A Band-Aid version of Michigan basketball slumped to a 16–16 finish in 2014-15, snapping the program’s streak of four straight NCAA Tournament appearances. The Wolverines, having already seen every starter from the 2013 national title game declare early for the draft in 2013 and 2014, lost Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr. to injury last season. A depleted roster was left learning on the fly. There were some benefits, though. John Beilein’s youth-laden team grew up a year sooner than expected. Multiple freshmen, notably Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Aubrey Dawkins and Ricky Doyle, played unexpected minutes.
Now, Michigan will be led by upperclassmen. LeVert spurned the NBA Draft and will be back for a senior year, joined by fellow senior Spike Albrecht and junior guards Walton and Zak Irvin.
A new NCAA Tournament streak is expected to begin.
All Big Ten predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, available online and on newsstands everywhere.
Podcast: Who should be No. 1 in College Basketball in 2015-16?
Beilein plays only one true post player in his patented perimeter-oriented offense. It will be a battle to determine who gets the nod.
Doyle leapfrogged Mark Donnal to earn the starting job 10 games into last season. While Beilein says the 6'10", 245-pound forward is “as good as any young man I’ve ever coached,” there’s much room for improvement — especially in defensive rebounding (1.7 per game). Doyle averaged 6.1 points on 61.2 percent shooting, playing 18.2 minutes per game. Michigan hopes improved endurance will expand those minutes.
The frontcourt is rounded out by Donnal, a sophomore, along with redshirt freshman D.J. Wilson. Donnal will look to fulfill his role as a stretch big man with range. Wilson, coming off a knee injury, will return to add some much-needed length and athleticism on the frontline.
No. 22 Michigan Wolverines Facts & Figures
Last season: 16-16 (8-10 Big Ten)
Last NCAA Tournament: 2014
Big Ten projection: 6
Postseason projection: NCAA second round
LeVert’s return for his senior year comes with expectations of production and leadership. Beilein’s guard-heavy rotation will revolve around the 6'7" swingman who led the Wolverines in every statistical category before fracturing his foot last January. LeVert is a triple threat to shoot, drive or dish, and much of the offense will operate through him in ball-screen situations.
Walton is also bouncing back from injury. The junior point guard hopes to recapture the strong start he had to last season before seeing his year derailed by a toe injury. Walton played 14 games with the injury before missing the final 12. Now he has the potential to be among the best point guards in the Big Ten.
Irvin will slide into a more natural role playing off Walton and LeVert. The 6'6" guard struggled in an expanded role last season before finishing strong, averaging 17.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists over the final seven games. The junior will look to keep that going.
Minutes will be at a premium beyond Albrecht, a senior captain and reliable backup guard. Dawkins and Abdur-Rahkman are capable on both ends — Dawkins as a 3-point shooter (43.8 percent), Abdur-Rahkman as a lead guard and defender — but will fight for their roles.
Dawkins will compete with forward Kameron Chatman, 6'8" wing Duncan Robinson and 6'10" forward Moritz Wagner for minutes at the 4 spot — a perimeter position in Michigan’s offense. Chatman underwhelmed as a freshman, while Robinson, a transfer from Division III Williams College, is billed as an elite 3-point shooter. Wagner, a German import, is a newcomer.
Key Losses: F Max Bielfeldt
Top Players: G Derrick Walton, G Caris LeVert, G/F Zak Irvin, G/F Aubrey Dawkins, F Ricky Doyle
Moritz Wagner, a Berlin native, is the first German player in Michigan basketball history. The 18-year-old averaged 16.8 points and 5.3 rebounds for ALBA Berlin’s Euroleague junior team in 2014-15. A skilled, inside-outside forward, he chose Michigan over reported interest from Arizona, California, Connecticut, Duke and Virginia. Duncan Robinsion averaged 17.1 points at D-III Williams College two years ago.
Beilein, 62, is entering his ninth season as Michigan coach. The goal in this campaign will be to prove that last year was a mirage in his building process, not a downturn in momentum. LeVert is the catalyst, but he has plenty of assistance. “We have a lot of potential coming back, but potential is a dangerous word,” LeVert says. “Going after those goals and going after those expectations will be a challenge, but I think we’re all ready for that.”
After two offseasons that wiped Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. off the roster, U-M is now only replacing Max Bielfeldt, a graduate transfer who will play his final season at Indiana. While the Wolverines might not be as talented as some of Beilein’s previous top-10 teams, they’re probably the deepest team the coach has fielded.