quite like Derrick Walton. Even though he can create some of his own offense, it’s nowhere near a guarantee that he’ll be unaffected by the growing pains around him. It was nice to see him be much more assertive down low in the second half against an undersized UNF squad.

If Moe is the same player he was last season, he’ll be a solidly above-average player. If his development trajectory is consistent with last season, he could be an All-American. He may not have an NBA physical profile, but he does have NBA offensive ability – that will work out just fine at this level.

Jon Teske



Year: Sophomore
Measurables: 7’1”, 255
Base Stats: 3.0 MPG, 0.3 PPG, 17/50 2P/FT%, 0.6 REB/G, 3 steals, 7 blocks
Key Advanced Metrics: 12.3% usage, 8.5 shot %, 93.6 ORating, 15.5 off reb %, 10.6 def reb %, 12.0 blk %, 3.1 stl %
This season: UNF – 7 minutes, 2 points (1 shot equivalent), 2 rebounds, 1 assist; CMU –  10 minutes, 4 points (2 shot equivalents), 1 rebound, 2 blocks, 1 steal

Last season, Jon Teske – one of two freshman centers – found himself at third on the depth chart behind Moritz Wagner and Mark Donnal. In hindsight, it was clear why Donnal played 464 minutes to Teske’s 60: the former helped keep the offense running smoothly and was efficient with his opportunities, while the latter looked lost in the middle of Michigan’s four-out scheme in his scant playing time. That Donnal was frequently bodied down low evidently didn’t matter to Beilein, especially when the alternative – however better defensively he may have been – bogged things down on the other end too much.

Donnal grad transferred to Clemson despite there being an open scholarship for the 2017-18 season, opening up playing time for Teske and redshirt freshman Austin Davis. Through one exhibition and two games, it appears that Teske has won the backup spot (he’s played 17 minutes to Davis’s 2). Against CMU’s undersized front line, he turned in the best performance of his young career.

While “Big Sleep” has looked better in his playing time this season, there’s still a ways for him to go. Young big men tend to develop slowly relative to other positions, and Teske is no exception. His physical profile is something that Michigan hasn’t seen in quite some time, however; he’s a legit seven-footer who’s shown the mobility to guard smaller players away from the basket and the ability to compete as a ball-screen defender. As a recruit, Teske’s rim protection was depicted as his strongest attribute as a player (and he seems to be a better shot-blocker than anyone Michigan’s had since Ekpe Udoh), but he’s also able to chase opponents around as well.

His mix of offensive skills is intriguing, though he’ll take more time to develop on that end. Teske has a jump shot, runs the floor, and can pass very well for a man his size – in his scant playing time last season, he seemed to whip the ball outside to a shooter immediately after he got it. His passivity and tentativity is more apparent on offense, though he seems to fit better into Beilein’s intricate scheme as a sophomore.

Teske should prove to be an upgrade over Donnal, even if he’s maddeningly inconsistent. We probably won’t see it this season, but if everything clicks for him, there’s no telling how high his ceiling may be.

Austin Davis



Year: Redshirt freshman 
Measurables: 6’10”, 245
This season: UNF – 2 minutes, 3 points (2 shot equivalents), 1 rebound; CMU – did not play

Austin Davis is still a mystery: he was virtually unknown when he committed from a tiny high school, redshirted as a freshman, and has barely played so far this season. It’s clear that he’s slimmed down and gotten in much better shape than he was when he got to campus, but beyond that… who knows.

Davis is reputed to have great hands around the basket – your Ricky Doyle comparisons should end there – but that’s about all we’ve heard about him. How well he positions himself and moves within the offense, what his level of strength and athleticism are, and how well he’s able to defend are open questions. Hopefully we’ll see more of Davis in the cupcake portion of the schedule, because he’ll probably have to chip in minutes here and there when Wagner and Teske are both in foul trouble.

While there’s a chance that he could surpass Teske in the fight for backup center minutes, Teske was a more well-regarded recruit, didn’t redshirt last season, and has played more so far. It seems unlikely.



November 16th, 2017 at 2:59 PM ^

I'm not worried about the first two games.  I actually found them encouraging from a defensive standpoint, and as has been pointed out, average three point luck would have turned the CMU game into a blow out.  Beilein also has a track record for improving his team through the season.  I'm not worried.


November 16th, 2017 at 3:18 PM ^

disappointing. Beilein experimented a lot against two uncommon zone Ds, answered a bunch of questions, and four-five guys rose to the occasion over two nights. This team is very young, will have its bumps, but could be a really pleasant surprise; close watchers were assuming they would struggle this year before lots of great recruits come in. Beilein is a perennial overachiever. 


November 16th, 2017 at 3:19 PM ^

I believe this is the last BTN Plus stream-only game, so I'll be cancelling it tomorrow. I didn't mind paying 9.95 one time for three games, but I wouldn't continue. Not only is it extremely expensive per month, the quality is very mediocre.


November 16th, 2017 at 3:30 PM ^

so Teske needs to play early and often before B1G

season so he can work on his game.  

He will be needed and has at least shown some signs to be servicable

...needs minutes to improve in all areas

Go Blue !!!


November 16th, 2017 at 4:17 PM ^

I always think about the SI article from 2011 when I see that someone is a legit 7 footer.  Let's hope Teske is part of the 17 percent.  Given that he's playing D-1 basketball I'd put his chances at 60/40.


The article gist:

In a 2011 Sports Illustrated article, author Pablo S. Torre, drawing from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, surmised that “no more than 70 American men are between the ages of 20 and 40 and at least 7 feet tall.”

From this, he further deduced that “while the probability of, say, an American between 6-6 and 6-8 being an NBA player today stands at a mere .07 percent, it is a staggering 17 percent for someone 7 feet or taller.”


November 16th, 2017 at 5:36 PM ^

Strength this year, especially by the end of the year.

Davis is going to surprise many with how good he ends up being, although it may be a year or two before we see it due to those in front of him. He does have good hands and he can shoot. He may still be adjusting to his new body.

Bertello NC

November 16th, 2017 at 7:11 PM ^

I️ would agree that Teske has a way to go, however, he is night and day more comfortable and more aggressive than last year. I️ really believe that the success well have this year will hinge on 3 things;

1. Point guard. Figuring out who can become Walton 2.0. I️ think Simpson can get there and hasn’t looked bad thus far. Well see soon against better competition next week.

2. Teske’s progress through the early part of the season. If he continues to be aggressive as a defender and rebounder I️ like the outlook. If he also becomes more comfortable with his mid range and hook that will be another dynamic to the offense.

3. I️ truly believe that we need to have Livers make strides quickly. He’s a decent defender with what I️ would say a little above average athleticism. His shot looks good although I️ know it’s a work in progress. Reason I️ say this is I️ just don’t see Robinson cutting I️t as a starter. I️ know he helps space the floor but at what point do the other facets of the game(defense, rebounding, scoring in other ways) outweigh him being on the floor when he could come in as a spark off the bench and not have to defend opposing 4’s for 30-35 min a game.