Postseason Hoops Mailbag, Part II: Spike, Breakout Player, Bigs, Bigs, More Bigs Comment Count

Ace March 30th, 2016 at 4:29 PM

Dawkins, Wilson, and Chatman give M three non-Wagner breakout candidates.

Part one of the postseason mailbag, which definitely didn't include an egregious error in the original post, can be found here. Part two got quite lengthy, so let's get right to it.

A Spike return is very unlikely.

While that door isn't completely closed, it would shock me if Spike ended up back on the roster next season, and I think it would shock him, too:

With that, Albrecht and Beilein shook hands and parted ways. According to Albrecht, Beilein told him that if an additional scholarship should open up at Michigan, the program would "entertain the idea of" him returning, but added that such a scenario is unlikely.

"That's a long shot," Albrecht said Monday. "And really, I don't even know if they'd want to bring me back because they'll already have two very talented point guards on the roster next year."

I know it's hard to come to terms with this because Spike is such a beloved figure, but this is the best arrangement for both parties involved. The issue with bringing Spike back, even if a spot does open up, is you're then impeding the development of a highly regarded player at the same position. Xavier Simpson is the future at point guard for this program and they justifiably want him to get plenty of time next year. If he's stuck behind Walton and Albrecht, it's hurting the team down the road just so the team can have a marginal one-year upgrade at backup point guard—and that's not a slight against Spike, just an assessment of Simpson's talent. Plus, Albrecht isn't exactly a sure thing after coming off surgeries to both his hips.

As Spike mentioned above, returning to Michigan isn't necessarily his ideal scenario, either. If he's healthy, there's a good chance he'll start at another program—he'll be able to choose a school with that role available to him. That's not going to be the case in Ann Arbor with Walton coming back and Simpson arriving.

If there's further attrition, I'd rather see Michigan go after a grad transfer shooting guard, preferably one who's a positive on the defensive end—that's a far bigger need than a third point guard. Alternatively, they could go after a stretch four to take pressure off Zak Irvin if there's attrition in the frontcourt. That's far from the sentimental choice, but I think it's the best one for the team.

It appears John Beilein is thinking along the same lines. According to ESPN's Jeff Borzello, Michigan is one of the programs that's contacted grad transfer Columbia combo guard Grant Mullins, who's a 44% three-point shooter. At 6'3" with a PG-like assist-to-turnover ratio, Mullins could play either guard position. The coaches also reportedly contacted Sacred Heart transfer Cane Broome (that is apparently a real name), but there doesn't appear to be strong mutual interest; Michigan isn't listed among the schools Broome plans to visit, per CBS's Jon Rothstein.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the mailbag.]

Most improved next year?

Hi Ace,

Which player on the roster do you think has the most potential to make a big improvement from what we have seen from them thus far in their career?


There are three that immediately come to mind without including Moe Wagner, who's been discussed thoroughly in this season review series. If I had to pick one, it would be DJ Wilson, who barely made a dent on the court as a redshirt freshman while continuing to learn how to play like a big man. In his limited time on the court, Wilson played both the four and the five, and if he begins to realize his prodigious athletic potential, he could become a critical part of the rotation in a similar role.

While sample size and opponent caveats abound, Wilson had ten blocks in only 158 minutes this season. Although he didn't have the strength or technique to be a plus post defender, he can develop that over time, and meanwhile he can provide the type of weakside help from the four that would go a long way towards covering for M's lack of a rim-protecting center.

That, of course, would require Wilson to show enough offensive skill to stretch the defense in Beilein's system; he has the potential to do so. Wilson played like a wing in a high school and showed some range this season, making 7/23 three-pointers—not a great mark, to be sure, but something that can be built upon. Wisconsin forward Vitto Brown was 0/0 on threes in his first two years, playing sparingly, before knocking down 40% of his 95 attempts this season. There's no guarantee Wilson can make the same leap, but it's not unprecedented, and if he does it opens up many possible situational lineups for Beilein to deploy.

