It is that painful time of year for Michigan fans where the basketball season has ended and we’re still a long 4+ months away from the start of football season. During this time we are left scrounging for scraps of information out of spring practice or projecting ahead to the next season of basketball. It is the latter of those two things that this post will focus on.
One annual tradition for just about all of us that follow the basketball team closely is to project the rotation for the following season. Almost everyone who does so falls into the same trap – predicting that the upcoming season will feature more depth in the rotation than the prior season. We stare at the roster, we look at the recruits coming in, and we extrapolate the freshmen who barely played into their future roles. This time of year we end up predicting a rotation of 10+ people depending on the season – and I’m just as guilty as anyone else. In this post I’m going to try to explain the outlook for next year as we see it today, then throw it to the readers to share their predictions….
Based on all of the post-season basketball content on the site this week (mailbag, podcast, WTKA) I have tried to compile a list of what I think would be the minutes predictions for Brian and Ace. For purposes of this discussion I’m going to assume that we don’t win the Mo Bamba lottery*, that everyone from the rotation with eligibility returns, and that there is no surprise grad transfer. I’m also going to split up the minutes in chunks of 5 to make the exercise easier to follow. Here’s how I interpreted the predictions from Ace & Brian for next season:
- PG = Simpson (25min), Brooks (10), Rahk (5)
- SG = Rahk (30), Poole (10)
- SF = Matthews (25), Robinson (15)
- PF = Wilson (25), Robinson (5), Livers (10)
- C = Wagner (25), Wilson (5), Davis/Teske (10)
We can all agree that we know the six primary rotation players next year – Simpson, Rahk, Matthews, Robinson, Wilson, and Wagner. Looking at the prediction above, we see that there are four additional players predicted to have about 10 minutes per game – Brooks, Poole, Livers, and the winner of the Teske/Davis battle for back-up center. (I suppose if you are a member of Ibi Watson’s fan club you could switch his name for Poole’s if you want.) What you see there sounds like a deep and healthy rotation that has a backup at every position, allows all of the recruits to get a few minutes, and has plenty of versatility with guys like Rahk, Robinson, and Wilson who can play multiple positions. I’m guessing that you’ll see similar predictions on other Michigan blogs. Sounds like a great plan, right? Let’s start writing up the season-preview for next year with that as our baseline!
NOT SO FAST….. That prediction is assured to be wrong.
I can promise you right now that there is no way Beilein is going to play 10 guys that many minutes. I went back and looked at the numbers for all of the years that Beilein has been at Michigan. On average, the number of players who play 25% of available minutes (i.e. 10mpg) is just eight per season for his teams:
- 2007-2008: 9 players
- 2008-2009: 9 players
- 2009-2010: 7 players (rounding Zak Gibson’s 24.9% to 25%)
- 2010-2011: 7 players
- 2011-2012: 7 players
- 2012-2013: 6 players (though Spike, Caris, and Horford were all in the 18-23% range)
- 2013-2014: 8 players
- 2014-2015: 9 players (Donnal was also at 24%)
- 2015-2016: 8 players
- 2016-2017: 7 players (for reference, Xavier Simpson finished at 22%)
Only three times since he’s been at Michigan has Beilein played more than 8 players at least 10mpg. Never has he had ten players reach that threshold, which is what we had in our prediction. So what’s more likely to happen? Let’s break down those seasons where more than 8 players contributed to see if any of those would support something closer to our prediction of 10 contributing players.
This was the miserable first year of Beilein’s tenure at Michigan. Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims started all 32 games and three other players (Ekpe Udoh, Kelvin Grady, Ron Coleman) started at least 21 and averaged over 20mpg. Then there were several bench players that kept bouncing in and out of the rotation and ended up reaching the >10mpg threshold – Zack Gibson, Jevohn Shepherd, and CJ Lee. I think it is safe to say that we can’t learn much from this season as it was the transition from the Amaker to Beilein era and he was trying to find out what he had while losing a ton of games.
This was the year we got back into the tournament with an unheralded group of players. Once again Manny and DeShawn played about 80% of available minutes, but there was a ton of rotational depth perhaps unlike any other season in Beilein’s tenure. Zack Novak, Stu Douglas, Laval Lucas-Perry, Zack Gibson, Kelvin Grady, CJ Lee, and David Merritt all averaged 10-25mpg and even Jevohn Shepherd and Anthony Wright were close behind. That’s a full 9 man rotation with two more still seeing more than just garbage time. I suppose this would indicate that Beilein is willing to use a deep bench, but what I see in this roster is that he had a lot of role players and not a lot of guys he felt he could truly count on. He kept trying to find the right mix of players that season and adjusted from game to game without playing hardly anyone a majority of minutes.
This was the season that started the grumbling about Beilein’s job security because they missed the post-season, in large part to the fact that their two best players were injured. In fact, because Derrick Walton and Caris LeVert only played in 19 and 18 games respectively, it actually skews the minutes higher for other players. Do we think that Kam Chatman, Rahk, or Aubrey Dawkins play as many minutes as they did that year if both starting guards are healthy? Not likely. But maybe it is possible that this could be a blueprint for next year as Michigan did go deep at every spot:
- PG: Walton / Spike
- SG: LeVert / Rahkman
- SF: Irvin
- PF: Chatman / Dawkins
- C: Doyle / Bielfeldt / Donnal
However, if they were healthy that season it seems far more likely that Walton and LeVert eat up a lot of minutes that were going to inconsistent freshmen like Rahk, Dawkins, and Chatman. We also know entering next year that Wagner is going to play as many minutes as possible at center, which isn’t the same as playing a three-headed monster of mediocrity shown here.
So where does this leave us? While it seems that Michigan has about 10 players who could potentially earn meaningful time next year, we also know that only 8 of them likely will. I’d like to throw it out to the reader at this point – rank these four players with regard to how likely they are to have a role within the rotation next season:
- Eli Brooks (PG) – We need another ball handler and Simpson has yet to prove himself. Then again, it is very rare for a Beilein point guard to contribute in his first season.
- Jordon Poole (SG) – As the guys said on the podcast, there’s always room for a pure shooter to find minutes for Beilein, especially if Rahk has to moonlight some at PG and/or Matthews isn’t living up to the practice hype. But if Rahk, Matthews, and Robinson are playing major minutes on the wing, where does he fit in?
- Isaiah Livers (PF) – The most heralded of the incoming recruits and a lock to become DJ Wilson 2.0. He would help compensate for the loss of Irvin’s ability to defend the PF spot. Except that Michigan already has three guys who can play the forward spots for major minutes.
- Teske/Davis (C) – Michigan has to have a back-up center to spell Wagner when he gets tired or in foul trouble. Despite his struggles this year, Donnal was still comfortably above the 25% of minutes played mark. Then again…..what if those back-up minutes go to Wilson in a small-ball lineup? Or what if both Teske and Davis split these few available minutes between them?
How does everyone see this playing out? I’ll share my prediction in the comments.
*My feeling with Bamba is that Michigan has a chance. He has a unique personality, not unlike Mitch McGary. I think he’s looking at more than just the typical blue-blood NBA factories and doesn’t see himself as a 1-and-done player. However, when you start reading into the minutes available I’m not as sure I see more than 10mpg available for him at Michigan and that might be a turnoff for him. I know UMHoops and others think that Bamba is an instant-impact player on defense who has to play right away, but would he really force Wagner to the bench as a true freshman who is extremely raw on the offensive end? I think he'd be in the rotation, but not in a major way.