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Michigan Is Suffering From An Identity Crisis

And the solution doesn’t appear clear-cut at all.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

If you watched any of Michigan’s most recent game against Iowa, you’d think the best player on the floor was D.J. Wilson. The redshirt sophomore, who many fans argued should transfer before the likes of Aubrey Dawkins and Kam Chatman, finished with 28 points, 14 rebounds, six assists and a block in 44 minutes as Michigan suffered an 86-83 loss to Iowa. Wilson’s stats were videogame like, but Wilson’s phenomenal output puts the Wolverines in a precarious place.

In the previous two seasons, Michigan has had individual outstanding performances from each of their seven true rotation players. For a look at Michigan’s offense prowess, take a glance at these statistics:

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: 25 points (1/7 at Purdue)

Mark Donnal: 26 points (12/30 at Illinois) and 25 points (2/21 at Maryland)

Zak Irvin: 23 points (11/30 vs. Virginia Tech) and 22 points (1/12 vs. Maryland, 2/13 vs. Purdue)

Duncan Robinson: 21 points (1/23 at Nebraska, 3/10 vs. Northwestern)

Moritz Wagner: 20 points (12/3 vs. Kennesaw State)

Derrick Walton: 26 points (2/10 at Minnesota) and 23 points (11/18 vs. SMU)

D.J. Wilson: 28 points (1/1 at Iowa)

In layman’s terms: In the last two seasons, Michigan has had all seven of its rotation players finish with 20 points in at least one game. The Wolverines clearly have endless offensive potential, but often times are unable to actually get multiple players clicking at the same time. The big question remains, how does Michigan proceed from here?

Both Wilson and Wagner appear to be most comfortable in their roles, and the ability for them to play inside as well as stretch out to the 3-point line makes the tandem one of the most difficult frontcourts to defend against in the Big Ten.

However, the senior leadership of Irvin and Walton Jr. make it undeniably difficult to argue that one of those two guys shouldn’t be taking the last shot. Irvin hit a monster 3-pointer to put Michigan up by two with 30 seconds remaining in regulation against Iowa, but Wilson was the hot hand all day and single-handedly kept Michigan relevant in the first half.

Other questions arise from Michigan’s three other players: Donnal, Abdur-Rahkman and Robinson. The senior forward for Michigan has seen his minutes dwindle, but there will be certainly be times in Big Ten play where Wagner is whistled for two early fouls and Donnal will have to play the bulk of the minutes in a half. Has the senior lost his confidence or will he still be effective off the bench in a limited role?

For Abdur-Rahkman, his confidence remains in serious doubt right now. The 6’3” junior has looked lost on offense in recent games, not scoring in 29 combined minutes against Furman and Iowa and only tallying two field goals in the 29 minutes against Maryland-Eastern Shore the game before. MAAR remains Michigan’s most effective option driving to the basket, and if his game is limited to defense and scattered shooting, Michigan becomes a far less effective offensive team.

Lastly, Robinson still remains an intriguing option for the Wolverines. The NY Times profiled Robinson’s rise from Division III Williams College to Michigan for the 200th time, but the significance of this jump still is glaring on the defensive end. The senior’s best weapon, 3-point shooting, has seen the biggest plummet on Michigan’s roster, as Robinson has only connected on 39% compared to 45% last season.

Overall, Michigan has a great chance to get back on track against Penn State Wednesday night (8:30 ET, BTN) before their schedule ramps up. Look for Wilson and Wagner to be extremely productive, and if Walton and Irvin can continue to facilitate and pick their spots, this Michigan team has a chance to remain in the upper echelon of the Big Ten.

Their identity, though. Well, that remains a mystery.