2014-2015 ITH season preview: Michigan Wolverines

  • 10/02/2014 9:48 am in

With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next month. Today, we continue our look at the Big Ten with the Michigan Wolverines.

The 2013-2014 campaign was expected to be one of retooling in Ann Arbor. John Beilein had lost a pair of first round picks in national player of the year Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., and although the Wolverines returned a talented roster, it’s never easy to replace that type of production.

But when the dust settled on the Big Ten race, Michigan had distanced itself from the rest of the conference pack and in doing so, earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. Led by Big Ten player of the year Nik Stauskas, the Wolverines reached the Elite Eight, falling to national runner-up, Kentucky.

This year, Beilein will once again have plenty of production to replace if Michigan plans to compete again for a conference championship. Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary are all now in the NBA, Jordan Morgan is playing professionally in Italy and Jon Horford transferred to Florida.

In most circumstances, a program that lost three NBA draft picks and two valuable frontcourt pieces would be expected to take a step back. But it’s a credit to Beilein that Michigan is still being projected as a probable top 25 team and one that should compete for a top five finish in the conference.

So why, exactly, is there optimism about this Michigan team?

Start with junior Caris LeVert, who came in at No. 2 on our preseason list of Big Ten players. The 6-foot-7 guard made major strides as a sophomore and without Stauskas, could take on a bigger scoring role. LeVert was instrumental in Michigan’s late season run to the Big Ten Championship – averaging 16.5 points per game over the final 10 conference games. He also shot an impressive 44 percent from 3-point range in Big Ten play.

Two other returning perimeter pieces, sophomores Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin, will join LeVert in the starting lineup. Walton was more turnover-prone than Beilein would have liked as a freshman (19.9 TO%), but is an exception ball screen scorer and hit better than 40 percent on 3s. Irvin, meanwhile, also hit more than 40 percent of his 3s in his debut season and was the team’s leading scorer on its four-game tour of Italy.

Beyond those three, Michigan also returns junior Spike Albrecht in the backcourt and welcomes Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, a spring signee.

The frontcourt situation is less certain, but given Beilein’s penchant for playing small, it’s an area where deficiencies can be overcome. Freshman Kameron Chatman, a Jordan Brand All-Star from Portland (Ore.), was a major recruiting win for the program and will likely slide into the spot vacated by Robinson. While not the athlete that Robinson was, Chatman is a better passer and should start from day one. Freshman Aubrey Dawkins, the son of Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins, will likely serve as a backup for both Irvin and Chatman.

Freshman Ricky Doyle and redshirt freshman Mark Donnal should both see time at the five as could 6-foot-9 freshman D.J. Wilson, who missed the summer with a broken finger, but brings much needed athleticism and size.

Bottom Line: Michigan lost plenty of talent, but it’s unwise to bet against Beilein given the fact that he just won the Big Ten after losing the national player of the year. The Wolverines, along with Indiana, are probably the league’s youngest team, but the backcourt and wing positions are strong with LeVert, Walton and Irvin. If Michigan just receives serviceable production from guys like Doyle and Donnal, a top five league finish and a return to the NCAA tournament is a solid baseline for this group.

Quotable: “As we said, a year prior, there are a lot more shots out there, there are a lot more minutes out there that the five really good players that graduated or went to the NBA and left, so these guys see that opportunity.  I just like that they have worked hard to take advantage of this.” – Beilein in early September.

Previously: Rutgers, Penn State, Northwestern, Purdue, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State, Nebraska

Photo credit: Dustin Johnson, UMHoops

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  • FinEndNow

    I can easily see Caris LeVert being B1G POY. He has been progressing about like Oladipo did. If he has his 3pt shot down then the Big Ten is in trouble.

  • HannerTime Hoosier

    I was dreaming this article was written about IU vs Mich., sigh one can dream anyhew.

  • HoosierGrampy

    Give LeVert his “props”, but I’ve got a feeling that a Badger named Frank Kaminsky will have something to say about who the eventual winner will be.

  • Alford Bailey

    This Michigan team is the hardest for me to figure out this season. Man, they lost a bunch but have some decent talent again. Hard to bet against Beilein I think they stay consistent, finish top 4-5 in the league and make a Sweet Sixteen.

  • calbert40

    If UM fielded this team in last year’s B1G, I think they finish in the bottom half. This year, the league isn’t as strong, and I think they will be able to win some games they would have lost last year.

    I think they make the Top 4 in the league, but they don’t come closer than 3 games to matching UW.

  • Gregory Spera

    Couldn’t help but notice that Alex’s buddies at UMHoops had 6 comments on their last “mailbag” thread, while ITH had 106 comments on our last one. Surprised Michigan basketball still doesn’t generate the interest it deserves.

  • MaceoBaston

    I think its due to a couple things. Mgoblog being so promiment, and the forum is where most discussions occur, not in the comments

  • CheesyHoosier

    Crean seems to prepare very well for Beilein’s teams. Hope that this remains the case this year.

