After last season's stumble into the NCAA Tournament, Michigan fans were left with far more questions than answers going into this season. The majority of the games down the stretch in the regular season, Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament seemed like a chaotic frenzy to score a basket, one thing that seriously needs to change next year. We break down three important questions heading into next season that could be the difference between Michigan being a fringe tournament team to one that can win a lot of games and make real noise come March.
Who is Michigan's go-to scorer?
A lot of great teams seem to have one or two guys who can be relied upon to shoulder the load for stretches of games. Last season, Michigan seemed to have four or five guys capable of doing just that, but only for small spurts and never with confident consistency. For Michigan to really be successful, I think the go-to scorer role falls first to Zak Irvin, and then to Duncan Robinson.
While other guys on the roster can obviously score, Robinson and Irvin's versatility, length, ability to hit the outside shot and drive to the basket makes them the most obvious candidates. There are definitely going to be games when one or both is seriously slumping, but these guys, especially Irvin, need to look to find their rhythm early and often at the start of the season. While there was a ton of production at the guard and wing positions, the most intriguing position battle on the roster is center.
Who will be Michigan's starting center for the first game?
I touched on this a bit in the first article, but Michigan's center battle features two guys who both showed they can really play at a high level, and a third center (Jon Teske or Austin Davis) that prefers to play more rugged than Mark Donnal and Moritz Wagner. Donnal is classified as a center to start the season and has plenty of experience, but Wagner was phenomenal during Michigan's late run into the tournament.
Based on most recent play, I expect Wagner to start, but it'll be interesting to see whether John Beilein chooses to give more of an even split to start the season or hands the reins to Wagner until he makes consistent mistakes. I think Wagner could be a special talent in Ann Arbor if Beilein lets him takes gambles on defense and gives him room to showcase in some areas on offense, but fans will have to be patient as Wagner is only enter his sophomore year.
Can Michigan get any real production off the bench?
Seeing as only one of Donnal or Wagner will start, the other one will be called upon off the bench to spell the other for minutes. Michigan also has the luxury of a ready-to-play backup point guard in Xavier Simpson, a small but tough player who can get to the basket at will. Behind those two, Michigan desperately needs production out of D.J. Wilson and Ibi Watson, but it's extremely unclear if either one of those two players can actually play significant minutes.
Overall, Michigan has a really nice roster with nine players that will be counted upon to give some kind of production for the roster. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman wasn't discussed above, but he's got a chance to be a really nice third or fourth offensive option on a team with limited depth. If Michigan can find a way to outscore teams and get great play for their frontcourt, they can be a really quality team in the Big Ten.