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2015-16 Michigan Wolverines Basketball Season Preview

BTPowerhouse previews the upcoming season for the Michigan Wolverines and what fans should expect for the program heading into the 2015-16 season.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The ‘2015-16 BTPowerhouse Season Preview' series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2015-16 season with analysis on each program's previous season, offseason departures, new additions, strengths, weakness, top player, and top storylines. Each post will also include predictions on each team's starting lineup, season performance and commentary from a local "insider" who covers each team.

The Michigan Wolverines are coming off one of the program's most disappointing seasons in recent memory. After putting together a run that included five NCAA Tournament appears in six years, a trip to the Final Four, and two Big Ten titles, expectations were high. Unfortunately, after a series of injuries to a team that was already very young and thin, the Wolverines stumbled to a 16-16 overall record and the program's first season without an NCAA Tournament bid since the 2010 postseason.

However, as Rafiki so eloquently stated in the Lion King, "the past is the past" and Michigan has a chance to turn the page on that past this season. After all, despite one rough year, head coach John Beilein has posted an impressive 166-110 (.601) record with the Wolverines. Beilein has shown that he can develop talent, put competitive teams on the floor, and overcome a rough season. There is plenty of confidence in Beilein among the Michigan fanbase and fans will be looking for him to get things back on track this year.

With the return of virtually every player from last year's team and the return of star guards Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, the Wolverines will have plenty to work with this year. Michigan actually played improved basketball down the stretch last year and now with the return of several key players and a few offseason additions, this team looks far more dangerous than it did at any point last season.

Of course, the key will be finding the best lineup and getting production out of the frontcourt. Michigan still has a young group upfront with players like Mark Donnal, Ricky Doyle, and DJ Wilson and doesn't have many starters that have proven they can play at an high level consistently. If the Wolverines can find consistency upfront and have a player or two emerge on the wing, this team could be really dangerous.

Overall, this is a Michigan team that is going to have to find some answers upfront, but also a roster that looks like one of the deepest in the Big Ten. Though it's hard to see how the Wolverines won't improve this year, how far some of the young returners can improve will determine how far Michigan can go this season.

With that, let's take a look at the Wolverines.

BTPowerhouse Season Preview Podcast

Along with reading BTPowerhouse's season preview post for the Michigan Wolverines, make sure to check out the site's podcast preview of the Wolverines featuring BTPowerhouse Manager Thomas Beindit and BTPowerhouse Contributor Joshua Stern breaking down Michigan's roster, incoming recruits, schedule, and season outlook.

1. 2014-15 Season Performance

  • Record: 16-16 (8-10)
  • KenPom Team Rating: #75
  • RPI Rating: #80
  • Postseason Appearance: None

Last season was an underwhelming one for Michigan largely from start to finish. The Wolverines were expected to regress some from the team's incredible two year run over the previous two years, but was still expected to be a player in the Big Ten and a nationally relevant team. Unfortunately, after a series of rough non-conference losses and injuries to several key players, Michigan was never able to gain traction and failed to make the NCAA Tournament or the NIT.

The interesting thing about Michigan's season is that there were bright spots and moments when it looked like Michigan was going to turn the page. Whether it was wins over Oregon and Syracuse in non-conference play, a 7-3 run in early January, or wins over Illinois and Ohio State late in the year, there were some bright moments. However, the team struggled too much in non-conference play and against top teams to have a good resume.

In my 2014-15 Big Ten Recapitulation Series, this is what I wrote about Michigan:

This was a team with NCAA Tournament expectations coming into the season that failed to make the NIT. Michigan was able to finished at #9 in the Big Ten standings and easily beat Illinois in the 2nd Round of the Big Ten Tournament, but overall, it was a disappointing finish.

However, the adversity for the Wolverines in 2014-15 was substantial. Not only did they suffer two season ending injuries to two of their top contributors, but they also had several others players were forced to play through injury and Michigan was forced to use an incredibly inexperienced bench for much of the year. It would be unfair not to at least recognize the significant impact these events had on Michigan's season.

The Wolverines were never a great team in 2014-15. They were upset by EMU and NJIT in non-conference play and lost 10 games in Big Ten play. However, it was also a team that continued to improve, despite seeing key contributors limited by injury and was playing at a pretty solid level late in the year.

Generally, I think the statement above is pretty accurate regarding Michigan's last season. There are certainly ways to spin the performance, but at the end of the day, Michigan just wasn't a great team. Was it better than it finished? Very likely, but it wasn't as if the Wolverines were a Big Ten title contender or a team with a legitimate chance to make the Final Four. It was a team that probably would have been on or near the NCAA bubble, even if fully healthy.

