College basketball is just around the corner and one of the most intriguing teams in the country is the Michigan Wolverines. After being riddled with injury’s last year, the Wolverines turned a better-than-expected performance in the Big Ten Tournament into a NCAA Tournament bid. This year, the Wolverines return a solid backcourt and have the looks of a team that could find their way into the top 25 at the end of the year.
- G Caris LeVert (graduated)
- G Spike Albrecht (transferred to Purdue)
- C Ricky Doyle (transferred to Florida Gulf Coast)
- G/F Aubrey Dawkins (transferred to Central Florida)
The big loss Michigan will have to overcome is Caris LeVert, who led the team in points and assists last year. There’s no question LeVert was the key cog in the offense when healthy, and the Wolverines will have to adjust to life without their go to man. Fortunately for the Wolverines, that’s really the only big loss. They’ll miss the depth Spike Albrecht and Aubrey Dawkins gave them, and the size of Ricky Doyle, but those guys are more than replaceable.
- G Xavier Simpson
- C Jon Teske
- G Ibi Watson
- F/C Austin Davis
Michigan coach John Beilein managed to pull only one top-50 recruit into his class, but it is at the most important position, and there’s a great mentor already in place for freshman point guard Xavier Simpson. Simpson isn’t the quickest or most athletic point guard, but he is extremely smart and has that ‘it’ factor that all great leaders possess. Give Simpson a few years and we’ll be talking about one of the best point guards in the country. We may also be saying the same thing about the 7-foot Jon Teske. Teske has a great offensive skill set and the length to block/alter just about any shot in his radius. The only flaw to his game right now is that he’s weak. Teske will get bodied by stronger players, but that’s fairly typical of lengthy freshmen. Give Teske a year or two to add some muscle, and then watch out.
Ibi Watson is a flat out scorer. He can shoot from anywhere and should be able to learn a lot from the wings Michigan already has. Pair the other three guys with Austin Davis, an old school post and rebounding big man, and this class starts to look a lot better in person than it does on paper. Even if all of these freshmen don’t contribute immediately, coach Beilein is building the foundation for the future, and getting them tournament experience this year will be a huge part of their development.
- G Derrick Walton Jr., senior
- G Zak Irvin, senior
- G/F Duncan Robinson, senior
- G Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, junior
Derrick Walton Jr. is one of my favorite point guards in the Big Ten. Michigan’s success will heavily ride on whether or not he can stay healthy for the entire year. As a point guard, Walton led the team in rebounding. That’s both astounding and sad. Not as sad as Walton’s shooting percentage though. Walton shot just 38 percent from the field last year, a number that’s going to have to drastically improve. In all fairness, that number probably will improve as Michigan’s other weapons step up. Walton’s backcourt mate will be Zak Irvin. Irvin is good at attacking the basket, but he’ll need to improve his shooting touch, especially from the three-point line where he hit on just 30% of his attempts.
Duncan Robinson may be the most in line for a breakout year. The 6-foot-8 wingman shot 45 percent from the three-point line last year, and looks to add even more to his offensive game. With his size and skills, Robinson could be a match-up problem for most teams in the country. Junior Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman emerged as the fourth option offensively last season, and while he will still likely be the fourth option this season, he’ll need to be much more effective.
Michigan doesn’t have a daunting non-conference schedule, but there are a few key match-ups that stand out. On Nov. 17, Michigan will face Marquette in the 2K Classic and then either Pittsburgh or Southern Methodist in the championship game or consolation game. On Dec. 6, they host No. 21 Texas, and then they travel to California to take on No. 16 UCLA on Dec. 10. Michigan obviously will then have to fight through what will be the gauntlet of the Big Ten schedule in hopes of making the NCAA Tournament.
This Michigan team has upperclassmen and leadership all over the place, especially at the all-important guard positions. That alone is reason to believe the Wolverines will be able to make some noise in the Big Ten and finish the season in the top 25.