The other two are Kam Chatman and Aubrey Dawkins. Chatman showed flashes of why he was a highly rated recruit; when he's on his game, he's a skilled passer for his size, a solid rebounder, and better suited to defend traditional power forwards than Irvin. If he can consistently make open jumpers, which he hasn't yet been able to do at Michigan, there's a clear role for him.

Dawkins, meanwhile, has the highest athletic ceiling of anyone on the roster and a reliable outside shot. His defense is so bad, however, that it's hard to justify playing him big minutes against quality opponents; Duncan Robinson held onto his starting role even through a lengthy shooting slump because even the D-III transfer was a clear defensive upgrade over Dawkins. There are many areas of Dawkins' game with room for improvement—driving, moving without the ball, rebounding, and passing all come to mind—but his development in those facets won't matter much if he doesn't cut out the mental errors and get much better at staying between his man and the basket. It'd also be quite nice if he starting making his Sportscenter-caliber dunk attempts.

Wither Pittsnogle?

Ace, why isn't that Johnny Beehive cannot seem to land the type of athletic stretch big that his offense calls for? Vitto Brown is one that comes to mind. I know DJ Wilson and Wagner are in that mold, but neither seems to be the shooter than Brown was as a freshman.  It seems UM should be able to attract higher ranked, more athletic players that are already solid 3 point shooters. I don't think either Teske or Davis fit that mikd coming in as freshman.

First thing's first: let's all agree never to use that nickname again. Cool? Cool.

I included this more to address the assumption behind the question than the question itself. Even though Michigan literally posted the highest offensive efficiency in the history of KenPom to date with Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford platooning at center, there's a misconception that Beilein's offense requires a Kevin Pittsnogle.

While a Pittsnogle is very nice to have, it's exceedingly hard to find a true big man who can step out and shoot the three. Look no further for evidence than Mark Donnal, who was supposed to be the next Pittsnogle but has struggled to hold up down low and hasn't reliably knocked down outside shots so far at Michigan. Donnal, Wagner, and Wilson all have the potential to be that type of player, but it's more important that they function well in the pick-and-roll and become quality post defenders—like, say, Jordan Morgan.

Because of this, I've actually been quite pleased with Beilein's focus for the incoming big men. In recent years, I think he's recruited centers based too much on skill instead of bringing in bigger guys who may not have pretty jumpers but can haul in boards and protect the paint. Jon Teske is 6'11" and known as a shot-blocker. Austin Davis is 6'10" and slimmed down from 265 pounds to 235 this past season. Neither is going to be a Pittsnogle, but if they can set good screens, catch and finish at the rim, and play solid defense, that'll do a lot more to get this team back to where it was from 2012-14 than having a Donnal/Smotrycz-type who can sink the occasional three. Getting a Pittsnogle is optimal, but if there were many players like that out there, every major program would have one.

Austin Davis will need time to adjust to playing against taller players. [Upchurch]

Instant-impact center?

I highly doubt it. With another year of development, Donnal should be a solid reserve big man or average-ish starter. He improved a great deal on offense this season, and while his defense is far from good, it's wishful thinking to expect an upgrade on that end from a true freshman. Big men can take a while to develop; those discounting Donnal's possible impact are doing so way too soon, especially since we haven't seen a version of Moe Wagner that can stay on the court for starter-level minutes.

Meanwhile, Teske has a lot of filling out to do before he's ready for the physical aspect of playing in the post; standing at 6'11", he's listed at a rail-thin 210 pounds. While Davis is more college-ready from a physical standpoint, he played his high school ball in Onsted, Michigan, which has a population of less than a thousand. Davis played small-school competition and will face an even bigger transition than most high school big men as a result.

I'd be surprised if either were ready to supplant Donnal, or even Wilson, in the rotation this season. That's before considering that both might benefit more from a redshirt year than getting thrown into the fire right away, too. I expect one will get spot minutes as the third or fourth center (depending on how Wilson is deployed) and the other redshirts, allowing Michigan to get a year of separation eligibility-wise between the two to better balance the roster.

Donnal in a new role?

