On Thursday, the Michigan Wolverines held the team's annual Media Day. This is the first official opportunity of the season for head coach John Beilein and the players to address the media. It's generally a pretty relaxed event where media members can ask questions, take player pictures, and have some brief observations of the team's practice.
BTP got the chance to attend the event on Thursday and though it's something difficult to get through the coachspeak and general excitement for the season, there were a few impressions to take from the event. As such, here are a few of my thoughts coming out of the event.
This Team is Deep and Talented
By now, most are familiar with Michigan's storyline last season. The Wolverines were a young team entering the season and saw the season largely derail after star players Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, Jr. were sidelined with injuries. The team did regroup for a nice finish on the year, but still missed the NIT and NCAA Tournament.
Of course, now with virtually every player back from last year's team, there are a lot of options for Beilein this season. Not only are LeVert and Walton back in the lineup, but younger players like Kameron Chatman, Aubrey Dawkins, and Mark Donnal look like they might be turning the corner.
Along with this, wing transfer Duncan Robinson is now eligible and Spike Albrecht, Zak Irvin, and DJ Wilson are all coming off injuries entering the season. There are literally options up and down the court for the Wolverines to utilize and the majority have seen some real college playing time.
Thanks to this significant depth, the competition was a major talking point. Beilein described the competition as "fierce" and redshirt sophomore forward Mark Donnal talked about creating a "competitive environment" with his teammates upfront to allow the best players to see the floor.
Finding a steady rotation will probably be one of the biggest challenges of this season for the Wolverines, but there are a ton of options for this year. There is going to be a ton of competition are virtually every spot in the lineup and there's a decent chance that leads to some good things for Michigan this year.
Moritz Wagner Has Incredible Upside
The lone scholarship player joining Michigan's roster this year is Moritz Wagner and he made a heck of an impression at Michigan's Media Day. As an international prospect, media projections have generally been all over the place on what to expect out of Wagner this season.
However, that wasn't the case among Michigan's coaches and players.
During the afternoon, the coaching staff and teammates raved about Wagner's understanding, feel for the game, and his enthusiasm. In fact, Andrew Dakich told me that he's "never seen someone understand [Michigan's] offense so quickly." Both Mark Donnal and Sean Lonergan echoed these comments saying that not only was Wagner a "really skilled player," but also that he has generally been a really fun guy to play around this fall.
Though Michigan did not engage in any true live action during the practice available to the media, there were some light scrimmages and a good hunk of defensive drills both in half court settings and in transition. Obviously, the team only showed so much, but Wagner's natural stroke, his foot speed, and the use of his hands around the three point line were really impressive for a true freshman big man.
He's going to have to put on 10-15+ lbs to be a great option at center, but there is a ton of potential there. He definitely looks ready to play. The question will just be whether he is good enough to override a redshirt with the plethora of players on the wing and in the frontcourt.
LEVERT ALERT Is Back
A lot of players looked pretty good on Thursday afternoon (practice asterisk applies), but the only player that really had some legitimate "wow" moments was LeVert. He looks and plays like his old self. Perhaps the most impressive was when he hit multiple three pointers with a few in a defender's face in a half court set.
If LeVert can play anywhere near how he did at the end of his playing time last season, this team could be a real contender in the Big Ten. Michigan was pretty competitive at the end of last year and still lacked a guy who could consistently get inside. In fact, the Wolverines were just #283 nationally in point distribution off two point buckets.
However, with the addition of LeVert, this team could really be coming together. I asked him about this and he said things are a "lot different" than when he played last year, primarily because "guys know what they're doing this year." Last season, LeVert felt some of the players had to make up for a lot, but now the team has "grown up a lot."
This was perfectly illustrated when Beilein was talking to the media as well. He said that LeVert was not only leading the team in scoring during the team's fall practices, but also right up there for assists as well. If he can be partially a scorer and partially a passer, this offense could get much closer to being back where it was a few seasons ago.
One of the most talked about things of the afternoon was Michigan debuting its jerseys for the upcoming season. The color tone has changed this season. Instead of the "highlighter" maize, the Wolverines are moving back to the more traditional "golden" look.
Moritz Wagner is BIG. pic.twitter.com/0Hi1zANuOA— Thomas Beindit (@tbeindit) October 22, 2015
Admittedly, they did not look as bad in person as some have noted online, but they didn't look good either. However, most of the players were pretty optimistic about them. Virtually all the players I spoked with loved the return to the darker maize and a few, including Caris LeVert, actually preferred these jerseys to last year's jerseys.
Two other players that saw virtually no time last year that I wanted to touch on briefly were Duncan Robinson and DJ Wilson. Both have a ton of potential for this year and beyond, but both still has a lot of work to do. Robinson will have to work on his lateral quickness and anticipation on defense and Wilson still probably needs some refinement on his offensive game and his perimeter defense to be a real contribution.
Finally, all the players were pretty excited for the team's trip to Atlantis in the Bahamas this fall. A few were excited to check out the waterslide and Wilson seemed pretty pumped to check it out.