After one week and two complete performances, Michigan sits at 2-0 on the season. There have been many bright spots, including the successful recovery of Caris LeVert, the lights out shooting from Duncan Robinson, the continued emergence of Aubrey Dawkins, and the brilliance of Derrick Walton Jr.
However, a few areas still have room for improvement, including getting both Spike Albrecht and Zak Irvin back to game speed and looking for a reliable big man to play consistent minutes at center. With that, let's start with Caris LeVert.
The senior has played two very solid games, most notably Friday's performance against Northern Michigan. Sure, it was a weaker team, but LeVert finished with 18 points on 7-12 shooting, 5 assists and 4 rebounds in 29 minutes. Time and time again, LeVert found himself making simple, smart plays to help set up teammates as well as seams in the defense to look for his own shot.
Monday night against Elon was not nearly as spectacular, as 11 points is somewhat lackluster. But perhaps the bright spot is the consistent 4 rebounds and another 7 assists to give LeVert 12 through the first two games. As long as LeVert is helping get his teammates involved for open shots, this offense can be prolific.
And that's where redshirt sophomore Duncan Robinson comes into play. On Monday, Robinson couldn't miss, literally. He finished 6-6 (5-5 from 3 and a dunk) along with two free throws to finish with 19 points. Robinson's efficiency was spectacular, but he was only able to get up one shot against Northern Michigan in the previous game.
Michigan fans are hoping that Robinson was just getting the jitters out in the first game and can continue his hot shooting, but if not at least Robinson is contributing on the rebounding end (7 in 2 games). Robinson's biggest issue right now is his ability to defend, as Beilein has him somewhere between the 3 and 4. Robinson seems to get beat off the dribble and has let the opposing player take too many open shots, but hopefully this will improve throughout the season.
The other breakout star in the second game was junior point guard Derrick Walton Jr. Walton, like Robinson, had an extremely slow first game, but exploded out of the game in the second one, finishing with 24 points (8-10 shooting), 7 assists and 6 rebounds in 30 minutes of play. His normal, attack-minded style of play was on full display, and Walton orchestrated the offense to a crisp 88 points. If Walton can continue playing close to this rate, Michigan truly will have one of the best backcourts in the entire country.
While Walton found his groove, two other key upperclassmen have yet to hit their stride yet. Starting with sharpshooter Zak Irvin, the junior has not gotten into a comfortable rhythm yet. Perhaps the emergence of Aubrey Dawkins has partially limited Irvin, but his shooting touch and timing have yet to come back yet. This makes sense, as Irvin was held out of any 5 on 5 in practice up until recently. 15 or 20 minutes a game will probably be what Irvin will start with until his shooting form is back, but Michigan has enough wing depth at this point to survive.
The other upperclassmen still working his way back is Albrecht, a tough senior who hasn't reached his full potential yet off the bench. His first game with 7 points was encouraging, but this came against Division II Northern Michigan and 5 of Albrecht's 7 points came with the game well out of reach. Albrecht is at his best when he is getting his teammates involved with flashy assists, but Spike has only collected 4 this season. If he can keep these numbers up, he should continue to earn quality minutes off the bench.
One other area that remains a major concern for Michigan is the frontcourt. Beilein has not found a comfortable rotation yet. Against Northern Michigan, Mark Donnal started and played 10 minutes, Ricky Doyle played 15 minutes, D.J. Wilson played 23 playing mostly power forward and a little center, and Moritz Wagner played 6. Doyle and Wagner had 2 rebounds each, while Wilson and Donnal had one. Against Elon, Donnal started and played 15 minutes, Doyle played 13, Wilson played 13 and Wagner played 7. Doyle had 3 rebounds, Wagner and Donnal had 2, and Wilson had none.
In both games, no player recorded more than 3 rebounds. For a Michigan frontline that was in desperate need of asserting itself, especially given the departure of Max Bielfeldt, this is an extremely disappointing start. The offense is there, as these 4 combined for 19 points against Elon, but the defensive and rebounding effort needs to improve.
Overall, fans should be very pleased with the 2-0 start, but there are still major areas where Michigan can improve to become an elite team. The offense efficiency has been excellent, but can the big men become more consistent on the rebounding front? And can Robinson, the sharpshooter who was phenomenal in his last game, keep up this hot shooting? Michigan knows what they're getting out of LeVert, but need Irvin and Spike to get back to these levels as well. If and when all of these things click at the same time, Michigan has a chance to be great.