The Michigan Wolverines were one of the youngest teams in the country the past two seasons. These past two campaigns resulted in a national runner-up finish, and a Aaron Harrison three pointer away from a Final Four appearance, respectively. It’s a good thing John Beilein and his staff has a history of developing players quickly and getting them to play well in his system from the minute they step foot on campus.
The Wolverines, in the 2014-2015 season, will look to replace Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskus, along with likely NBA First Round Pick Glenn Robinson III. But the loss that might hurt Michigan the most is Mitch McGary’s decision to leave school after just one full healthy season leaving the Wolverines with an immediate need in the frontcourt. Yet again these young players will need to grow up and contribute for the Maize and Blue to make another late run into March. Here’s how the lineup projects to open the season.
This backcourt projects to be Michigan’s strength as they return four contributors at the point guard and wing positions. Derrick Walton Jr. will likely be the starter at the point and reports are that he looks great in offseason workouts as he looks to make a Trey Burke type leap from his freshman to sophomore year. Look for Walton Jr. to share the backcourt many times with Spike Albrecht, who has the experience and proven results that few on this team can claim. When John Beilein needs to go big, Spike will come off the bench and spell Walton Jr. for some good minutes.
Caris LeVert looks to occupy the 2 spot for a couple reasons. He can also play the small forward spot because of his size and length but that would force Michigan to go small in the backcourt more often than not. The other reason is because of the arrival of Kameron Chatman. With Chatman sliding in at the stretch 4 position, it allows LeVert to occupy the other spot in the backcourt next to Walton Jr./Spike.
Late recruiting pickup Aubrey Dawkins could get some time at this spot as well. Whether you consider the small forward position the backcourt or not, the final spot on the wing is Zak Irvin’s position to lose. He has the same body type, although not quite as athletic as GRIII the player he replaces, Irvin makes up for it with a much better jump shot. At 6'6", he could slide out and play the four and guard many of the power forwards in college basketball, but look for Beilein to keep him on the wing more often than not. Whoever plays the 2 or the 3 between him and LeVert can many times come down to whom each player guards on the defensive end.
Although Michigan’s highest rated recruit, Kameron Chatman, may not start in the frontcourt to begin the year in favor of more seasoned big men, I believe it won’t take long before this kid is getting starter minutes. He is a long kid, standing at 6'9", he has the size to rebound inside and the jump shot to extend his man out and space the floor on the offensive end. Especially with Jon Horford’s transfer, I think Chatman plays the majority of the season at this position and is spelled by fellow incoming freshman Ricky Doyle.
The center position is where it gets interesting for Michigan. The likely starter here to begin the year will be Redshirt Junior Max Bielfeldt, who’s the only returning big man with game experience. After that the list is thin between Doyle and last year’s redshirt Mark Donnal. Both players will need to take advantage of this summer and get to the point where they can all challenge for minutes in the thin U of M frontcourt.
Projected Starting Five and Depth Chart:
PG: Derrick Walton Jr. Spike Albrecht
SG: Caris LeVert, Albrecht, Aubrey Dawkins
SF: Zak Irvin, LeVert, Dawkins
PF: Kameron Chatman, Ricky Doyle, Donnal
C: Max Bielfeldt, Donnal, Doyle
Recap: Once again, this year’s Michigan team will feature a backcourt and wing heavy unit. With shooters to surround competent bigs the Wolverines can make another run in the tournament and possibly another Big Ten crown in what looks to be more of a transition year for some of the top teams. However, if the incoming freshman struggle and the frontcourt can’t get it together by December, the Wolverines could be in a dog fight to content for either title.