A 16-16 record in Ann Arbor is unacceptable. After two back-to-back historic seasons, the Wolverines got hit with the injury bug and struggled mightily. Lesser-known players were forced into key roles, and though this could help provide Michigan with serious depth this upcoming season, it destroyed last season. Whether Michigan is successful or not depends on a few key storylines that should be fascinating to watch over the next 8 months.
Can the Wolverines Get off to a Hot Start?
Anyone that followed college basketball last season knows that Michigan had two of the worst losses in the entire country, at home to both NJIT and Eastern Michigan. Michigan was at full strength for both of these games, so this makes these losses even more frustrating for Wolverines fans. With a relatively easy nonconference schedule but some challenges mixed in, including Battle 4 Atlantis over Thanksgiving and two tough road tests at NC State and SMU, Michigan should be battle-tested going into conference play. The hope is that they can pick up some wins along the way.
Which Big Men Will Earn the Majority of the Minutes for the Wolverines?
Last season's big man rotation was extremely confusing and never was totally settled. By the end of the year, 6'7" senior Max Bielfeldt was leading the charge, a disappointment for both Ricky Doyle (injury) and Mark Donnal (poor performance). With Bielfeldt moving on to Indiana for his grad year, Doyle and Donnal once again have the best chances to earn the majority of the minutes.
Behind them are two untested freshmen, D.J. Wilson and Moritz Wagner. Wilson played a few games last season before an injury forced him to redshirt, but his length and defensive prowess will likely earn him minutes. Wagner is much more of a stretch 4, but his offensive touch may force Beilein to insert him at center. All four options give Michigan a slightly different look, and hopefully all four will be Big Ten ready by the time conference play rolls around.
How Good Is Caris LeVert?
Caris LeVert is arguably the most important player in the entire country. Sure, Michigan has plenty of talented options on the wing, but none provide the combination of shooting, passing, defensive length and leadership that LeVert has. Last season was supposed to be LeVert's breakout year and last hurrah before the NBA. Instead, LeVert's foot injury in the final seconds of a home victory against Northwestern ended his season and derailed hopes of Michigan making a third consecutive deep run into the NCAA Tournament.
While Michigan fans have a huge amount invested in LeVert's play, Caris himself has a ton riding on this season. NBA scouts generally favor players who make the leap after one or two years in college, and LeVert's senior status certainly won't help. But scouts are drooling over his untapped potential and how his style of play would fit perfectly in today's modern NBA game. If LeVert can continue to show flashes of brilliance like he did last season, he should be primed for a fantastic senior season both individually and for the Michigan team.
This Michigan team was one of the biggest disappointments in all of college basketball last season. Injuries, missed opportunities and two horrific home losses cast a dark cloud over the entire season, and with the entire roster minus Bielfeldt (and the addition of Moritz Wagner), Michigan has all the pieces to make another deep tournament run. If LeVert can get going, Michigan's wings can knock down shots and play good defense, and John Beilein can find one or two guys who can consistently play great minutes at center, this team could be scary good.