Within the last week, Michigan received three decisions that could ultimately help shape the next 5-10 years of its basketball program. Though each decision was independent of one another, receiving three positive decisions from a star player, a recruit and a coach show that Michigan means business in the Big Ten for years to come.
Starting with Charles Matthews, his decision had the most immediate impact on next season’s team. Matthews began his season feasting on inferior competition before coming back down to earth with decent but not eye-popping numbers in Big Ten play. But Matthews gave himself a fighting chance to make the league in the NCAA Tournament, where he scored double figures in every game except the National Championship.
As good as he was, critics still found a way to nitpick his game. In the six games, Matthews only shot 4-19 (21%) from behind the arc. If Matthews couldn’t make more than a quarter of his three-point shots from the college line, how is he supposed to be a classic “3-and-D” wing that every NBA team covets? His dribbling and playmaking ability left a lot to be desired, including the ability to use his left hand to drive the ball to the basket. He was decently efficient once he got there, but only managed to convert 56% of his free throws, another major red flag at the NBA level. Overall, Matthews felt it would a better use of his time to develop in Ann Arbor for one more season for making the final leap after year three.
While Matthews appears to be on his way out following next season, another highly touted wing from Denton, Texas should have little trouble filling the void. Jalen Wilson, rated 34th in the class of 2019 according to 247 Sports, is the next prototypical NBA wing that John Beilein can mold to play at the next level. His athleticism, passing ability and shooting touch from all over the floor could make him a must-play in his first year in Ann Arbor.
If Matthews does in fact depart, Michigan will still have a plethora of options at the wing spots. Sophomore Isaiah Livers is the lone returning frontcourt starter, but expect to see Brandon Johns and Ignas Brazdeikis both play significant minutes this season. If those four were to split minutes at the 3/4 in 2019 and beyond, Michigan could remain a perennial threat to win the Big Ten for the next few years.
All of this, however, would be much more difficult if the man at the helm decided to try his hand at the next level. After a second national championship appearance in six years, John Beilein decided to test the waters himself. There was legitimate traction between Beilein and the Pistons, and he was seen as one of the favorites for the vacant job. Ultimately, Beilein’s job at Michigan is truly a better position than the disarray the Pistons are currently in, and the boss chose to return for his 12th season in Ann Arbor. At 65, it seems likely this is where he’ll decide to retire.
Beilein’s return is massive for retaining both Matthews and Wilson, but also for the upcoming season’s prospects. Michigan lost Moritz Wagner to the NBA Draft, while Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson graduated. Despite that, it feels like this is a team that’s ready to take another step up. While last season Michigan teetered on the brink of the top-25 for long stretches before making a late season surge in March, the depth of this team means Michigan could crack the top-15 or even top-10 much earlier this season.
Adding the aforementioned Brazdeikis and Johns along with three other potential impact freshmen in Adrien Nunez, David DeJulius and Colin Castleton will give this team plenty of youthful exuberance. But there’s veteran play returning also, as Matthews starts in the backcourt with Jordan Poole and Zavier Simpson. Livers and Jon Teske will start the year in the frontcourt, but it feels like another one of those seasons where the label between starter and bench player is just a formality.
Beilein has beefed up the schedule as well, with games against Villanova, North Carolina, South Carolina and a tournament on the non-conference docket before the Big Ten’s inaugural 20 game slate. These Wolverines could face bumps in the road without a true senior on the roster (Matthews is a redshirt junior), but given the number of important games Poole, Simpson, Teske and Livers all played last season, Michigan fans should feel confident heading into the season.
The combination of the three decisions won’t make national headlines, but Michigan and Beilein won’t care. Last season, Michigan came out of nowhere to win the Big Ten Tournament and finished 40 minutes from a national title. Beilein is hungry for that again, and with Matthews back in the fold and Wilson hopping on board next year, the future has never been brighter for Michigan.