Hi Ace,

Is Donnal miscast as a 5, and do you see him getting any minutes at the 4 next year?

Even after Doyle's departure, if Wagner can make gains and stay out if trouble Davis and/or Teske can back him up.

Playing Donnal at the 4 would be less awkward than previous attempts at playing two bigs (like Horford and McGary) since Donnal can be a legit threat behind the line.

With a few exceptions, Irvin just wasn't the offensive mismatch at the 4 that he needs to be to make up for the mismatch on the other end. Maybe getting worn out trying to play post D played a role in his shooting slump. 

Playing Donnal and Irvin at their natural positions seems like it would improve both offensive and defensive efficiency, but I'm not sure we'll see it.


As you can probably guess from my previous answers, I don't think this will solve Michigan's lineup issues, either. Michigan needs Donnal at center unless you believe Wagner will cut his foul rate by more than half and one of the true freshmen is ready to play significant minutes; I do not share this belief.

The other issue is that Donnal isn't athletic enough to guard most fours, nor has he shown he's a good enough outside shooter to keep defenses honest in that role on offense—he certainly woudn't be creating off the dribble. If Michigan wants to play something resembling a two-big lineup next year, getting DJ Wilson more minutes at the four is a much better bet. I do agree that getting Irvin some help there is one of M's biggest offseason priorities.

Will Donnal be Bielfeldt'd?

I get the feeling Beilein has learned from what happened with Bielfeldt. I should also add that I don't think letting Bielfeldt go made a huge difference for Michigan this season; even though Indiana mostly played him at the four, helping mitigate his lack of size, his efficiency plummeted against quality opponents—the Wolverines still would've lacked post defense and a reliable inside scoring threat.

Anyway, it's possible Beilein would let Donnal seek a grad transfer after this season, but the decision to reclassify Donnal came long before Ricky Doyle's departure—it occurred when Doyle projected as a decent four-year starter. The outlook at center is obviously quite different now and bringing Donnal back for a fifth year is as simple as editing the roster page on MGoBlue. Unless Donnal is usurped by one of the freshmen or DJ Wilson morphs into a true big man, I'm betting Beilein will want him back.



March 30th, 2016 at 4:38 PM ^

I disagree - I think it's a big mistake to let him walk and I think this coudl really come back to bite us, but it may be a lost cause. 


March 30th, 2016 at 5:32 PM ^

I don't see it as a big mistake.  I think the cons of Spike coming back outweigh the pros


-Guard depth, especially if there are any injuries


-Sentimental reasons



-Take minutes away from someone who needs to develop 

-Being the 3rd PG dimishes his opportunity to showcase his skills if he wants to play overseas

-Opportunity cost of not using the spot on a grad/transfer/freshman who may be able to improve other positions on the floor

-We aren't sure about his health


I like him as much as anyone, but it may be best for both parties to walk away


March 31st, 2016 at 10:43 AM ^

isn't that big of a deal.  Noone knows how healthy he is and even when he came back at the begining of this year he was not playing well at all.  I'm sure he could provide us some quality minutes next year if he stayed but nothing that Simpson cannot offer us anyway.

Any talk on Zak?  He wasn't mentioned in either of these two posts really.  Talk about sophmore slump, he had it his junior year...he did not have a good year really.  He definitley got better as the year went on but for us to be good next year, him playing well is crucial.  If he stays at 11ish ppg and a couple rebounds and assists a game then we're doomed.  He needs to jump up to 15ppg and be able to DRIVE for us to have any success.


March 31st, 2016 at 12:35 PM ^

I think Zak made progress in a lot of areas. He was our best 3 point shooter in conference play but atrociious at outside shooting in non-conference. He has come so far though in creating offense for himself and defensively. I think people are forgetting what an extreme just-a-shooter he was his freshman year and how much he struggled without Caris last year. He's a far better basketball player than he was and more productive.  He needs to get back to being an efficient player, but a better supporting cast will help.


March 30th, 2016 at 4:47 PM ^

Really interested in seeing our basketball team next year. 

