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2015-16 Big Ten Preview: Michigan Wolverines Backcourt

Injuries and freshmen caused the Michigan backcourt to be inexperienced and mediocre last season. With a full backcourt returning another year older and more experienced, Michigan's unit should make up one of the best in the country.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last few seasons, John Beilein has turned solid, college guards into NBA players. Look no further than Manny Harris, Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas and Tim Hardaway Jr., all players who developed under Beilein and took their talents to the next level. While Michigan only has one guard currently projected to make the NBA, there are a few more on the roster that could make the leap in a year or two given they have a great season and improve in a few areas. With that said, let's break down the Michigan guards on this season's roster:

Caris LeVert: Senior, Shooting Guard

At 6'7", LeVert is one of the biggest true shooting guards in the country, and he has improved each year under Beilein. As we looked at in the BTP Top 25, LeVert has all the tools to be one of the best players in the Big Ten and in the country, using his unique offensive skill set along with his defensive prowess to become an absolute force on both sides of the court.

As mentioned in the above article, LeVert's most important contribution this season might be a result of leadership and getting teammates involved. Despite Michigan bringing the majority of the team back, ensuring that younger players are both staying engaged and are delivering results is an extremely important measure for a senior, especially on a team competing for both a Big Ten and national championship.

Spike Albrecht- Senior, Point Guard

While LeVert is the Batman of the senior class, there's no doubt that the role of Robin falls perfectly for Albrecht.  The darling of the 2013 national championship game followed by an attempt to swoon model Kate Upton led to Albrecht receiving national attention, and rightfully so. But Albrecht has developed into a model of consistency during his first three years at Michigan, becoming a smart ball-handler and a weapon behind the arc. While Spike is a little undersized at 5'11", his smart decision making and off the charts assist-to-turnover ratio has made Beilein keep Albrecht on the court, including a career high 32 minutes per game last season.

With players returning from injury and freshmen developing at a quicker than expected rate, it will be interesting to see how Albrecht's minutes play out throughout the course of the season. His intangibles and leadership make him too valuable not to play at least 15 or 20 minutes a game, but if Albrecht can keep his level of play at a consistently high level, his minutes could increase even more.

Derrick Walton, Jr. : Junior, Point Guard

When Walton went down at the end of last season, Albrecht played more in his absence, but didn't bring the killer instinct that Walton provides. Walton, a junior from Detroit, bring a level of toughness, whether throwing his body for lose balls or taking hard drives to the basket, that no one else on the team can match. Walton's rebounding ranked third on the team behind LeVert and Zak Irvin, good for almost 5 rebounds a game. This added skill that Walton has alleviates pressure from the Michigan bigs and allows Walton to start the fast break on his own.

Like LeVert, the biggest key for Walton is not playing scared after returning from his own foot injury. Walton as a junior also will be asked to provide a sense of leadership that fell mostly to LeVert and Albrecht last season, but Walton's on-court guidance will be invaluable. If Walton can provide consistent production like last season, Michigan could be extremely dangerous.

Zak Irvin: Junior, Shooting Guard

The fourth and final veteran of this Michigan team, Irvin should be poised for a breakout season. Irvin, like LeVert, made the BTP Top 25, and with solid play Irvin has a chance to crack the Top 10. He is one of the best pure shooters on the team, and has found a way to get off his shot with an extremely quick release. As mentioned in the Top 25 article, Irvin needs to improve defensively and on his rebounding to make the leap from a good to great player.

It will be interesting to see how Beilein uses Irvin, a 6'6" shooting guard capable of playing anywhere from shooting guard to power forward in a Beilein system. He doesn't quite have the toughness to play forward minutes consistently, but Beilein needs to get his best 7 or 8 players on the court for as many minutes as possible, and Irvin certainly fits into that category.

Andrew Dakich: Junior, Point Guard

Coming into the 2014-15 season, I thought little would be made of Dakich and his importance to the team. Instead, Dakich was forced into action, burning a redshirt and becoming a valuable member of the team when the injury bug hit. Dakich, generously listed at 6'2", became a great source of minutes filling in when Spike or Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman got into foul trouble, and performed admirably.

His best game of the season came against Michigan State, in which he was called into action to play 16 minutes in an overtime loss. With the return of a healthy LeVert and Walton, it will be tough for Dakich to find real minutes this season. Look for Beilein to possibly redshirt Dakich to give him an extra year of eligibility at another school.

Aubrey Dawkins- Sophomore, Shooting Guard

While the biggest Michigan storyline was the injury to LeVert, the most positive surprise of the entire season was the brilliant play of Dawkins. The rangy 6'6" guard proved he could be a beast in all areas, becoming a knockdown shooter, displaying his freaky athleticism and proving he could play multiple positions and give Michigan another level of versatility.

The biggest question for Dawkins coming into this season is how he's going to perform with the bulls-eye on his back this season. Everyone knew LeVert, Walton and Irvin would be the go-to guys last season, and Dawkins was able to pick his spots. With a fully healthy team, can Dawkins find his niche while becoming even more assertive? The answer to this question could be the key to Michigan elevating their level of play to one of the best teams in the country.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Sophomore, Point Guard

If Dawkins was the biggest surprise, MAAR comes in a very close second. While he was supposed be the clear third point guard behind Albrecht and Walton, injuries to Walton and LeVert allowed MAAR and Spike to play together for extended stretches last season. MAAR's aggressiveness and drives to the basket turned him into an effective college player early on in his career, and he will look to build on that by improving his shooting this season.

However, the one issue facing MAAR is depth. While MAAR played a lot last season, the return of LeVert and Walton severely limits his minutes. It seems like Beilein trusts Spike more for backup guard minutes, so MAAR may not be able to develop like he did last season. However, a year of practice against all three of the aforementioned players should do wonders for his continued development and should be great long-term for the program.

Overall

Michigan has one of the best and most deep backcourts in the entire country, with experienced ball-handlers, shooters and slashers. As mentioned above, the biggest issue is going to be finding minutes for every player. Expect LeVert, Walton and Irvin to start, but the rest of the picture becomes more murky. Does Beilein play a more traditional power forward or prefer to start Dawkins at that spot instead? Will there be enough minutes for Spike and MAAR or does one ultimately get left out of the rotation entirely? It's hard to answer these questions, and like last season, I expect the answer to be more fluid as the season continues. For now, Michigan has a month to prepare for their first game, knowing they have an immensely talented backcourt at their disposal.