Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein has a lot of options at guard. Well, he has a lot of forwards, too. This team has no shortage of depth.
Unfortunately for the Wolverines, though, it’s going to be difficult to figure out who goes where.
“It’s like, one day somebody looks like a million bucks and the other guy doesn’t look (as good), and then they just switch spots the next day,” Beilein said. “Sometimes, (having) too many (players) makes it more difficult. If there was a bunch of veterans and a few freshmen, that could distinguish who plays because the freshmen are so far down the line. But that’s not the issue right now.”
Coming off of a 16-16 season in which the Wolverines went 8-10 in the Big Ten, No. 25 Michigan is looking to make a splash after failing to make the tournament less than a year ago.
If all goes to plan, and that’s a big “if” considering the injury-plagued roster of 2014-15, then Michigan will finally have a chance to display the talent on its roster.
After a toe injury from late November caught up to Derrick Walton Jr. in January, the then-sophomore was sidelined for the rest of the season. Now, the 6-foot-1 junior is back, and emphatically so: against Le Moyne, he shot 5-for-6 for 13 points in the 20 minutes that he played.
Though Walton will start for the Wolverines, it would be unfair to forget about senior Spike Albrecht. The 5-foot-11 captain took the reins in early 2015, shooting 40.4 percent from the field and playing 30-plus minutes in 18 games.
Having Albrecht is essential to Michigan’s roster, and the experienced combination of Walton and Albrecht will be hard to stop in Beilein’s two-guard offense. For now, Albrecht is still recovering from his offseason hip injuries, but you can expect a great deal from his senior season. Beilein doesn’t expect Albrecht to be at full force for a few weeks, at least, but he will be playing spot minutes until then.
Behind Albrecht and Walton is Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who will have to fight for minutes after playing plenty last season in the wake of injuries to the starting backcourt. The 6-foot-4 sophomore had four double-digit scoring games last season and averaged 19 minutes per game. Against Le Moyne, he went scoreless and played just 12 minutes.
Caris LeVert is finally back after breaking his foot in the beginning of the 2014-15 season. Against Le Moyne, the 6-foot-7 senior showed exactly why he could have left Michigan for the NBA, scoring a team-high 22 points and shooting 4-for-9 from beyond the arc. LeVert is obviously a lock at the shooting guard position.
Multiple players could see time at the small forward position during the beginning of the season. Against Le Moyne, 6-foot-6 sophomore Aubrey Dawkins started but failed to impress, shooting just 1-for-11 from the field. Dawkins was given a chance after having a breakout freshman season that included a career-best 31 points against Rutgers in March.
Adding even more depth is redshirt sophomore Duncan Robinson, who already appears to be a fan favorite as a Cinderella story from Division III Williams College. The lean, 6-foot-8, 210 pound Robinson doesn’t hesitate before throwing up 3-pointers, attempting (and sinking) his first shot as a Wolverine from beyond the arc just a minute after getting on the court.
Zak Irvin is still recovering from an offseason back surgery. According to Beilein, the junior has been given the green light to play but won’t against Northern Michigan on Friday. Beilein is waiting for the 6-foot-6 junior to give him the go-ahead. Irvin was the only Wolverine to start in all 32 games last season, averaging 14.3 points per game and 4.8 rebounds.
Kam Chatman had a disappointing freshman season after losing his place in the starting lineup, but he has been repeatedly commended for his work ethic this offseason. The 6-foot-8 sophomore started in place of Irvin during exhibition but didn’t make much of an impact. He’s looked good in other preseason practices, however, and if he lives up to his coaches’ hype, he’ll be in competition for a starting job.
Freshman Moritz Wagner has gotten almost as much attention as Robinson this preseason, even if it’s mainly because of his accent. The lanky, 6-foot-10 German has put on nearly 20 pounds of muscle this summer, but he still might take a redshirt this season. A year of conditioning for Wagner could be beneficial for the Wolverines, but Beilein insists that Wagner will earn playing time if he continues to perform like he has in practice.
After starting 19 games during his freshman year at center, Ricky Doyle started the exhibition on the bench behind junior Mark Donnal. The two 6-foot-9 big men have been battling it out all summer, and Donnal appears to have won this round. Doyle is still stronger than Donnal, however, and has a reputation for his dunks and defense. It would surprise most if Donnal actually starts for most of the season after losing the job last year.
Redshirt freshman D.J. Wilson will need to find his place on the court if he wants minutes this season, but there’s a decent chance he’ll be fighting for time at both stretch forward and center. Beilein has credited Wilson with picking up things at both positions quickly, but admits it’s much easier to perform when you only have to know one. The redshirt freshman has added 25 pounds of muscle in the past year, and is a threat at 6-foot-10. Wilson will most likely get the bulk of his time backing up the big men.