Michigan Basketball has lost five players in the last two years to early entry into the NBA Draft. That speaks volumes about the eye for talent that John Beilein and his staff have and to the way they have developed players. It also raises questions about the outlook for next year’s team. In addition to losing three starters, Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III to early entry , Jordan Morgan to graduation, Michigan also loses Jon Horford to transfer and Mitch McGary, who would have started if not for injury, jumped to the association after a failed drug test.
The McGary suspension is absurd and over the top by the NCAA. I’ll always wonder if he was planning on coming back, but that is a moot point now. My colleague Scott Peceny examined just how absurd the Mitch McGary suspension was, so I won’t rehash that any further.
So who is back? Who will emerge in the front court? I’ll examine those issues and tell you why it’s not time to sound the alarm and panic about next season.
Derrick Walton had a fine freshman campaign. He averaged 7.9 points, 3 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game. He shot at a steady clip from all areas on the floor; 42.9% field goals, 41% three pointers and 79.3% from the stripe. He wasn’t a driving force on the team, but he did gain a ton of experience and expecting a jump in production as a sophomore is more than reasonable.
Under the tutelage of John Beilein, Darius Morris and Trey Burke made huge leaps between their sophomore and freshman campaigns. Morris played less as a frosh than Walton did and he, despite not being a threat from three point range, was dynamite as a sophomore.
Walton dished out 106 assists last season. That’s 50 fewer than Burke had a as a freshman, but 22 more than Morris dished out in his freshman season. Walton has great quickness and can take the ball to the rim or knock down a three pointer.
Walton won’t be going at it alone either as Michigan will have the heady Spike Albrecht back to help the cause. Spike of course can knock down three balls in a hurry and is good facilitator.
LeVert’s time to shine
With Stauskas gone to the NBA, it’s now Caris LeVert’s time to shine and he’s ready for the role. LeVert, an All-Big Ten Second Team selection, had a fabulous sophomore season. He can literally do it all as he averaged 12.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.2 steals per game. He drained 60 three pointers last year and is menace on defense with his long arms and quickness.
LeVert will be one of the stars in the Big Ten and don’t be surprised if he’s making the jump to the NBA next year. He’s that good.
LeVert won’t have to shoulder the load by himself though. In addition to Walton, Zak Irvin will be thrust into a more prominent role. Irvin knocked down 62 triples, which not only represents the fifth best total by a Michigan freshman, but is also five more than Trey Burke hit in his freshman season. Irvin showed flashes of his ability to get to the rim and should be benefit greatly from a full off season of training.
Mark Donnal, who redshirted this past season, will also figure prominently in the rotation. He is the classic stretch four that Beilein covets as he can fill it up from downtown. Donnal is a better athlete than you might expect and I think he will have a strong season.
Max Bielfeldt will be a redshirt junior; he can bang down low and work the boards, but is also a sneaky three point shooter.
Michigan has a solid five man recruiting class coming in. The group, which ranks 29th overall on ESPN, includes Kameron Chatman, Ricky Doyle, Austin Hatch, Muhammad Ali Abdur Rahkman and DJ Wilson. I’d like to draw your attention to the 6-foot-8, 210-pound Kam Chatman. He is a dynamic player who will make an instant impact. Rivals.com ranks him as the 25th best player in the 2014 class.
Consider this snippet from an ESPN recruiting article:
He’s a classic late bloomer who has continued to improve at a rapid rate and yet very clearly still has his best basketball in front of him. A highly skilled southpaw with excellent size on the wing, Chatman’s frame has now started to fill out at a much more rapid rate, giving him the versatility not just to splash 3s over contesting defenders but also to diversify his offensive game around the rim. He’s also a deceptively good ball handler and very good passer, all of which will be utilized in Michigan’s offensive system. The bottom line is that it was clear he was still trending up, so he jumped 13 spots.
The coaching staff is also looking at possible transfers to fill out the roster.
John Beilein factor
Some will write this Michigan team off as a legitimate threat because of all the departures and yes, they lost a lot. However, you can never count out a John Beilein coached team. He is one of the best coaches in the country and I have a hunch he relishes the underdog role.
Beilein is a master tactician and has more than proven his ability to develop players. The roster will feature a lot of interchangeable parts, great length, a plethora of players who can shoot the three and, once again, they will be one of the youngest team’s in the country.
Projected starting line up
This is merely a guess, but Michigan’s starting five could end up looking something like this
Derrick Walton Jr – Sophomore, 6-1, 185
Zak Irvin – Sophomore, 6-6, 200
Caris LeVert – Junior, 6-6, 185
Kam Chatman – Freshman, 6-8, 210
Mark Donnal – RS Freshman, 6-9, 230
Key reserves: Spike Albrecht, Max Bielfeldt and whoever else emerges from the incoming recruiting class.
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