As the Michigan program comes off a historic win in East Lansing last Saturday in becoming the first Wolverine team ever to win three straight games against top ten opponents, it is time to examine what John Beilein is building and how the future of Michigan hoops looks. Needless to say it is bright. I am under the impression that if sophomore guard Nik Stauskus continues his torrid pace both scoring and playmaking that he will enter the NBA draft following this season. However, I think Mitch McGary's season ending back surgery greatly increases that the big man will return for his junior season in Ann Arbor. Operating under these two assumptions (which aren't that farfetched) let's take a look at this program next year and beyond.
John Beilein has proven himself to be a masterful teacher during his tenure at Michigan taking three star recruits Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. and turning them into 1st round draft picks. He has done similarly impressive work with this team as former three star recruit Stauskus is coming off national player of the week honors along with the rapid improvement of wing Caris LeVert and freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. (who scored a season high 19 last weekend). More importantly, Beilein has built a stable program by getting the most out of less heralded recruits and now is getting more opportunities to coach what scouts deem as higher end talent coming out of high school.
The highest recruit the Wolverines inked in the 2014 class comes in the form of 6 foot 7 200 pound Kameron Chatman out of Columbia Christian high school in Portland, Oregon. Chatman is rated as the 49th best player in this class. He is a long, athletic type wing who shoots the ball well from the perimeter, a Beilein staple, and provides excellent length on the defensive end. Based on Beilein's track record it is logical to assume he will bring the freshman on slowly as he has with current freshman Zak Irvin and the aforementioned Walton Jr., along with McGary last season. However, come conference play, Chatman is destined to play big minutes for the Wolverines. With Glenn Robinson III likely departing along with assuming Stauskus joins him, let's look at what Michigan will feature next winter.
Walton Jr.'s maturation has been rapid of late and the combination of him and Spike Albrecht at the point guard position gives Coach Beilein both depth and experience in the backcourt. He will likely choose to play the two together at some point as both can play well without having to dominate the ball. Caris LeVert (my dark horse Big Ten POY candidate next season) will likely see time at both the off guard and small forward position because of his length and versatility. Zak Irvin is settling in nicely as a bigger wing player who can shoot and also see time as a stretch 4 but with Robinson III on the way out, he slides in nicely at the full time small forward position. The two frontcourt positions will then be left to which combination best fits the opponent for Michigan on any given day. With seniors Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford graduating McGary's role will be critical at the center position along with his health. Against smaller, quicker teams Beilein has the flexibility to play Chatman at the 4 position leaving the Wolverines with only one true big man on the court. But against the more traditional teams (think Wisconsin) he has the flexibility to play current redshirt Mark Donnal or incoming freshman Ricky Doyle as the other big man opposite McGary. Either way, Michigan has options.
The past two seasons Coach Beilein has been forced to play talented, albeit young players in critical games in the second half of the season and it's obvious that it has worked fairly well. But next year's team, if things fall into place as I suggest, will feature a lethal combination of talent and experience. This season is far from over but regardless of how it ends for the Wolverines, Beilein and his staff have set this program up for success for years to come. Saturday's win over the Spartans was Michigan's fifth in the last seven games played. If that trend continues, we could be looking at a change of the guard in this state for the first time since the fab five.