With the 2017-18 season right around the corner, BTPowerhouse is beginning Michigan’s season preview by looking back at the offseason departures. The transfer market and early-entries to the NBA draft have made college basketball rosters more fluid every year, and this was no exception for Michigan. The Wolverines had five offseason departures that we’ll dissect in order of importance, and which players we anticipate will step up in their absence.
Derrick Walton Jr.
I’ve gone on record saying that Walton was one of Michigan’s most important players of the last 10 or 15 years, and over the course of his four year career the statistics speak for Walton’s increasingly great play. Perhaps the biggest gap that Walton leaves behind is the lack of a natural leader on Michigan’s roster, and John Beilein will be searching for that as the season begins. Expect Michigan to have plenty of talent at the point guard position, but the lack of consistent Big Ten play for anyone on the roster definitely makes it a challenge.
Most Likely Replaced by: Jaaron Simmons. From everything I’ve heard out of Michigan’s early season practices, Simmons is on track to be a pretty darn good basketball player in his lone year in Ann Arbor. John Beilein has never have a graduate transfer during his tenure at Michigan, so how Simmons fits in both on and off the court will have a major impact on Michigan’s success. Beilein has gone on record saying that Simmons is an extremely high character kid, so expect a pretty seamless transition.
While Michigan fans wanted to throw their remote and curse about Irvin on Twitter, the recent graduate was a major reason for Michigan’s late season success. The Fishers, Indiana native settled into his role as the third or fourth offensive option, focusing on defense, rebounding and picking his spots on the offensive end without looking to force too much. This role acceptance became crucial when Michigan needed big buckets and defensive stops from Irvin, and his point total over the duration of his time in Ann Arbor makes him one of the highest scorers to ever wear a Michigan uniform.
Most Likely Replaced by: Charles Matthews. Rarely do teams have one tremendous talent leave and have another in the waiting, but Kentucky transfer Matthews could be even better than Irvin by the time he leaves Ann Arbor. The Chicago native had aspirations of being a “one-and-done” at Kentucky, and year three of his college career has him attempting to reload a very talented Michigan team. Matthews is a better athlete and defender than Irvin, but his outside shooting still leaves a lot to be desired. If Matthews can find the same form he had in high school that made him so enticing to the Wildcats, Michigan fans will love this kid.
During his first two years in Ann Arbor, Wilson was less than an afterthought. The lanky forward from Sacramento couldn’t stay healthy, find a role on the court or contribute to the Wolverines. It became clear after four games last season that Wilson transformed into a totally different player. Michigan now had a 6’10” wing at their disposal who could do everything from block shots, rebound (sometimes), distribute, knock down 3s and attack the rim with authority. After a phenomenal showing in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament, Wilson wisely bolted for the NBA and was the 17th pick overall by the Milwaukee Bucks.
Most Likely Replaced by: Isaiah Livers. While Duncan Robinson will likely assume Wilson’s starting role, Robinson’s game doesn’t resemble Wilson’s at all. Duncan is a knockdown shooter who is still developing other parts of his game, while Wilson was above average in every facet. Enter Livers, a 6’8” wing who is built like a mack truck but has a silky-smooth feel to his game. Livers might need a few months to adjust to the speed of the college game, but he could bring a similar type of wing versatility on both ends of the floor that Wilson brought every night.
Michigan was extremely relieved when their starting center, Moritz Wagner, announced he was returning for his junior season. His backup, however, decided to play his final season at Clemson. Donnal had an up-and-down career at Michigan, playing his final three years with a bevvy of other centers- Wagner, Ricky Doyle, Jon Teske, Max Bielfeldt, Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford. Like Bielfeldt and Horford, Donnal realized that Beilein was more interested in developing younger big men like Wagner, Teske and Austin Davis rather than keep Donnal around for one more year. Donnal had moments of brilliance, including 26 points at Illinois and 25 at Maryland during his junior season, but there just weren’t enough minutes to go around for him to stay.
Most Likely Replaced by: Austin Davis. Bizarrely, Michigan’s coaching staff has been raving about their redshirt freshman Davis rather than the guy they picked to play instead of redshirt over him, Jon Teske. Davis is a massive body and has a great feel around the basket, and hopefully won’t be as awkward as Teske. Michigan will only need 8-10 minutes a game out of Davis, but if he proves to be valuable, don’t be surprised to see Michigan experiment and move Wagner to the “4” to play both bigs on the floor at the same time.
After playing four years for Michigan and finally given a chance to redshirt his final year, Michigan fans figured Dakich would go to a smaller Division I program to earn minutes there. Instead, Dakich was offered a spot by new Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann and jumped at the chance to take it. Michigan fans were upset that Dakich chose one of Wolverines’ biggest rivals to play his last year of college ball, but it was obviously too good of an opportunity to turn down. More than anything, Dakich brings experience, hard work and teaching that should hopefully help turn around what has become a trainwreck of an Ohio State program in the last few years.
Most Likely Replaced by: Fred Wright-Jones. The junior went from manager to walk-on after his freshman year in Ann Arbor, and will likely take the place as the savvy veteran floor general from the bench and on the practice squad. Wright-Jones does not need to accomplish anything on the court, but his ability to teach Jordan Poole and Eli Brooks the offense could help speed up their development.