The one thing that should be noted is that despite the injuries, the Wolverines improved significantly. Few would realize this given Michigan's 3-8 record to end the season, but the team actually consistently improved. Michigan had a very tough schedule late in the year, which masked much of the team's improvement, but it was there. Just take a look at how Michigan's points per possession adjusted for opponent strength improved over the course of the season.

1415 michigan ppp adjusted

The most discussed frustration of Michigan's team last year are the team's injuries, but for those who followed closely, it had more to do with the general improvement of the team combined with the injuries. In all honesty, the Wolverines were probably playing at a level comparable to an NCAA Tournament bubble team late in the year, but the team's early season struggles and injuries made it all for naught.

Highlights of the season included a win over arch-rival Ohio State late in the year, a blowout victory over Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament, and a 7-3 run in late December to January. Low points of the season included home losses to Eastern Michigan and NJIT in non-conference play and brutal overtime road losses to Illinois and Northwestern

Individual statistical leaders were Spike Albrecht, Ricky Doyle, Zak Irvin, and Caris LeVert. Albrecht led the team in assists. Doyle led the team in blocks. Irvin led the team in minutes, points, rebounds, steals, and total win shares. LeVert led the team in usage.

2. Offseason Exits

1516 michigan departurezzz

Since the start of last season, Michigan lost a total of two players for various reasons. These players were Max Bielfeldt and Austin Hatch. Bielfeldt did not have his fifth year renewed by the Wolverines and opted to transfer to Indiana. Hatch was granted a medical hardship waiver. Due to this, Hatch is no longer eligible to play with the team, but will have an academic scholarship. This comes after an absolutely incredible journey for Hatch.

There isn't much debating that Bielfeldt is the only noteworthy loss for Michigan this season, at least in terms of on court contributions. In fact, Hatch played a total of 5 minutes last season. Plus, considering that Hatch will still be a member of the team, despite not being eligible to play, all of his leadership and off the court additions to the roster should still be available.

Bielfeldt's contributions are relatively mixed depending on how one evaluates his career in Ann Arbor. He certainly played a decent amount upfront and was arguably the team's top bench option at center by the end of the season. On the other hand, it's hard to believe Bielfeldt was that big of a contributor when he played just 34.2 percent of the team's minutes. This isn't mean to minimize his contributions, but just to note that in reality, Michigan's center position was largely done by committee last season and Bielfeldt was just one piece of that group.

1415 michigan big men stats

Outside of losing a valuable bench contributor, the one hit that Michigan will take from Bielfeldt's loss is on the boards. He was one of the team's best rebounders and arguably the team's best player on the offensive boards. After all, he led Michigan's roster in offensive rebounding rate. Even if Bielfeldt didn't play even half of Michigan's minutes last season, that is an area where the Wolverines will have to find someone to take his contributions.

Though one can debate how important Bielfeldt was to Michigan's roster last season, there isn't much debating that Michigan isn't losing much this offseason. As discussed, the only real loss here is Bielfeldt and the stats pretty clearly indicate that his contributions were limited. In fact, Bielfeldt played less minutes than another big man in Ricky Doyle and averaged just 3.8 more minutes than another big man in Mark Donnal.

As mentioned, Michigan's center position was a position by committee last year and the Wolverines still return its minute leader at the position and its third most played option in Donnal. That also doesn't even take into account a few additions that could also see time there as well. Even if one really liked what Bielfeldt brought to the court this season, the honest truth is that the Wolverines are losing very little this offseason.

3. New Additions

2015 247Sports Recruiting Team Rankings

This season, the Wolverines are adding one new recruit, a transfer, and a preferred walk-on. These freshmen newcomers are Brent Hibbits and Moritz Wagner. Wagner is rated as a four-star prospect according to 247Sports and Hibbits is rated as a top 15 player in the state of Michigan by Prep Hoops Michigan. Wagner is listed as a power forward and Hibbits is a player who could play at small forward or power forward.

Wagner is clearly the recruit who has received the most attention this offseason. He comes from overseas and generally, fits many of the molds of a European big man. He is offensively skilled, has a pretty developed defensive game for a true freshman, and has a nice shooting stroke. Wagner is still a bit undersized to play upfront and will have to develop to have a really shot at playing time, but he has a very high ceiling long-term.

