Plenty of questions remain as the Michigan basketball team looks ahead to the Big Ten season and a potential run to the NCAA Tournament.
Still smarting 0ver the early departures of five NBA draftees a few years back, the Michigan basketball team must overcome lingering injuries and inexperience to have a chance of landing a NCAA tournament berth.
Injuries were the major culprit last season (16-16 overall, 8-10 Big Ten), as leading scorer Caris LeVert (14.9) and point guard Derrick Walton, Jr. missed the bulk of the back end of the season. With one or both missing from the lineup, Michigan was able to win only five of the last 14 games.
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The 2015-16 campaign has started on a similar note. A sprained ankle will likely cause Walton to miss his fourth straight contest when Michigan faces Northern Kentucky (2-5, 0-0 Horizon) Tuesday (Dec. 15).
Irvin looking good
Spike Albrecht, who filled in admirably for Walton last season, abruptly ended his career Dec. 11 due to a pair of hip surgeries, and Zak Irvin is finally rounding into shape after off-season back problems.
Albrecht will be most remembered for his 17-point performance in the 2012-13 national title game against Louisville.
Fortunately for Michigan, Walton is on the road to recovery and should be nearly 100 percent when the Big Ten season opens Dec. 30 at Illinois.
Coach John Beilein has tried a variety of backcourt combinations while both Walton and Albrecht were off the court.
Point guard still a concern
LeVert, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and occasionally Aubrey Dawkins have taken turns bringing the ball up, but more playing time might be awarded to junior Andrew Dakich, who is the only true point guard on the roster.
“He (Dakich) doesn’t look the part, but he sees the floor, he’s got a lot of Spike in him,” Beilein said during his post-game press conference. “I thought today that he tried to do a little bit too much on a couple plays, but I’ve got a lot of confidence in him right now.”
Incidentally, Dakich’s father, Dan, played at Indiana for Bobby Knight and is currently a college basketball analyst for ESPN television.
A center needs to step up
In the 10 non-league games played so far, Doyle has averaged 4.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. Redshirt sophomore Mark Donnal and redshirt freshman D.J. Wilson will get some playing time, but if true freshman Moritz Wagner can vastly improve, he could battle Doyle for the top spot.
The pleasant surprise so far this season is the play of 6-8 Duncan Robinson, a transfer from Div. III Williams College. Robinson, whose shooting touch resembles former Wolverine Nik Stauskas, can play either the No 2 or No. 3 positions.
Robinson, who was started for the first time against Delaware State, is hitting .574 (39-68) from the floor and .588 (33-56) . He’s a sharp passer and not afraid to attack the hoop.
“We feel right now our flow defensively and offensively is better as a starter for Duncan,” Beilein said. ” ‘Get him in there and let him go and get more scorers out there.'”
Robinson to start
Robinson and Irvin will take some of the scoring load from LeVert and Walton, but at times Michigan’s lone senior will have to carry the load. With the exception of the SMU loss, LeVert has earned his keep.
“He was almost apologetic for his performance (against SMU),” Beilein added. “and I told him ‘There’s nothing (to worry about), people are going to have bad games, and those things are going to happen. Let’s get right back on the horse and go.’“
LeVert is the team leader this season in scoring (17.4 ppg), rebounds (4.9) and assists (40).
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When Michigan opens the Big Ten portion of the schedule, look for Walton, LeVert, Robinson, Irvin and Doyle to be the starters. With some good fortune injury-wise, and adequate contribution from the youngsters, the Wolverines should be in contention for a NCAA tourney berth.