While Michigan has proven veterans in the backcourt, the wing position is anyone's guess. Inexperience, disappointing play and questions describe a wing unit that Michigan is desperately looking for a semblance of production out of. Is it possible that John Beilein leans more heavily on his guards and this wing unit gets completely lost in the shuffle, or do some of these young players have a chance to make their mark and crack the rotation? Let's break down the Michigan wings here:
Duncan Robinson: Sophomore, Small Forward
The crown jewel of this unit, the hype and speculation surrounding Robinson has probably been one of the most intriguing storylines heading into Michigan's 2015-16 season. As most Michigan fans know, Robinson was the darling of the NESCAC, a small Division III conference nestled in the northeast, featuring some of the best academic schools in the country like Bowdoin, Amherst and Middlebury. Robinson thrived under Mike Maker at Williams, and Maker's departure intrigued Robinson to look for a Division I scholarship, which he ultimately found at Michigan.
What makes Robinson such an appealing piece is his pure shooting touch. At 6'8", Robinson shoots the ball like a pure shooting guard in a small forward's body, a luxury that John Beilein will have at his disposal this season. The biggest issue with Robinson is whether he'll be able to defend and rebound at the DI level. His scoring will never be in question, but it's the other aspects of his game that will determine whether Robinson can earn consistent minutes for Michigan this season.
Kameron Chatman: Sophomore, Small/Power Forward
While Robinson is the crown jewel, this title was supposed to go to Chatman. A 6'8", burly forward with guard-like skills, Chatman was ranked as the 38th best player in the country in 2014 according to ESPN, including the number 1 player in the state of Oregon. But Chatman never lived up to the hype, not even close in fact. While Aubrey Dawkins, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Ricky Doyle enjoyed successful freshmen seasons, Chatman stumbled to 3.6 points and 2.5 rebounds in 15 minutes per game. It's unclear whether a starting role was too much for Chatman to handle in his first campaign, but his minutes took a significant dip by season's end.
Where's the silver lining? It was only Year 1 in Ann Arbor, and it' clear the kid has real skills that he showed in flashes last season. Chatman will have to re-earn his minutes on an incredibly loaded and deep Michigan team, one that is much more guard-heavy that could limit Chatman. Right now, Chatman will be battling with Robinson for those forward minutes, and the edge has to go to Robinson with his shooting ability. If Chatman can rediscover those skills that made him such a dominant high school player, look for his minutes to increase again.
Moritz Wagner: Freshman, Power Forward
As mentioned above, this list is filled with unknowns, and no one fits that bill better than Wagner. A 6'10" kid from Berlin, Germany, Wagner possesses skills that are becoming mandatory in the European game even for bigger players, including a feathery shooting touch, good speed and solid passing. Wagner played for the Alba Berlin youth team this past season, so the rigors of travel and playing in hostile environments will be no surprise to the German.
The one area limiting Wagner at this current point is his weight. In Europe, players generally don't play as physical a game as they do in both the NCAA and NBA (see Kristaps Porzingis), and this could cause a slightly steeper learning curve for Wagner. He doesn't project to be a center long-term, and doesn't quite have the skills to be a successful college wing just yet. If Beilein can steal 10 minutes a game to play alongside a center just to help further his development, it could go a long way to seeing how good Wagner could be in a year or two.
Brent Hibbitts: Freshman, Small/Power Forward
Hibbitts joined the Michigan team late in the signing period as a preferred walk-on, helping to fill out the Michigan roster. Hibbitts had a monster senior year at Hudsonville, averaging 17.4 points and 11.5 rebounds. Hibbitts, like Wagner, projects as a stretch four long term, combining a shooting touch with good passing vision.
The biggest issue facing Hibbitts is his ability to play against high major competition. There's no doubt the kid can score, but there's a reason he's playing for Michigan as a preferred walk-on instead of a scholarship player that Beilein was heavily recruiting. As we saw last season with Dawkins and MAAR, anyone can be forced into action, and maybe Hibbitts surprises everyone with his shooting and fearless play. I think he'll likely just get minutes during garbage time his freshman year and have a chance to work his way into the rotation later in his career.
Sean Lonergan: Junior, Small Forward
Given the bevvy of injuries Michigan had last season, Lonergan was forced into action in meaningful Big Ten games last season, performing admirably in spot minutes. He finished the season with 57 minutes, including 13 against Rutgers in a 54-50 win, and 11 in a loss to Maryland. His size and defense allowed Beilein to throw Lonergan into the game and not have him be completely lost.
With the return of Michigan's normal rotation players, don't expect to see much out of Lonergan this season. He projects to be the 4th small or power forward on the roster, and while he has some offensive skill, don't expect to see Lonergan in many pressure situations like he was forced into last season.
The Michigan wing category, despite not having a bonafide star, has a few key pieces that could play crucial roles for Michigan throughout the season. The most intriguing piece is Robinson, and I expect Beilein to give him solid early-season minutes to get adjusted to the pace and rigors of Division I basketball before the competition gets too stiff. Chatman also has the ability to crack the rotation for meaningful minutes, but he needs to get his confidence back before he starts playing significant time again. Lastly, Wagner could be an interesting piece as a stretch four, but I'm not sure if this is the year he has a serious impact.