Hibbitts will likely find himself headed for a redshirt season given Michigan's depth, but he will be a player for fans to watch in the coming years. He committed to Michigan over offers from Brown, Central Michigan, Lehigh, Toledo, and Youngstown State among others. Prep Hoops Michigan did a breakdown on Hibbitts and provided that he has "all of the potential in the world" and described him as "one of the best passing bigs" in Michigan.

Along with the recruiting additions, Michigan will be adding a transfer in Duncan Robinson from Division III Williams College. He actually transferred before last season, but had to sit out the year due to NCAA transfer rules. Now, he will be eligible to enter the lineup and should be a serious candidate to be one of Michigan's better bench options.

Undeniably, Robinson's most well known trait is his elite shooting. He may not be the best shooter Wolverine fans have seen recently - that designation likely belongs to Nik Stauskas - but he is certainly right up there. He has set some Michigan shooting practice records and with additional size and conditioning, could be set for a solid year.

Michigan's newcomers are far from an elite group and likely won't make a massive impact this season, but all three players have talent and a few have a shot to be in the rotation this year. Of course, even if Michigan's incoming group may not have a tremendous impact this season, that's not necessarily a bad thing. After all, the Wolverines return a ton from last year, which means getting time should be difficult for the newcomers.

4. Team Strengths

Admittedly, gauging Michigan's strengths and weaknesses this season is extremely difficult. The roster is going to look much different than it did last year and with players in and out of the lineup during pretty much all of last season, even looking at last year's overall numbers can be a bit misleading. Still, two of the areas where the Wolverines are set to be quite strong this season are in avoiding turnovers and avoiding fouls.

These have been sort of the mantras of John Beilein basketball, but avoiding turnovers has been a consistent factor in Beilein's Wolverine teams. Last season wasn't much different even with the injuries and youth. Michigan came in at No. 11 nationally in turnover rate and were No. 14 in steals allowed while on offense. This simply was not a team that turned over the ball that much.

1415 michigan turnover rate

The only Big Ten team that outperformed Michigan in this category was Wisconsin and obviously, the Badgers were one of the nation's best teams. Though Michigan will have plenty of transition in its backcourt this year, with Spike Albrecht playing off the bench and players like Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, this should still be an area of strength.

Another area where Michigan has consistently been good is in avoiding fouls. Overall, the Wolverines ranked just No. 348 in personal fouls. Along with this, Michigan gave up just 15.5% of its points on defense through free throws, which ranked No. 343 nationally. Again, there's no doubt that this is another area of focus in a Beilein team, but it's something that deserves to be recognized. Just look at how most of the contributors stacked up last year.

1415 michigan personal fouls

Realistically, the vast majority of Michigan's roster was in "foul trouble" less than one third of the time. Considering how thin Michigan was last season, that was probably one of the things that help the roster together over the course of the year. If Ricky Doyle can improve his numbers here, the Wolverines would be in really good shape. There's little doubt that he struggled with his personal fouls last season and keeping him on the floor would be huge.

1415 ricky doyle fouls per minute

As one can see, Doyle did show improvement overall in his fouling. After starting the season pretty rough, he gradually trended toward some pretty respectable numbers. Of course, he had some trouble during the middle of Big Ten play, but he did make progress. Though he trended up at the very end of the season, that had to do with some unusual circumstances. If he can get near his better numbers, it would be great news for Michigan.

There's no doubt that Michigan's team is going to look much different than it did last year, but some of the areas where the Wolverines should be strong is in avoiding turnovers and avoiding personal fouls. Overall, though there are plenty of areas where Michigan should be better this season, these are just a few.

5. Team Weaknesses

Similar to the discussion in the strengths section, this team is going to look much different this season. As such, the entire dynamic of the team is set to change. Some of the areas where Michigan was just decent last year like three point shooting should improve substantially, but it's hard to gauge where exactly it will land. However, two areas that should be a work in progress are on the boards and the ability to get to the free throw line.

Overall, the Wolverines came in at an underwhelming No. 175 in defensive rebounding rate and No. 325 in offensive rebounding rate last year. It doesn't take much analysis to realize those numbers are not great. For the most part, Michigan will be returning the same frontcourt, just without Max Bielfeldt. However, considering Bielfeldt was one of the best rebounders on the roster, things could get rough. It also could continue an underwhelming trend under Beilein.

michigan beilein reobunding ratnkzzzzzz

Simply due to style, it's hard to see Michigan ever being an elite rebounding team, but there's a difference between coming in at the very bottom and at least being decent. If the Wolverines can get closer to that No. 100 mark, it would go a long way toward helping the team. With what should be a very good offense, the Wolverines won't need to dominate the boards, but it needs to be average or better. This will be an area Michigan will have to focus on all year.

