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Will NBA Draft Decisions ‘Gut’ Michigan?

What should Wolverine fans be watching for in the weeks to come?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional Practice Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

With North Carolina’s win over Gonzaga earlier this month, the 2016-’17 college basketball season officially came to a close. And with that development, attention quickly turned to next season and, for our site, next year’s Big Ten.

In an effort to help with that transition, we are taking a look at some of the biggest offseason storylines for each team. Here’s a look at the previous editions:

As such, here are the three most important things for the Michigan Wolverines this offseason.

Three Key Offseason Storylines For Michigan:

1. How does Michigan fare with its NBA Draft decisions?

With the NBA’s new Draft declaration rules, May has quickly become one of the wildest months across college basketball. Teams are often caught in a “no man’s land” where coaches are forced into the uncomfortable position of waiting out the NBA decisions of their best players without having the ability to recruit replacements.

For better or worse, it’s college basketball’s new reality.

Naturally, things are no different for Michigan this spring. Moritz Wagner and DJ Wilson declared for the NBA Draft earlier this offseason and, surprisingly, Ohio transfer point guard Jaaron Simmons opted to join them as well. As such, John Beilein and his staff will have to wait a few more weeks to find out whether these three will be in Ann Arbor next season.

Given what Wagner and Wilson did for Michigan last season, it’s not hard to see why their departures would be significant. For perspective, just consider that Wagner almost single-handedly got Michigan past Louisville in the Round of 32 last season and that Wilson played at least 30 minutes in six of Michigan’s final seven games.

Oh, and that game where Wilson played less than 30 minutes in? It was the only game Michigan lost in its final eight games.

So, yeah, Wilson had a pretty big impact on the Wolverines.

Simmons is also set to have a massive impact for the Wolverines next season. He may be a newcomer, but with the graduation of Derrick Walton, Michigan is going to need a playmaker in the backcourt. Although it’s unlikely that Simmons will go pro this spring, if he did enter the Draft, Michigan would suddenly have quite a few questions at the point guard position.

Even if all three of these players head to the professional leagues, Michigan will have some talent and experience on its roster next season. However, the decisions of these three will have a massive impact on the team’s chances. If all three leave, Michigan could have trouble making the NCAA Tournament, but if all return, the team could very well compete for next year’s Big Ten title.

2. Will there be any late roster additions?

Given the NBA decisions detailed above, there’s no debating that Michigan still has a lot of uncertainty regarding its roster for next season. Depending upon what happens in the weeks to come, Michigan could very well be looking to fill as many as three open scholarships on its roster for next season.

As mentioned, I don’t believe Simmons is likely to depart for the NBA,but the point here is that the Wolverines still have a lot to flush out before next season. And, if things don’t go well, Beilein and his staff may be forced to look for more transfer additions and late 2017 prospects to fill valuable spots on the roster.

The big name to follow here will be Mohamed Bamba. Although few experts believe the Wolverines will land Bamba, his decision will be a significant one. He’s rated as a five-star prospect by 247Sports and is listed as the No. 2 player in the nation. Michigan will have to compete with Duke, Kentucky, and Texas for his talents.

But, even if Michigan doesn’t land Bamba, there are other options.

To start, Michigan could still land a transfer. Former Howard guard James Daniel was set to visit Ann Arbor in late May, but recently canceled. The assumption here is that Michigan is no longer an option with Simmons in the fold. However, should Simmons go pro, perhaps Michigan could reassert itself in his recruitment.

Additionally, Michigan has also recently pursued some late 2017 options. In particular, Shakwok Barrett looks like a potential option, should Michigan find some scholarship openings. He’s a combo guard from Canada looking for a quality landing spot.

At the moment, Michigan doesn’t have any open scholarships, but in the event that Beilein needs to find some roster additions, there are prospects out there for the Wolverines. And they could drastically impact Michigan’s chances next season.

3. What happens with Michigan’s wing group?

For many of the reasons detailed above, Michigan’s backcourt and frontcourt have been getting most of the attention from fans this offseason. And, frankly, it’s not that surprising given the talent and moving pieces in those areas.

But fans shouldn’t forget about the wing group either. That’s because the wing could very well determine the team’s potential next season. If the team sees players leave for the NBA Draft, the wing group will need to step up. And if those same players opt to return, the wing will determine whether Michigan has a championship level team.

The good news is that Michigan has some options. To start, upperclassman Duncan Robinson returns after a productive season. Former Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews will also become eligible this season. Both of those players are good enough to be starters on an NCAA Tournament team.

Additionally, Ibi Watson will return after playing some minutes as a freshman and the program is adding two four-star prospects in Jordan Poole and Isaiah Livers. Neither is close to a guarantee (not that there are any guarantees in recruiting), but the two are some of the midwest’s top 2017 prospects. 247Sports had Poole as a top 100 player and Livers was considered by many to be one of Michigan’s top in-state recruist.

Unfortunately, even if there is potential from this group, there’s a lot of uncertainty.

To start, all three of those underclassmen are complete question marks. Fans hope Watson has taken a step forward, but he did virtually nothing last season as a freshman. Moreover, Poole and Livers have yet to play a minute in Ann Arbor. Penciling in any of these three into Michigan’s rotation next season is a major assumption.

Matthews and Robinson are also question marks as well. Matthews did some nice things at Kentucky, but he hasn’t done anything for the Wolverines yet. And, even if Robinson has done some nice things, he’s struggled when forced to play major minutes for the Wolverines. Simply put, he fits better into a bench role than a starting role.

If all goes right, Michigan could have one of the better wing groups in next year’s Big Ten, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty around the group at the moment. Having Simmons, Wagner, and/or Wilson return would help alleviate some of these concerns, but it will be a key spot to watch heading into next season.

Overall

At the moment, Michigan could arguably have the second best roster in the Big Ten heading into next season. However, with NBA decisions looming and some uncertainty at the wing position, questions abound for the Wolverines. It should be an important few upcoming weeks for the program.