Michigan big men will have a ton of growing up to do this season. Last season, John Beilein had the luxury of fifth year senior Jordan Morgan to anchor the defense and Jon Hoford to provide energy off the bench. Mitch McGary's back injury was only supposed to keep him out for the 2013-14 season, but an outdated and ridiculous NCAA rule suspending marijuana users for the entire following season forced McGary to leave Michigan and enter the NBA draft. With the entire frontcourt rotation gone, Michigan has three relatively new faces vying for time at the center position. Only one player has ever played in an actual game for Michigan, as Max Bielfeldt has career totals of 38 points, 51 rebounds in 195 total minutes. What Michigan lacks in experience they make up for in talent, and Beilein is hoping for an "all-hands on deck" approach for the center position.
The (Likely) Starter
Mark Donnal- Because of the logjam in Michigan's frontcourt last season, the Wolverines opted to redshirt Donnal and gave him time to develop from veterans like Morgan and Horford. Michigan fans are hoping the tutelage Donnal received will do wonders for his game. In many ways, he is much better suited to be play in Beilein's system than either Horford or Morgan. He has range all the way out to the three-point line, is very good in pick and roll situations, and will help to space the floor when guards Derrick Walton Jr. or Caris LeVert take the ball to the basket. One area of Donnal's game that is yet to be seen is his defensive abilities. He is not as physically imposing as Morgan despite his one-inch height difference, and playing against brutish centers in the Big Ten every game can be physically tolling, especially for a freshman. Beilein is hoping that Donnal can adjust to the college game quickly, and if he can give the Wolverines some offensive punch and be a solid defensive player, Michigan fans will be excited to see what type of player he can become in a year or two from now.
Ricky Doyle- Unlike Donnal, Doyle is more of a traditional hard-nosed center that prefers to play around the basket and is more physically ready for Big Ten play. In high school, Doyle averaged 25 points and 10 rebounds for a Bishop Verot team that only went 15-10. In watching his highlights, Doyle was often the biggest player on the floor by 3 or 4 inches, and could take over the game due to smaller players and inferior competition. The big question will be whether he can refine his game and become more than just a brutish center who can finish around the basket. John Beilein has said that Doyle and Donnal have both adapted parts of each other's game this summer, so it will be interesting to see how effective Doyle's jumpshot and midrange game are at this level. I have Donnal pegged as the starting center for now due to Michigan's starting lineups in Italy and given Donnal's extra year of experience despite not playing any games. If Doyle is able to show an extra level of defense intensity and seems more ready than Donnal, I could see Beilein inserting him into the lineup. If not, expect to see Doyle for around 15 minutes a game as a high energy and intensity player.
Max Bielfeldt- In his first two years at Michigan, Bielfeldt has been a glorified walk-on evidenced by his career numbers listed above. John Beilein was excited about Bielfeldt's development in the offseason until hip surgery set him back another two months and held him out of playing on the Italy trip. Bielfeldt is the only senior on the roster, so having two collegiate seasons under his belt and one redshirt year should help his confidence tremendously. Bielfeldt's impact will mostly be determined by the effectiveness of Donnal and Doyle early. I expect Bielfeldt to get some minutes in the less competitive nonconference games, but if he is unable to showcase his talent and prove his worth as a 6'7 center, I don't think he'll get more than 5 or so minutes per game. He has a chance to top out at about 15 per game based on early production, but I think Beilein will likely stick with Donnal and Doyle for the majority of the minutes.