The other area that Michigan desperately needs to improve in this season is at getting to the free throw line. Last season, when Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton went down, the Wolverines probably lost its two best perimeter players at getting inside. In fact, the two led Michigan's roster outside of its big men in free throw rate. Considering that Michigan's big men had their ups and downs last season, it was a massive blow to the team's ability to get to the charity stripe and get easy looks.

1415 michigan free throw rate team

If that chart above isn't shocking, it should be. The Wolverines top players in free throw rate were the worst in the Big Ten and trailed even teams like Penn State and Rutgers. If Michigan is going to have success this season, the biggest improvement almost certainly has to come from here.

What's so frustrating about this for the Wolverines is that the team was very good at free throw shooting. Despite Michigan came in at No. 18 in free throw shooting, the team was just No. 338 in percentage of points off free throws. The Wolverines could shoot, but just could never get to the line. Though, free throw shooting wasn't the only reason that Michigan's offense regressed last season, it wasn't certainly had a major impact.

1415 michigan offensive regresisson

Of course, as mentioned earlier, this is an area that should improve this season. LeVert and Walton are back and Michigan's frontcourt appears set to take a step forward. This should give Michigan more easy looks inside, put opponents into foul trouble, and ultimately lead to more points, especially if Michigan can keep up its great shooting from the free throw line.

Perhaps two of the biggest question marks about Michigan's team will be how it rebounds the ball and how effective it can be at getting to the free throw line. There's a decent chance that the Wolverines can improve in both areas, but each will have major implications on the season.

6. Top Player

Heading into last season, there wasn't much debate about Michigan's best player. Most was pretty unanimous that Caris LeVert's skillset made him Michigan's top weapon and a true contender for Big Ten Player of the Year. In fact, I picked him to be the Big Ten Player of the Year last season. Of course, he never quite lived up to the hype and eventually went down for the season with injury. However, with his return, he is still expected to be the top player on the roster and came in at #6 in the BTPowerhouse preseason Big Ten player rankings heading into this season.

1415 michigan kenpom mvps

Even with an injury shortened season, LeVert still held up pretty well with the rest of the roster. After all, LeVert did finish in the top three overall on Michigan's roster in minutes, field goal attempts, minutes, assists, steals, rebounds, and overall win shares, despite missing most of Big Ten play. With that in mind, it's pretty hard to think of any Michigan player who will outperform him, assuming LeVert plays all season.

Of course, there are a few players that could surprise in this area. To start, the return of Derrick Walton from injury should put another quality player on the floor in the backcourt. Along with this, the return of Aubrey Dawkins and Zak Irvin is huge, as both players were really good down the stretch. Some of the younger players who didn't see a ton of time like Kameron Chatman and DJ Wilson could also have an outside shot here.

Nonetheless, even with a deeper and more talented team this season, LeVert has to be considered to be the team's best player. His combination of skills makes him a potential NBA Lottery pick and Big Ten Player of the Year candidate. Fans will want to see him healthy before buying in too much, but LeVert is set for a big year.

7. 2015-16 Schedule Breakdown

  • 11/6 - Le Moyne (Exhibition)
  • 11/13 - Northern Michigan
  • 11/16 - Elon
  • 11/20 - Xavier
  • 11/25 - Connecticut (Paradise Island, Bahamas)
  • 11/26 - Charlotte/Syracuse (Paradise Island, Bahamas)
  • 11/27 - Gonzaga/Texas/Texas A&M/Washington (Paradise Island, Bahamas)
  • 12/1 - at North Carolina State
  • 12/5 - Houston Baptist
  • 12/8 - at SMU
  • 12/12 - Delaware State
  • 12/15 - Northern Kentucky
  • 12/19 - Youngstown State
  • 12/23 - Bryant
  • 12/30 - at Illinois
  • 1/2 - Penn State
  • 1/7 - at Purdue
  • 1/12 - Maryland
  • 1/17 - at Iowa
  • 1/20 - Minnesota
  • 1/23 - at Nebraska
  • 1/27 - Rutgers
  • 1/30 - Penn State (New York, New York)
  • 2/2 - Indiana
  • 2/6 - Michigan State
  • 2/10 - at Minnesota
  • 2/13 - Purdue
  • 2/16 - at Ohio State
  • 2/21 - at Maryland
  • 2/24 - Northwestern
  • 2/28 - at Wisconsin
  • 3/5 - Iowa

Michigan has set itself up a pretty challenging, but unbalanced non-conference schedule. The Wolverines are set to face several teams in legitimate top 25 consideration, but are also set to face a group of teams that are considered to be national bottom-feeders. As such, the pressure is going to be on Michigan to perform in its marquee games.

