Finally, we’ve come to the end of my series on the newcomers for each Big Ten program. Last up is Michigan, a team that will rely heavily on veterans in 2015-16. Last season, a slew of injuries helped lead to a disappointing 16-16 campaign for the Wolverines. With a host of experienced players like Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. returning though, Michigan has the chance to be one of the strongest teams in the conference this season.
So how will new comers impact the Wolverines? The team’s collection of depth left coach John Beilein with just one remaining scholarship, which he used on German product Moritz Wagner. Still, the Wolverines also have two more new players in transfer Duncan Robinson and preferred walk-on Brent Hibbitts. Who knows how much these three will contribute to the Wolverines, but let’s take a look at each and see what their impact might be.
One of the Big Ten’s most intriguing freshmen, Wagner is a 6’10", 210-pound stretch four who brings plenty of shooting and flexibility to the Wolverines lineup. While Michigan was already stocked with wings, it lacked a plethora of proven front court players, especially after the departure of Max Bielfeldt. In Wagner, the Wolverines have a player who adds not only size, but also another dimension to the team. Although Beilein has a couple of potentially solid forwards on the roster (Ricky Doyle, Mark Donnal, D.J. Wilson), he didn’t have one who could hit shots from the outside like the freshman from Germany can. Although he’s known for his long-distance shooting, Wagner is a well-rounded offensive player who can get to the rim and should be deadly from mid-range. He’s not the most athletic player in the world, but he should be effective regardless. As for 2015-16, it’s obviously unknown how Beilein will construct his lineup, but the likeliest scenario is Doyle starting at the five with Aubrey Dawkins as a small-ball four. This would mean Wagner comes off the bench, which is probably best for his development. Still, expect him to get plenty of minutes, as a solid season from him could help get the Wolverines back to the NCAA Tournament.
It’s very unusual to see a Division III player make a successful transition to Division I, but that’s exactly what Robinson will try to do this season. A 6’8", 210-pound forward, Robinson began his career at Williams College, where he averaged 17.1 points and 6.5 rebounds a game in 2013-14 before transferring to Michigan and sitting out last season. While it may seem unlikely that a guy so overlooked in high school could turn into a Division I type player in one season, Robinson was looked by some schools in the Ivy league and reportedly grew at least an inch and gained 20 pounds during his year at Williams. Now Robinson’s best chance to get on the court will be as a shooter. He shot 46 percent from three at Williams and should get a chance to prove himself for Michigan early on. He won’t be a starter, but he could definitely carve out a role for himself as a sub.
Another 6’8" forward, Hibbitts had a number of scholarship offers from smaller DI schools, but decided to come to the Wolverines as a preferred walk-on instead. While most walk-ons don’t play right away, Beilein has said that Hibbitts will have a legitimate shot at getting time in 2015-16. That doesn’t mean he’ll definitely play, but Hibbitts is a versatile player who brings size, passing and shooting to the table. It’s hard to predict how much he’ll play, but it’d be surprising if he was a major contributor right away.
Although none these guys will likely start, Wagner has the best chance at making a splash off the bench next season. He’ll be looked upon as one of the team’s top subs, but he is a freshman and Robinson and Hibbitts could get opportunities as well. Bottom line, all three will have to prove themselves if they want to find minutes in the rotation next season.