Every player is returning. Natural +1 year improvement can be expected.

But I think Walton and Irvin have a better chance to improve even more since we are told neither have been 100% this past year - and my eyes concur.

Duncan will probably improve even more than the normal 1 year jump simply because it seemed he cooled as the season progressed. Teams learned how to defend him and he wasn't as able to create his shots. I expect that he will learn from that experience.

Wagner made a huge jump in the last couple weeks, and that makes sense with a very young European player. I expect that growth to really increase next year.

Xavier as a guard off the bench is a huge jump from Dakich.

That is 5 players with a reasonable chance to have an even greater than normal 1 year improvement. 

I tihnk we have a decent chance to challenge for the Big Ten, though not likely to win. I see us as a 5 seed. (Iowa/Purdue/Wiscy range this year)


March 30th, 2016 at 5:05 PM ^

Why would a guy who "cooled as the season progressed" be expected to make an atypical leap?  Seems like, if anything, it would be more likely he came up to his ceiling.  Learning how to create shots is easier said than done and that was a problem for Robinson over a long period (since conference play pretty much). Plus he's entering his 4th year in college so not exactly making the frosh-soph leap.


March 30th, 2016 at 5:28 PM ^

Stauskas creating his own shot during his first year. He also benefited from better play at Center and Point. I think the combination of Walton missing a lot of quick passes, poor screens and sloppy cutting hurt Robinson. Secondly, based on Beilein's comments, he never retooled to adjust to Caris not coming back. So they kept running stuff that to me Walton and Irvin weren't as skilled as Caris to execute. Third, after the ND loss, Robinson had a list of things he wanted to work on (as compared to MAAR who hadn't decided if he was spending the summer in AA). He seemed very focused and I look for him to show that next season.


March 30th, 2016 at 5:48 PM ^

He just didn't get to do it much because THJ and Trey were around.  When they left, it was either up to a freshman PG (Walton), Levert, or him. Stauskas stepped up.

Michigan's team isn't in the same position next year (everyone is back) and Robinson wasn't a freshman. It's true that Stauskas had a lot more help, but that's going to be true next year too.  Morgan, McGary, GR3, and Caris aren't walking through that door.

I am glad to hear that Robinson has a gameplan to improve, but nobody should be expecting a Stauskas leap from him. Incremental improvement (better defense, a pump fake, and a consistent mid-range pullup) would be great.


March 30th, 2016 at 8:33 PM ^

Incremental improvement (better defense, a pump fake, and a consistent mid-range pullup) would be great.

That sounds like pretty good improvement to me, and I expect it. I would also add a quicker catch and release, back door cuts and rebounding emphasis. I think Duncan will be one of the most improved players next year and a real weapon.


March 30th, 2016 at 5:13 PM ^

but this year really scarred me.  I know there were injuries, blah blah blah but the total lack of production from the 2014 class (except for MAAR) was bad and surprising.  A lot of things would have to go right for this team to compete for a conference title.   


March 30th, 2016 at 5:00 PM ^

Walton's clearly better than Spike. Simpson may not be yet but needs to play, and with MAAR around we have plenty of ball-handlers. Walton needs to get 30-35 minutes and that limits opportunities for anyone else. On a different team, Spike's extremely valuable.  I'll root for him wherever he goes.

Also agree with ace that a backup SG and PF is the way to go if a spot opens up.  MAAR's better with the ball than off the ball and with Watson being a bit of a unknown, it'd be nice to have a true off-guard.  Chatman and Dawkins are options at the 4 (to spell Irvin), but Michigan could use somebody who brings more consistent defense and physicality to the party - especially with the 5 rotation looking lean (physically).

The interesting part about the transfer rumors (Michigan's interest) is that it indicates Beilein may be expecting further attrition.


March 30th, 2016 at 6:41 PM ^

Walton isn't really a point guard. He's the size of a point guard, and he's fine on the break, but he isn't a shot creator in the half court. We've seen that for three years now.