The significant games on this non-conference schedule include the road games at North Carolina State and SMU, the neutral site games in the Battle 4 Atlantis, and the home game against Xavier. All of these games are going to be difficult, but barring someone being better than expected, Michigan should have a shot in every game.

To start, the road games at North Carolina State and SMU are going to be tough. Both teams had to work to make last year's NCAA Tournament, but each brings back a loaded roster with national aspirations. On top of that, Michigan is going to get a tough Xavier team at home and will have to play in the Battle 4 Atlantis. There's really no telling how far the Wolverines could go in Atlantis. UConn is a tough first round matchup and Michigan would likely get Syracuse and Gonzaga with wins, which will not be easy.

Realistically speaking, Michigan is probably looking at somewhere between one to three non-conference losses. The Wolverines are set to be a pretty good team, but there are five games that could easily be losses on this slate. However, considering that Xavier comes at home and Michigan might be better than anyone on its non-conference schedule outside of Gonzaga, look for somewhere around one or two non-conference losses.

Of course, Big Ten play for Michigan will be brutal. In total, Michigan will play 14 of its 18 conference games against top 100 KenPom teams and seven games against top 25 KenPom teams. The Wolverines actually have one of the easier Big Ten schedules this year, but given this year's Big Ten, that's not saying much.

If Michigan is going to put together a solid conference record, there are some good places to start. First, with four matchups against Nebraska, Penn State, and Rutgers and only one of those as a true road game, there's a pretty easy route to four wins. Additionally, with home games against Iowa, Minnesota, and Northwestern and road games against Illinois, Minnesota, and Ohio State, the Wolverines have a good route to 10 wins without even beating one team projected to be at top of the conference. Michigan also has home games against Indiana, Maryland, Michigan State and Purdue, so the Wolverines have a shot at even a few more wins.

Admittedly, that is an optimistic approach. Michigan will almost assuredly lose at least a few of those games. With that in mind, look for a conference record around 9 to 12 wins. The biggest things will be playing well at home and taking care of business against the lower teams on the road. If so, the Wolverines should have a solid record.

Overall, Michigan will have a pretty challenging schedule this year. The non-conference schedule is pretty top heavy and will likely give the Wolverines at least a loss or two. On top of that, with a very challenging Big Ten schedule, things will get even tough. Luckily, with a quality roster and some breaks, Michigan does have a solid chance to get above the 20 win mark and back to the NCAA Tournament.

8. Projected Startling Lineup

  • PG: Derrick Walton (Jr.) - 85%

  • SG: Caris LeVert (Sr.) - 95%

  • SF: Aubrey Dawkins (So.) - 70%

  • PF: DJ Wilson (Rs. Fr.) - 60%

  • C: Ricky Doyle - (So.) - 70%

(Percentage likelihood of starting at season tip-off.)

The backcourt for Michigan is set to take a big step forward in depth, experience, and talent this season. At point guard, the return of Derrick Walton from injury should be huge. He is coming off an underwhelming year, but should be the top option for the Wolverines at the point due to his ability to direct the offense and score himself. Behind him, Spike Albrecht should go back to his bench role and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (MAAR) could grab sporadic minutes.

Alongside Walton, there really shouldn't be much of a battle. Caris LeVert should be the team's best player and is absolutely going to get a starting role. The only way LeVert doesn't start here is if a player like MAAR becomes so good that it pushes LeVert to small forward. This is not very likely to occur given the team's wing depth and talent. LeVert should be the team's leader and player 30-35 minutes at the position.

On the wing, there should be a much fiercer battle for playing time. Aubrey Dawkins and Zak Irvin both played very well down the stretch last season and both should be in play for starting roles. Irvin would be slotted in to start at power forward, but he is still recovering from injury and will likely have to get back into playing shape before grabbing the starting role. However, Dawkins should be ready to go and as such, is expected to grab the starting role.

As mentioned, Irvin will likely grab the starting role at power forward once he is fully healthy, but DJ Wilson is set to have a very intriguing season. He has a tremendous combination of athleticism and size and has the potential to drastically change Michigan's team dynamic this season. At least early on, look for him to grab the nod. A few other players that could make some noise on the wing are Kameron Chatman and Duncan Robinson, but neither looks to be ready to grab a starting role this year.

