The buzz surrounding the Michigan basketball team, for the second consecutive season, is far more subdued than the hype surrounding the Jim Harbaugh sideshow circus in Ann Arbor. Michigan had two magical seasons in 2012-13 and 2013-14 before a horrific 2014-15 campaign and an underwhelming last season despite creeping into the NCAA Tournament.
Michigan's roster overhaul looks more akin to an NBA roster or a John Calipari team, but there's still plenty of talent in Ann Arbor. The big question that looms is whether the new players will successfully fill the void. But this post focuses on last season's departures, and how they could have a major impact on this season's roster.
The two most obvious losses are seniors Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht. Both players helped surge Michigan to a Final Four their freshman year in a supporting role, were monumental in Michigan's Big Ten Championship the following season, and have been the faces of the program since they arrived on campus. LeVert's departure seemingly hurts more than Spike's, but both players were injured for a large part of last season that it seems unfair to this year's roster to overstate their importance. However, Spike taking his talents to West Lafayette in playing for Purdue should make for quite an interesting homecoming on February 25th at the Crisler Center.
While the final players of the self-dubbed "Fresh Five" are gone, Michigan's most ravaged class this past offseason was the incoming junior class. Three players bolted, including center Ricky Doyle, forward Kameron Chatman and guard Aubrey Dawkins. While none of these three players were consistent last season, each showed flashes of brilliance throughout their time in Ann Arbor to at least warrant potentially staying one more year.
Starting with Doyle, his loss definitely hurts the least of the three. He only averaged 12 minutes this past season, but emerged as the starting center his freshman year and had eight games in double figures. Ultimately, he was unable to move ahead of Mark Donnal and Moritz Wagner on the depth chart, and with John Beilein adding two new centers to the roster, the writing was on the wall for either Donnal or Doyle to depart after this season. Donnal emerged as a legitimate inside-outside threat, Wagner has a chance to become a star in the Big Ten, and Doyle moves on to Florida Gulf Coast, where I expect him to have a fantastic final two seasons in Florida.
On the wing, Kam Chatman has to be considered one of the biggest recruiting flops in recent memory. The lefty from Portland, Oregon had a chance to be the perfect player in John Beilein's system, and his passing ability and shooting was enough to warrant a starting role from the get-go. Chatman just wasn't ready despite starting every game in the non-conference, and saw his minutes dwindle to about 10 or 15 a game. With his starting spot gone in year two, so too was his confidence. Chatman only scored 78 points in 200 minutes the entire year, and decided joining coach Bacari Alexander at Detroit was a better fit. His shot against Indiana will forever live in infamy as the shot to get Michigan to the NCAA Tournament, especially considering he hadn't played much the entire game. He still has extreme talent, he just needs confidence to show it, and hopefully a change of scenery will get him back on track.
The last departure is Dawkins, a relative afterthought during recruiting who emerged into a phenomenal bench scorer his freshman year. His shooting against Illinois, Northwestern and Rutgers particularly stand out, and Dawkins was ready for another leap his sophomore year. Dawkins was the starter for the first nine games of the season but soon displaced by even better sharpshooter Duncan Robinson, and his production dipped a bit. He still played 15 minutes per game throughout the season, but only scored 14 points in the final seven games. When his dad took a job at Central Florida, Dawkins felt he could prove himself more than on Michigan's roster. This loss stings the most however, as Michigan's wings coming into this season are D.J. Wilson, who has played a total of 72 minutes, and Ibi Watson, an incoming freshman. Dawkins would have played a big role as the backup wing for Zak Irvin or Duncan Robinson, a potential major Achilles for Michigan.
Overall, Michigan's five losses each symbolize a point in Michigan's basketball trajectory over the last few years. LeVert showed us a skinny, under-recruited kid can propel himself to the NBA with hard work and coaching. Spike showed that any kid, of any size, can rise to the occasion on the biggest stage, and even found a new home for his fifth year of college basketball. Doyle was a John Beilein foray into the traditional post-up big man, an experiment that at times paid off but too often felt awkward and forced in the Michigan offense. Chatman was a swing-for-the-fences type of recruiting push, and timing, rhythm and speed never caught up to the forward. And Dawkins, most disappointingly, wanted a larger role on a different team with his dad at the helm. But that's all in the past, as next week we turn our attention to three questions facing Michigan coming into this season.