With the start of college basketball right around the corner, we look at the biggest storylines for Michigan going into this season. We already looked at the biggest question marks, but these headlines focus on areas of positive play that Michigan needs to continue to improve. If the Wolverines are able to accomplish these things throughout the course of their season, it could go a long way toward making another deep NCAA Tournament run from a few years back.
Michigan Needs Quality Wins in Non-Conference Play
Last season, Michigan lost some games that would have seriously helped their resume come tournament. The first of these games was against Xavier, a team that ended up hovering around the top-10 all season, but still a game at home that most Michigan fans believed they could (and should) have won. The other glaring loss was at SMU, where the Wolverines didn’t only lose, but were embarrassed by 24 points. This season, they have ample opportunities to build the resume early.
These early season games include two in New York against Marquette and either SMU or Pittsburgh, at South Carolina, Virginia Tech, Texas and at UCLA. Few teams have as many good chances to win a lot of high quality non-conference games, and Michigan has five or six in the span of a month. This will give Michigan fans a glimpse into how good this team can be, or whether John Beilein needs to make some major changes before the start of Big Ten play.
Duncan Robinson is Ready to Take the Leap
There were far too many glimpses to count last season where Duncan Robinson showcased why he was so highly regarded by John Beilein after the now 6’8” redshirt junior transferred from Williams College. Robinson has been great in his short time in Ann Arbor, but the sharpshooter has a chance to improve even more from the end of last season.
The entire Big Ten (and country) know the kid can shoot, but if he’s able to add other wrinkles to his game, such as post-up play, a midrange shot and a few drives to the basket, he can become one of the toughest covers in the entire country. Don’t expect his shot to go anywhere, but remember how Nik Stauskas was able to go from a standstill shooter after one season into an NBA lottery pick the following year? Robinson has better size than Stauksas, so there’s definitely a possibility for him to showcase his skills and make a similar next step.
Michigan Needs Consistent Post Play if the 3-Point Shot Isn’t Falling
For the first time in a very long time, Michigan actually has two centers capable of making plays at the basket without being spoon-fed the ball from a point guard. Senior Mark Donnal and sophomore Moritz Wagner have very different demeanors on the court, but both were very effective at times last season and need to continue to be a safety valve if the Michigan offense sputters.
Both players can shoot, run the floor and play solid defense, but Wagner’s length, versatility and upside make him a better candidate to play more of the minutes and become a potential star in the Big Ten. However, Wagner struggled with foul trouble all of last season, and having a veteran like Donnal waiting for Wagner’s inevitable foul woes is a luxury that not many teams have. If Michigan is able to steal a few baskets from these two guys that don’t come in the flow of the offense, it will be a real luxury.
Overall, Michigan remains one of the biggest question marks in the Big Ten heading into this season. They have immense talent from their first seven or eight guys, but yet to be seen whether these players have the firepower to win 25 or 27 games and actually compete for a Big Ten championship. Hopefully last season’s disappointing collapse to Notre Dame to end the season will serve as motivation to come out firing this season, but they need consistent perimeter play and better interior defense to stay afloat near the top of the Big Ten.