College basketball season is creeping up fast, and Athlon Sports is counting down to Midnight Madness and the start of practice on Oct. 17.
Michigan continues our top 25 countdown at No. 23 as the Wolverines look to replace Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and more. Michigan has bounced back quickly before under John Beilein. Will that trend continue in 2014-15?
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All those years wandering the post-Fab Five desert are over in Ann Arbor, and it’s not a mirage.
Coming off a 2013 Final Four appearance that most credited to National Player of the Year Trey Burke and sidekick Tim Hardaway Jr., coach John Beilein proved his program had staying power last year. With Burke and Hardaway departed, he took his youth-laden Wolverines, featuring one senior and one junior, to a Big Ten regular-season championship and an Elite Eight appearance.
Now Beilein, a 61-year-old entering his eighth season at Michigan, gets to rebuild all over again. Three more Wolverines — Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary — bolted for the 2014 NBA Draft after two seasons, leaving U-M again as one of the youngest teams in the country.
No. 23 Michigan Facts & Figures
Last season: 28-9, 15-3 Big Ten
Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight
Consecutive NCAAs: 4
Coach: John Beilein (150-94 at Michigan, 70-56 Big Ten)
Big Ten Projection: Fifth
Postseason Projection: NCAA round of 32
The loss of McGary still stings, but the enigmatic forward played only eight games last season due to injury and was facing a yearlong ban from NCAA play due to a failed drug test. What in fact stings worse is a complete overhaul on the Michigan frontcourt.
Beilein plays only one true post player in his famed two-guard offense. That spot was split last year between two veterans who have also departed, Jordan Morgan (graduation) and Jon Horford (transfer to Florida).
What’s left is 6-10 redshirt freshman Mark Donnal, an inside-outside forward; junior forward Max Bielfeldt, a burly 6-7 career reserve; and Ricky Doyle, a 6-9 freshman. Donnal drew strong reviews for his practice play last season and is expected to earn a starting role and be the pick man in U-M’s ball-screen offense. He can step out and hit the 3, but questions remain whether he can handle the rigors of post play in the Big Ten.
Two additional freshmen, Kameron Chatman and D.J. Wilson, are likely to play offensively as wings but defend the 4 spot on the other end of the floor. Chatman, at 6-8, boasts a methodical offensive game and a high skill set. Wilson, a wiry 6-8 forward, is athletic but needs development.
Of them, only Bielfeldt has appeared in a collegiate game.
Related: Caris LeVert joins the Athlon Sports All-Junior Team
As it always has under Beilein, Michigan’s success will hinge on its guards. The 2014-15 Wolverines will go as far as the trio of Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin takes them.
LeVert is Michigan’s leading returner in points (12.9 ppg), rebounds (4.3 rpg) and assists (2.9 apg). Much of Beilein’s offense will operate through the 6-6 junior, who emerged from relative obscurity to earn All-Big Ten honors last year. Before leaving U-M as a lottery pick, Stauskas pointed out: “Caris is ready to blow up a little bit. I think Caris is ready to make that jump to a star player.”
The hope is that Walton and Irvin can take similar freshman-to-sophomore leaps seen from LeVert and Stauskas. Walton is a true point guard but will look to increase his scoring and is capable of doing so. Irvin, a 42.5 percent 3-point shooter, is a gifted 6-6 scorer needing to prove he can be versatile offensively and add rebounding on both ends.
Junior point guard Spike Albrecht returns as a steadying force in the backcourt and a threat from 3-point distance. Freshmen Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins, a pair of wings who signed late in the spring, add depth and will look to crack the rotation.
With every starting player from its 2013 Final Four appearance having entered the NBA early, Michigan is a clean slate.
From last year’s roster, Stauskas, Robinson, Morgan and Horford accounted for 54.5 percent of the team’s total points, 55.8 percent of its made field goals and 52.4 percent of its rebounds.
That’s gone, but the expectations aren’t. Beilein’s system has proven resilient and is bolstered by a keen eye on the recruiting trail. Having already rebuilt Michigan, Beilein says this team “isn’t starting over.”
“I think the foundation is there and now we have to start putting the bricks back in,” he adds.
Starting in the backcourt, Michigan has the talent to return to the NCAA Tournament and potentially compete for a top-three Big Ten finish. Youth, scoring options and questions surrounding rebounding and interior defense, though, leave plenty of uncertainty.
Six of Michigan’s 12 scholarship players are first-year freshmen, while a seventh belongs to redshirt frosh Mark Donnal, a potential starter. Kameron Chatman, a top-50 recruit, should make an immediate impact. D.J. Wilson and Ricky Doyle add much needed length. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins, (Johnny’s son) were late signees and add depth.