When the 2014-15 Michigan Wolverines roster was finalized, there appeared to be a gaping hole at the center position. Fifth year senior Jordan Morgan graduated, Jon Horford transferred to Florida for his final year of eligibility and Mitch McGary bolted for the NBA and "greener pastures". Michigan only had one returning player at center on the roster, and he didn't have the height to strike fear into frontlines like Kentucky and Arizona. 6'7 Max Bielfeldt was an afterthought who turned his senior season into an incredibly productive one. We document how Bielfeldt managed to earn his way into the rotation and look back on his Michigan career as a whole.
Coming into the season, Bielfeldt was most known for his enormous calves and a lifetime backup in Ann Arbor. He had scored 38 points in 195 minutes the previous two seasons, which equates to a glorified walk-on. John Beilein mentioned that Bielfeldt was unguardable in the preseason, but was this just Beilein trying to give opposing coaches an extra player to scout or was there any truth to this?
Beilein gave the starting center job to redshirt freshman Mark Donnal, a 6'9 shooter that was expected to give the Wolverines shooting at the center position that they desperately lacked last season. Only Donnal struggled mightily, getting overmatched by teams in the post and losing confidence by the game on his jumpshot. Beilein decided to give Bielfeldt big minutes off the bench and the junior responded, hitting 7 of 9 shots including 3-3 from deep en route to an 18-point game the second game of the season. Was this lightening in a bottle or did Michigan find hidden gold from their third string center for the rest of the season?
Bielfeldt didn't find his groove until late January, scoring 5 points in 19 minutes against Northwestern. He followed this with 9 against Wisconsin, 12 at home against Nebraska and 7 on the road in an overtime loss to Michigan State in which he played a season high 33 minutes and willed his way to 9 rebounds. He finished the year with three more games in double figures, including a 14-point, 11 rebound effort against Rutgers on senior day for his first double-double of his career.
The senior from Peoria, Illinois was never the tallest player on the floor, even times on his own team despite playing the center position, but he developed into a reliable big man that Beilein heavily leaned on down the stretch wihen both Donnal and Ricky Doyle were in serious funks.
Because Bielfeldt is a redshirt junior that chose to not play for Michigan next season, he still has one year of eligibility left and could transfer to another school and play immediately. Whether he chooses to do that is entirely up to him, but a big-bodied, 6'7 center at a mid-major school like Bradley or Illinois State would allow Bielfeldt to compete for serious minutes and play in his home state.
Bielfeldt finished the season with averages of 5 points and 4 rebounds in just under 14 minutes per game. He patiently waited his turn behind some of the best big men Michigan has had in quite some time and performed admirably in spots. Overall, his size limited him despite his ability to bang with some of the bigger bodies in the Big Ten. Michigan finished this season disappointingly, but is hoping next year's seniors can write a better legacy in their final year than Bielfeldt did in his.