Last season, Michigan exceeded expectations by making a surprise run to the Elite Eight. This team was led by super sophomore Nik Stauskas, a 6-6 Canadian gunner that went from the clear fifth starter on a National Championship runner-up team to a second team All-American and the 8th pick in the NBA draft. Fast forward 4 months, and Stauskas is gone, along with frontcourt mates Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, Jon Horford, and Jordan Morgan. Replacing all three rotation players at the center position after the season is a huge ask, but John Beilein has the player capable of doing it. Meet redshirt freshman Mark Donnal.
Donnal is the type of player that Coach Beilein had been known to recruit before he was able to get elite talent: a mobile, athletic big man that can stretch the defense with long-range shooting and needs a little work on defense. Donnal is the prototype for this role, and having a redshirt year to sit behind the aforementioned centers on Michigan's team should do Donnal wonders for his development. Jordan Morgan is the perfect mentor for someone like Donnal, an undersized center like Donnal who realizes the importance of hard work and extra effort on both ends of the floor. The difference between Morgan and Donnal? Donnal's got some real offensive polish to his game that just keeps getting better.
Even though it's a small sample size, Donnal's highlights from Italy begin to show Wolverine fans what type of player he is. On the first play in the highlights, Donnal sprints from one end of the floor to the other to finish at the rim. A few plays later, Donnal is patiently waiting for an offensive rebound, and finishes with a two-handed stuff. The video shows Donnal's passing, ability to run the pick and roll from multiple spots on the floor, and finishing skills at the rim with either hand. While Donnal's shooting which has been well-documented is not shown, this will be another versatile weapon that will allow him to excel at Michigan. If Donnal can be anything like another Beilein protégé, Kevin Pittsnogle, Michigan fans should be beyond excited.
John Beilein has said that he does not have a clear starter yet between Donnal and fellow freshman Ricky Doyle, but I think Beilein will likely opt for Donnal. With Donnal, Michigan has five players that can shoot the ball from deep, great passing ability, and spacing that will help bolster Michigan's dribble-drive, motion offensive. In the small sample size with Mitch McGary starting at center, Michigan was an offensive juggernaut, with Trey Burke running the show and McGary as the target man in the high post. Nik Stauskas and Tim Hardaway Jr. were able to spread the floor as shooters, and Glenn Robinson III roamed the baseline looking for dumpoffs, offensive rebounds or alley-oops. Skillwise, this Michigan team is not yet on par with that 2013 team, but the position comparisons can be made. Derrick Walton can take the place of Burke, Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin can spread the floor and be playmakers off the dribble, Kameron Chatman is a more skilled version of Robinson, and Donnal is a better offensive player than McGary. This team might not be able to defend as much as Michigan fans like, but the thought of starting these five players as Beilein did in Italy must be a giddy thought for all Wolverine fans.