At the end of last season, John Beilein was scrambling for a reliable big man. He tried everything, and ultimately settled on 6'7" senior Max Bielfeldt. The senior had one remaining year of eligibility and transferred in conference to Indiana, leaving a void at the center position. The most uncertain of Michigan's positional groups, it will be interesting to see whether Beilein picks one player and sticks with him for the majority of the minutes, or if certain players will be used depending on the situation. With that in mind, we break down Michigan's frontcourt:
Ricky Doyle: Sophomore, Center
At the start of last season, Doyle was more of an afterthought. He began the season playing less than double-digit minutes in the first three games, but then played double-digit minutes in every game except for two. Michigan loves his toughness, his ability to attack both offensive and defensive rebounds, and his deft touch around the rim. Doyle broke out with a 15 point, 6 rebound effort against Nicholls State, and then had another monster 15 and 6 performance in a narrow, overtime loss to Indiana.
With Bielfeldt out of the fold and Doyle penciled-in as the game 1 starter, can he rise to the occasion and become a reliable, consistent big man for Michigan? While Doyle was great in stretches, there are often times where goes missing, including 19 games in which Doyle failed to reach over 3 rebounds. For a 6'9" center, those numbers are simply unacceptable. Doyle will be given every opportunity to make the most of the minutes, but there are a few capable players behind him if it doesn't work out.
Mark Donnal: Sophomore, Center
Coming into last year's season, Donnal was supposed to be the guy. He was a Beilein dream, a 6'9" stretch center who could battle down low and consistently knock down three-pointers. Donnal began the season on a high note, scoring 9 points and grabbing 4 rebounds in a blowout win, but following that first game, he struggled mightily. He only reached double-figures once, scoring 13 points against SMU, and had a stretch where he didn't score a point in four consecutive games. His confidence was clearly gone, and Doyle took over and began to thrive.
Reports from Michigan's early practices are that Donnal is looking far more physical than he did last season, one of the main reasons he was unable to thrive through the rigors of the Big Ten. Donnal's shooting provides a luxury for Beilein and Michigan, and is the perfect change of pace when Michigan wants to spread the floor even more. The big question is whether Donnal's defense and rebounding allow him to stay on the court, or whether Michigan will have to look in a different direction at center.
D.J. Wilson: Freshman, Center
The mystery man of the three-headed monster vying for minutes at center, Wilson arguably has the highest ceiling of the trio. After playing 24 minutes in 5 games last season, Beilein decided that Wilson just wasn't physically ready to play, and decided to redshirt him in conjunction was a knee injury that bothered him at the onset of the season. That redshirt year appeared to do wonders for Wilson, and he's grown another inch to 6'10", bulked up to 240 pounds, and become ready for the grind of Division I Basketball.
Wilson is a rangy forward that Beilein believes has all the tools to be a stretch center. He has touch out to the 3-point line like Donnal, can physically play inside like Doyle, and is a freakish athlete with an enormous wingspan. Essentially, Wilson has all the tools to become an excellent center in today's modern game, he just needs to put it all together. The first few weeks of the season will be key for Wilson to see if he's ready, but the only hindrance might be finding enough minutes behind both Doyle and Donnal. If Wilson looks really good, maybe Beilein slides him to the four alongside Donnal or Doyle, but that remains to be seen.
The Michigan center position is about to be a dogfight. The early nod has to go to Doyle, a proven-enough entity who played decently well for the Wolverines last season. Wilson is the total wildcard, and Donnal does have the ability to surprise but I don't think he will. Michigan is at a crossroads with their centers, as Beilein recruited two centers for next season, Jon Teske and Austin Davis. Is it possible that one of these guys will seek a transfer if a lack of playing time presents an issue? That could be the case, but right now Michigan has a good problem with depth at the center position. We'll find out who gets those minutes very, very soon.