In the months leading up to the 2015-16 college basketball season, BTPowerhouse will be releasing a new series called the 'BTPowerhouse 25,' which features the Top 25 players in the Big Ten as voted by members of the staff. All players set to be on Big Ten rosters for next season were eligible during the staff vote with their top selection receiving 25 points and their 25th and final selection receiving 1 point.
Today's edition will take a brief look at Zak Irvin of the Michigan Wolverines, who came in at #16 in the rankings. Though many have focused on the return of Caris LeVert and his impact on the Wolverines this season, few have focused on Irvin, who becomes the clear second banana with LeVert on the wing. For Michigan to be successful this season, Irvin needs to have a big year.
‘BTP 25'- #16 Zak Irvin
- Eligibility: Junior
- Career Totals: 69 games, 1729 minutes, 703 points, 202 rebounds, 62 assists
- 2014-15 Averages: 36.3 min, 14.3 pts, 4.8 rbs, 1.5 asts, 0.1 blks, 1.0 stls
- Positional Role: Small Forward
Irvin came to Michigan as a 5-star recruit, #22 overall, and the top ranked player in the state of Indiana according to ESPN. Over the course of two seasons, Irvin has blossomed into one of the best players on the Michigan roster and has the talent to break into the top 10 players in the Big Ten.
As a freshman, Irvin only played 15 minutes a game, used primarily as a spark plug off the bench for John Beilein when Michigan desperately needed a scoring burst. Irvin was excellent in this "gunner" role, becoming increasingly more confident as the season went on. Irvin averaged nearly 7 points per game, but attempted a whopping 75% of his attempts from 3.
While his freshman campaign was a success, his sophomore season allowed Irvin to showcase many of the skills that were seldom used his first year. Perhaps the most obvious offensive wrinkle was Irvin's ability to shoot off the dribble and attack the basket, which saw his point production jump from 7 to 14 points per game. Irvin's rebounding improved, along with his emphasis on athleticism. While his shooting percentage dipped, remember Irvin was forced to play nearly 36 minutes per game because of LeVert's injury. Irvin's point production should remain consistent, but look for the field goal percentage to increase markedly.
As mentioned before, Irvin is one of the best shooters in the Big Ten. At 6'6", he has the size to shoot over bigger guards and small forwards, which allows him to get his shot off at will. This has always been his biggest strength and has kept him on the floor when his defense and rebounding leave something to be desired. Irvin's driving ability has become one of his best assets over the last year or so, and his newfound athleticism allows him to have thunderous dunks to rile up the crowd. Irvin is a perfect offensive player in the Beilein system, which allows him to find both easy baskets and more difficult shots he has to create on his own.
Areas for Improvement
While Irvin has made strides in some areas of his game, there still remain areas where he needs to improve. Starting on the defensive end, Irvin still is an average defender at best. To play at the next level, Irvin will have to become more consistent at guarding shooting guards and small forwards. Last season John Beilein played zone, including a seldom-used 1-3-1, to mix up defensive schemes. Part of this had to do with changing up defenses, but this could have also had to do with Irvin being on the floor for nearly the entire game and not wanting to expose him defensively.
Besides for defense, Irvin needs to improve his passing numbers. While every major statistical category improved from freshman to sophomore year, Irvin's assists only went up by 1. Given that Irvin's minutes went up by 20, this is a disappointing statistic. Look for Irvin to have plenty of options to pass to this season, including LeVert, a healthy Derrick Walton, Jr., Aubrey Dawkins, Ricky Doyle and a multitude of options off the bench.
Irvin's projection largely depends on the success of Michigan, and vice versa. After two productive seasons, Irvin's third year in Ann Arbor should be a great one. As discussed above, the areas while I would love to see improvement from Irvin is on the defensive and passing statistics. If Irvin has ambitions of playing in the NBA, this is the perfect season to showcase his talents. Unlike the unbelievably talented team two years ago where Irvin was an afterthought, he will be a starter and a major contributor on a team that has Final Four aspirations. Irvin has all the tools, now it's just a matter of whether he can put them all together.
'BTPowerhouse 25' Rankings
- Players That Just Missed The Cut
- #25 - Kendrick Nunn (Illinois)
- #24 - Bryant McIntosh (Northwestern)
- #22 (tie) Rasheed Sulaimon (Maryland)
- #22 (tie) - Thomas Bryant (Indiana)
- #21 - Rapheal Davis (Purdue)
- #20 - Derrick Walton Jr. (Michigan)
- #19 - Caleb Swanigan (Purdue)
- #18 - Shavon Shields (Nebraska)
- #17 - Eron Harris (Michigan State)
- #16 - Zak Irvin (Michigan)
- #15 - To be continued ...