  • AnonymousDave

    While I believe the Wolverines are in for another solid season; I think it’s hilarious that they’re rated so far ahead of IU in the standings. They have the same front court issues we have, we have just as much scoring, and much more athleticism and depth all around. We brought in a kid who I believe as a freshmen will be one of the best scorers in the conference and is a reliable secondary handler, a team of YOUNG vets who went through the cuts and bruises of being the laughing stock of the conference last year, and they’re headed by one of the toughest coaches in the big. Say what you wish about his coaching (I find it to be tremendous), you’d be hard pressed to find a coach mentally tougher than Crean.

    We also have the best floor general in the BIG who has been through more highs and lows in his first two seasons than probably any athlete in NCAA history (as far as winning is concerned). Not to mention our chemistry seems to be through the roof this year. As most are, I am concerned about our lack of size but I am a glass half full kind of guy. I don’t see it as a huge disadvantage, in fact it may be an advantage in some situations as I think a lot of teams won’t be able to keep up with our uptempo style for forty minutes.

    I’m not saying IU will be way better than Michigan. I’m saying they, along with Nebraska, will be duking it out for seeds three through 5.

  • AnonymousDave

    Yea that and I think Crean’s teams just match up better with them than any other team in the BIG, and I don’t expect that to change this year.

  • Zach

    I think a top 5 B1G finish and a sweet 16 birth is a reasonable expectation for this squad. I can and have said that about several B1G teams, but the race is just so wide open after Wisky it makes my head hurt

  • IUfanPurduePhD

    I’m hoping that Troy Williams puts up numbers somewhere close to what LaVert did last year.

  • Btown88

    Horford. Horford leaving indicates 2 things. 1. Leaving a sinking ship. 2. They lose their best possible remaining Big v

  • Ole Man

    Whatever you’re smokin’, don’t bogart it!

  • HannerTime Hoosier

    If Yogi can develop a floater, which he says he has worked on – but I have not seen it in a game, then he will rise to another level. I will label him the ‘Best’ when he facilitates our close games into a VICTORY on a regular basis, utilizing his speed, shot, dish, and all around court savvy!!!

  • CreanFaithful

    Obviously you are a man that likes to be part of the “circle of trust” 😉 but I’m curious about which points you would refute from OP’s comment…

  • ForeverIU

    I love how subtle you are about us being in the top three or two seeds! My prediction too, brother.

  • ForeverIU

    LOL, Ole Man warming up for the season!

  • ForeverIU

    If I remember correctly, he credited McClain with scouting Michigan.

  • ForeverIU

    HannerTime I wanna hear your breakdown of Hanner’s game. Seriously.

  • Ole Man

    The “laughing stock” reference and “toughest coaches” I find a “bit” exaggerated. LOL!
    Also, he finds CTC to be tremendous and mentally tough. I’m willing to say he needs a couple of more years.

    Unless CTC presses, which I have seen nor heard no indication of, it’s quite easy to slow down IU’s tempo. “Speed kills” both ways; i.e. as we have demonstrated quite, ahem, successfully, we don’t do slow very well.

    Not really “refuting” anything he says. Just of a differing and humble opinion.

  • Ole Man

    Dave, I think you nailed the head on the hit!! Or something to that effect.

  • HannerTime Hoosier

    1st, Yogi was thedish, then look to score as a frosh. Then he became coordinate the offense, but shoot at will as the supporting cast looked lost. Now, he can coalesce those 2 seasons, expand his intangible skills, and expand his plethora of shots to become the shizzel/dizzel to leave fans speechless.

    2. Hanner is like Secretariat, an amazing athlete compelled to be successful. The difference being, Hanner has not been allowed to run a complete race/game. Hanner demonstrated glimpses of his potential last year, but lost focus @ times. His jump shot is solid, as well as his FTs . . . .no need to comment on his aerial skills. This is his time to shine and play with the energy, discipline, passion, and skill that will put him on the National hoops radar.

    Big question, will CTC afford him the chance to play through his lapses, coach him to excellence, and let him run?

    Secretariat was allowed to do this in the Belmont and millions were in awe. I hope to be inspired by his performances over the next 2 years, hopefully on an ongoing basis!
    (The analogy to Secretariat attests to the fact that Hanner is a unique human with out-of-this-world athleticism.)

  • ForeverIU

    Nice! I wish Hanner could have started playing “through his lapses” in Canada; the fans would have been more forgiving then. But count me in as a Hanner fan, and I like your analogy of letting him just run the race. I wanna see him doing it against the cupcakes. And yeah, Yogi is the shizzle, lol.

  • CreanFaithful

    As I said, just curious… I tend to agree that we had several close games last year that would have put us right there last year, but 9th place in the B1G is borderline “laughing stock” (although we beat several of the top ranked teams).

