In the weeks leading up to the 2017-’18 college basketball season, BTPowerhouse will be releasing its preview series breaking down each Big Ten team. These will come in a set of series previewing the overall team, the team’s backcourt, wings, and big men, and the team’s schedule. Each post will take a look at its top in-depth and give predictions on the upcoming season.
Today’s edition of the ‘BTPowerhouse Preview Series’ will focus on the backcourt for Michigan. The Wolverines run it back this season without Derrick Walton, but have plenty of talent to replace him.
‘BTPowerhouse Preview’- Michigan Backcourt
- 2016-’17 All-Big Ten Qualifiers: Derrick Walton Jr. (Second Team)
- Key Departures: Derrick Walton Jr.
- Additions: Jaaron Simmons (graduate transfer), Jordan Poole, Eli Brooks
- Top Player: Jaaron Simmons
Michigan starts two players with tons of Division I experience. The aforementioned Simmons played one year at Houston and two years at Ohio before rounding out his college basketball career in the Big Ten. Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rahkman has consistently featured in Michigan’s rotation, and his production has increased every year.
There’s a lot to like about Simmons’ game. As the focal point of the Ohio offense, the 6’1” point guard averaged around 16 points and seven assists per game. His assist numbers dropped last season and he was thrown into more of a scoring role, and his shot attempts increased from 10.5 to over 13 per game. Simmons’ job on Michigan will ultimately be to facilitate more than score, and it appears he’s completely capable of that.
Like Walton, Simmons is undersized at point guard and lacks elite level competition consistently. Can he replicate this production in the Big Ten, or are his numbers sure to drop off a bit? Michigan will be pleased if Simmons could end the year with averages of 13 points and five assists presumably, adding toughness and a bit of rebounding to the defensive end as well where Michigan has been sorely lacking in years past.
MAAR, for short, has been about as quietly consistent for Michigan as anyone. There’s a sneaky swagger that he plays with, and he should thrive alongside Simmons as someone who can knock down the outside shot and attack the basket with reckless abandon. Can he add another dimension to his game than just scoring? In career highs last season, he averaged three rebounds and two assists per game.
Simmons and MAAR also will look to provide a sense of leadership that was left by both Walton and Zak Irvin. If they’re able to fill that void and help provide a sense of identity to these Wolverines, it will be extremely telling for not only the early part of the season but how this team will likely fare in March.
While Michigan has plenty of experience starting, the bench is somewhat of a mystery. Wolverines’ fans expected backup point guard Zavier Simpson to step into a starting role this season, but he remains solidly behind Simmons. Freshmen Jordan Poole and Eli Brooks will likely be playing spot minutes behind either guard, and Poole has the size to potentially slide into the forward position as well.
While Simpson played in all 38 games last season, his numbers left something to be desired. In 332 minutes, Simpson finished the year with 59 points, 37 assists and 24 rebounds. If he wants to earn more minutes behind Simmons, he’ll need to be much more aggressive from the get-go. Will a name change help, or will Simmons continue to run the show for the majority of the game?
Only rated as a 3-star recruit by ESPN, Brooks was chased by NC State, Ohio State and Villanova alongside the Wolverines. Could John Beilein have found another diamond in the rough? Brooks is only listed at 170 pounds and will likely need some time to develop, but learning from Simpson and Simmons could allow for a major surge in production in Year 2.
The crown jewel of the recruiting class, Poole was listed as the 51st best player in America by ESPN. He’s a natural shooter, something he did primarily on the best high school team in the country, La Lumiere. Poole has great size at 6’5” and will be the backup for both Abdur-Rahkman and Charles Matthews. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Poole getting 15-20 minutes a game, similar to the role that Zak Irvin played his freshman year. Michigan should expect some production out of him this season, and having a shooter like that come off the bench is just another valuable weapon in the John Beilein offense.