Finally, at center, this will likely be a battle between Mark Donnal and Ricky Doyle. Though some are projecting this one way or another, the minutes are definitely going to be split up and both will get an opportunity to prove themselves. However, given how things unfolded last season, look for Doyle to grab the nod early on. Wilson could also be an option to move over and grab some minutes.

Easily, the greatest strength of this year's Michigan team is the depth on the roster. Every single position has multiple players who have the potential to work into a starting lineup. In fact, just consider that Albrecht, Chatman, Donnal, Irvin, and MAAR all started at some point last season and are not projected to be starters above. Literally, that's an entire lineup that started last year which will be on the bench. Of course, that comes with positives and negatives.

The biggest challenge of this depth will be sorting out who starts and who plays when. The Wolverines have a great combination of depth, experience, and talent, but figuring out how it fits together will be interesting. Expect this lineup to move around plenty this season and adjust pretty often.

Overall, Michigan is set to have a pretty good starting lineup. As mentioned, the lineup itself is probably not the strength of the team, but this should be good enough to compete in the Big Ten. With a potential Big Ten Player of the Year in LeVert and quality players like Dawkins, Irvin, and Walton, this roster looks to be pretty good this season.

9. Team Perspective From Alex Cook of MGoBlog

"After a two-year stretch in which Michigan won 59 games, a Big Ten regular season title, and eight total NCAA Tournament games (all while boasting the most efficient offense in the country in both seasons), the Wolverines took a noticeable step back last season. Even before the well-documented injuries to Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, UM put together a lackluster non-conference performance and - even though there were some unanticipated bright spots in Big Ten play - finished with a .500 record and weren't even invited to the NIT.

Still, there's plenty of reason for optimism in Ann Arbor. The entire team is back (save for reserve center Max Bielfeldt), including LeVert, who was projected as a first-round draft pick before returning to Michigan. Now juniors, two former Top 50 recruits in Walton and Zak Irvin were key rotational players as freshmen for a team that won the Big Ten by three games; Walton was injured for nearly all of last season and Irvin struggled early on before playing extremely well in February and March.

Because of early entries to the NBA in the past few years, Michigan was forced to play several freshmen last year and that experience should bode well for them this season: Ricky Doyle showed promising signs of developing into an above-average Big Ten center; Aubrey Dawkins had some fantastic scoring outbursts a year ago; and several other freshmen who saw minutes last year will by vying for minutes on a crowded roster. Additionally, Michigan adds three new players -- German forward Moritz Wagner, transfer wing Duncan Robinson, and center DJ Wilson, who took a redshirt last season.

With John Beilein's track record and the amount of coaching continuity in the program (all three assistants have been in place for five years), expecting a quick turnaround is pretty reasonable. Michigan doesn't look to have the top-level NBA talent of Burke, Stauskas, and McGary on the roster any longer, but the Wolverines are far more talented than last year's record shows. If LeVert gels in his role as the alpha dog senior and his supporting cast makes incremental improvements across the board, the Wolverines will lurk around as a darkhorse Big Ten contender and will surely return to the NCAA Tournament this season." - Alex Cook.

10. Overall Season Outlook

Michigan is entering a crucial year for the program. After coming off an extremely underwhelming season that was easily Michigan's worst performance since 2010, the Wolverines are looking to get back on track. Beilein has a proven reputation in Ann Arbor, but showing that last year was just a blip on the radar is crucial.

Of course, with the return of several players from injury like Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton and a much more experienced roster around these players, things should get easier. After all, these additions will be added to a roster that was already improving down the stretch last season. Maybe Michigan doesn't have a starting lineup that can hold up with some of the Big Ten's top teams, but it's depth and experience should be massive boosts.

Unfortunately, living up to expectations will be challenging. Michigan's schedule will be very difficult and in a loaded Big Ten, the margin for error will be razor thin. Additionally, finding a rotation and quality options upfront could be some of the biggest challenges of this season. Even if the backcourt and wing plays well, if the frontcourt continues to underwhelm, it could really hold the Wolverines back this season.

Nonetheless, with the returning depth and additions either due to injury or recruiting should set Michigan up for significant success this season. If all goes right, the Wolverines could be set up to get the season it was supposed to get last year before things went off the rails. There are plenty of questions on the roster, but with a coach like Beilein and a potential star like LeVert, expect this team to be near the top of the conference.

Big Ten Prediction: 4th Place