    I’d disagree that we don’t have one of the best coaches in the conference. Geesh. I saw comments wanting to nominate Tim Miles as one of the best in the B1G within the NEB article and that guy had loosing records in the Moutain West and North Central Conference before getting the NEB gig. He had a great year. I think CTC had a few of those too… I’ve heard of the Mountain West at least… It’s a what have you done for me lately mentality IMO.

    As for the press… CTC has referenced installing such in interviews. I’m not sure that I think it’s a deal breaker, but based on interviews, it appears he agree’s with you (and RonB on the Forum).

  • he’ll need to cut down on his turnover rate too. Anything around 20% is just not acceptable for a starting PG.

  • AnonymousDave

    You can’t say “also” then continue to point out something you already have. When I said “toughest” I meant mentally and said that quite clearly. It all depends what you define as mentally tough. All I know is he took the job in the “dark ages” and never hung his head or got too low when the doubters came flying in. He chipped away at it and eventually got us back on track. He did the same last year. We haven’t seen the results yet, but I’m optimistic about the season as you can tell. He kept coaching each player like he meant everything to the team. Perhaps your definition of mentally tough is man throwing a chair across the floor because he is throwing a temper tantrum like a 5 year old at bedtime?

    No I don’t have a problem with Knight. In fact I rather like him. When it comes to the laughing stock comment, Knights halftime speech to his players at Purdue is ringing in my head. Indiana is supposed to better than ninth in the BIG. Everyone knows it and wasn’t afraid to point it out. Perhaps you don’t remember the “Ball State’s better” chants.

    As far as coaching goes that’s another matter of opinion. That’s a topic we could discuss for hours. However what I do know is he is a willing learner who frequently studies others. I, as a student and aspiring history teacher, would love to have someone like Crean as a teacher. He values relationships, effort, and treats everyone equally. He turns boys into men. Very few, if any, of his players I’ve ever looked at and been able to say anything less than, “hey that’s a first class individual.” If my memory serves me correctly our team had the fourth highest g.p.a. in the BIG last year? Look at his lottery picks. Oladipo graduated in 3 years. Cody could have in two and a half. And I think Vonleh was like 46% of the way done with his degree after his freshmen year.

    Speed kills yourself when you’re inexperienced and make silly mistakes. We did that a lot last year. Players like Troy and Stan were thinking home run before they even caught the ball. At times it seemed like half our turnovers came off of stepping before dribbling. I mean ya do that 3 times and the opposition capitalizes each time that has a potential impact of -12 to -15. Our slashers now have a year with solid minutes under their belt and they seem eager to improve. We’ve added a handful of shooters and secondary ball handlers without sacrificing any speed, which should open things up much more for those slashers in the half court. Already I think this team is much improved over last years team and we’re playing in a far weaker BIG this year.

  • Crazy Chester

    “He chipped away at it and eventually got us back on track. He did the same last year.” …. We went 7-11 in conference and lost our last three games, eventually missing the NIT.

    “Turns boys into men”…. Over 50% of our (potential) starting lineup has been incarcerated in the last year…

  • AnonymousDave

    Yes I said clearly we haven’t seen the results yet. And that was for underage drinking, one of whom was like within a month of turning 21. Something we have all done in college and probably earlier. Personally I’m a big believer in lowering the drinking age anyway but that’s not a topic for this website. Anyway far from a heinous act. I’m in no way a fan of how he handled Hanner’s situation. My family has been affected by drinking and driving in a big way, but I can find errors with lots of coaches, and I don’t think Hanner is a bad kid by any stretch. Just made a really really dumb decision.

  • Ole Man

    Slow down, cowboy. You’re almost taking it personally. As I said, I wasn’t refuting your opinion. I just have a different one.
    And even with our better teams, the Cody teams, our opponents often forced us into half court battles.
    I’m glad you’re so sold on Crean.
    You’ll notice I didn’t down him. I’m just not as high on him as you are.

  • AnonymousDave

    Perhaps I did go a little bit too defensive lol. Yes they did, but those teams weren’t exactly the best quality defensive teams. The uptempo style is reinforced by aggressive and quick guards (defensively and offensively). Jordy Hulls, for as much as I loved him, was a defensive liability. We’re gonna be playing smaller again this year but Blackmon/Johnson have at least 2 inches on Hulls, are much longer, and much faster. Watford was also a bit of a liability in my eyes. A little slow, lacked motor, and sometimes settled for threes. We don’t have that problem with Troy. He also doesn’t have C wats shot or trailing ability so its give and take, but I think this team is actually more suited for Crean’s style. I’m not saying they’re better by any stretch. I respect your opinion. Just disagree

  • Hjkkkjfkkekkgk

    I think your crazy

  • Hjkkkjfkkekkgk

    U too good to respond to me???

  • AnonymousDave

    I think you have the greatest most original name ever!!!

  • Hjkkkjfkkekkgk

    You sound like the type to wear sweaters and drink coffee all day and you probably root for the Celtics and Cards, eh?
    I bet your name isn’t even Dave.

  • AnonymousDave

    I think you’re a loser and show go back to your stupid shopping blogs