The best scenario for Michigan is if Simpson is ready to play heavy minutes. That could push Walton to the 2, where he belongs, never mind the physical profile.

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March 30th, 2016 at 7:02 PM ^

Player A. 36 min / 14 pts / 43% FG / 4.2 as / 2.8 TO / 107.4 ORtg

Player B. 34 min / 12 pts / 38% FG / 4.5 as / 2.0TO / 109.9 ORtg

One of those is Trey Bruke's freshman year, the other is Derrick Walton last year. 

Both are true PGs. Walton doesn't belong at the 2 anymore than Burke did. 



March 31st, 2016 at 12:39 PM ^

Being an excellent spot up shooter doesn't disqualify you from being a PG.

I get the argument that Walton is better utilized off the ball beside someone like Caris or Nik, and I think it has some validity, but this team doesn't have that guy.

Walton has to get more efficient in the pick and roll, or the offense has to be tweaked to better suit what he does, but Simpson has to be really dang good to push Walton to SG and MAAR to the bench.


March 30th, 2016 at 5:06 PM ^

That height is at least a year old.  He is now listed at 7-1 in every Ohio publication that I have seen. 

He is also definitely heavier than 210 lbs since his weight in early 2015 was 215 lbs (when he was still 6-11). 

Since that time he has since grown 2 inches and would assume he now weighs at least 225 lbs.


March 30th, 2016 at 5:22 PM ^…

That's still skinny for a 7 footer, but puts him within 5 pounds of the listed weights for Donnal and Wilson - and ahead of Wagner.  Assuming he can put on another 10 pounds or more and the fact that he's 7 feet, I doubt size is the reason he doesn't play next year (if that's how it ends up.)


March 31st, 2016 at 12:53 PM ^

To win a Big Ten title you have to be consistent.  To win a title you have to be able to kick it up a gear.

Experience matters more for the former, talent for the latter. Michigan should be a very experienced team next year but may not have a single NBA-caliber player on the roster.


March 30th, 2016 at 5:56 PM ^

You mention that finding a big man who can shoot the 3 isn't easy but...Max shot 45% from 3 for IU this year.  Granted, he only had 64 attempts.


March 30th, 2016 at 6:12 PM ^

I am glad that someone dispelled the Pittsnoggle myth. Michigan's offense works best with someone who can run the ball screen game and finish around the rim. Doyle is gone because he couldn't. Everyone is ready to have Wagner pass Donnal because he also struggles with that. Do the simple big man stuff, shooting jumpers is a bonus.

Also, I would like to stop referring to Camp Sanderson as some awesome thing. He does his job, but isn't doing anything special no matter how many before/after pics we see. Michigan was probably last in the conference in dunks, was horrible at finishing around the rim, still slow on D, and most of the players are still basically the same physique they have always been. Modest improvements are expected, nothing more.

Finally, I don't want to hear another round of "Walton and/or Irvin will be so much better once they are fully healthy" prediction. They are solid players who we will count on, but they aren't stars and a little bit of health isn't going to change that.


March 30th, 2016 at 6:24 PM ^

Nobody is saying we must have a Pittsnogle. That in itself is a misconception.

What people are wondering is: What are we doing at the 5? Traditional bigs and perimeter bigs are both fine, but Michigan hasn't really had either the past two years.

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March 30th, 2016 at 7:22 PM ^

Similar to what I said about Frank Kaminsky, Kevin Pittsnogle wasn't KEVIN PITTSNOGLE! until his senior year. He averaged 11.6, 10.2 and 11.9 PPG his first three years. It wasn't until his senior year that he averaged 19.3 PPG.

Allow me to cherry-pick a few stats.

Sophomore Pittsnogle blocks per game 0.5, 3.7 reb/game, 0.368 3Pt%, 0.432 2pt%

Sophomore Donnal blocks per game 0.4, 3.7 reb/game, 0.303 3Pt% (but he was 0.368 as a frosh.) 0.635 2pt%

They look fairly similar but Donnal is much better inside the arc. Anybody writing him off or relegating him to a backup role may well be surprised next season.