The Wolverines had an up and down season last year early on before getting things together as they worked their way to the Elite 8 before falling to national runner-up Kentucky. John Beilein has reestablished Michigan as a basketball powerhouse after finishing as the national runner-up in 2013 and almost making the Final Four last season. If Beilein can come close to matching that success in 2014-15 he'll deserve to be coach of the year, easily, as Michigan's roster suffers a mass amount of turnover and features almost no one in the front court. While there's plenty of talent on the roster, there are plenty of areas of concern for Beilein and company.
Um...so who's left?
Nik Stauskas? Gone. Glen Robinson III? Gone. Mitch McGary? Gone. Jon Horford? Gone. Jordan Morgan? Gone.
The Wolverines lost what amounts to almost an entire starting lineup this year and will look decisively different heading into the 2014-15 season. Some of that makes sense, with guys like Stauskas and Robinson declaring early. Some of it was a bit unfortunate (McGary) and some of it might have played out differently in hindsight (Horford).
Regardless, that's 57% of the teams scoring last year and leaves major voids across the entire line up. While the team retains a potential star in Caris LeVert, as well as young guys like Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr., the mass roster turnover means the Wolverines will be considerably less experienced and will have to rely more on their 2014 recruiting class. And for what it's worth, there are some really good guys like Kameron Chatman and D.J. Wilson joining Michigan, but inexperience in a loaded conference is never a good thing.
Can Caris LeVert keep Michigan up top in the Big Ten?
In his second season playing for Michigan LeVert blew up and became a key player in the Wolverine's starting lineup. The 6'7 guard ended up making the All-Big Ten second team, was third in team scoring, led the team in steals and was right up there in three point shooting, rebounding and assists. LeVert's well rounded game makes him a well rounded weapon that can do pretty much everything for Michigan.
That being said, though, he also had the benefit of playing on a loaded roster where opposing teams couldn't single him out. Heading into the 2014-15 season LeVert is going to be the man for Michigan going forward and he'll definitely be getting more attention from opposing defenses. Will he be able to thrive now that he's the main star? Ultimately I think he will but if his surrounding pieces don't take off Michigan might have to rely a bit too heavily on LeVert and that could hurt his production if he's being asked to do too much. Also, he is essentially the guy who is replacing both Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III so there's bound to a bit of pressure heading into the season.
Will Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. make the jump?
While I mentioned above that I think LeVert will be fine as the main guy in Ann Arbor, Michigan's success will need Irvin and Walton to make the next jump for John Beilein and company. Irvin emerged last season as a weapon from outside and will likely to continue to hit it from outside, but is he going to be more than just a three point specialist? While the guard hit on 42.5% of his treys, over 74% of his shots were from deep. Mix that with only 49 rebounds, 21 free throw attempts, 13 assists and 9 steals in 568 minutes and you'll see he did almost nothing else on the court. Of course, if Irvin gets more involved this season it wouldn't be the first time a three point specialist became a key player for Michigan in their sophomore season.
As for Walton, he was solid but not spectacular in his freshman campaign and actually gave a decent amount of playing time to the decidedly less skilled Spike Albrecht. Walton committed too many turnovers last season and was a bit raw offensively but he should be able to make the leap this season. The thing is if he can't get there then Michigan's offense will be relatively limited, even more so that the teams options down low aren't spectacular as of now.
Who will pick up the slack down low for the Wolverines?
One of the best things about Michigan's team last year was the emergence of Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford as they replaced the injured Mitch McGary. Neither guy was spectacular on their own but their split playing time down low was more than enough to allow Michigan to be successful.
Well, now all three bigs are gone and that leaves a serious void down low. Seriously, Michigan returns a 6'7 forward (Max Biefeldt) that played 89 minutes last season and that's basically it. On a lineup the features no one taller than 6'9 the Wolverines will have to turn to a redshirt freshman (Mark Donnal) and three star power forward Ricky Doyle. Both of these guys have no collegiate experience.
Mark Donnal has some potential and can hit from outside, but relying on Donnal will put a ton of pressure on the youngster, especially with McGary setting the bar so high. Ricky Doyle is only a three star option and might be serviceable, but likely will need time to develop and with Max Biefeldt being a career backup, not only is there next to no experience here, but there's very little depth as well. Ultimately that means Michigan will have to rely almost exclusively on their wings and guards and it will likely create serious issues when facing teams that have a strong presence in the frontcourt.