I’m going to take a look at each position group on this years team and look at starters, rotation, expectations and more. Starting today with the five position. The roster is shockingly bare at the five, consisting of Zack Gibson, Ben Cronin, and Eric Puls.
Zack Gibson is the likely starter at the center position. If you have listened to Beilein lately he has constantly mentioned doubling Zack’s stats from last year and coming up with great numbers.
Last year: 13.9 mpg, 5.4 ppg, 48.2 FG%, 26.7 3PFG%, 2.8 reb, .7 blk
Projection/Doubled: 27.8 mpg, 10.8 ppg, 48.2 FG%, 26.7 3PFG%, 5.6reb, 1.4blk
Clearly just doubling stats isn’t going to provide a true projection. For comparison Ekpe averaged 26mpg, 6ppg, and 5 rpg last year. Only four times did Zack play 20 minutes or more last year and only three times did he grab six rebounds in a game (Oakland, Boston College, and Brown).Â It is possible that Zack can average right around that 10 points per game mark but the worry I have is on defense. Last year the Michigan defense often consisted of a defender getting beaten off the dribble and Ekpe cleaning up the mess. This won’t cut it with Zack in the middle of the 1-3-1 and Ekpe’s 3 blocks per game will be sorely missed.
There is also an issue with the shooting percentage. Beilein is convinced that Zack is a good three point shooter and he must be in practice but he shot only 26.7% from long range last year. I think it might be time to tone down the out of bounds plays designed for Zack Gibson threes unless he shows a better stroke early on.
The back up for Gibson is freshman Ben Cronin. Cronin is large (listed at 7-0 265) but has been limited by a hip injury all summer long. Had Udoh not transferred I would have expected Cronin to take a red shirt year but now as one of the only other big men on the roster Michigan doesn’t look so fortunate. It sounds like Cronin will be good to go when practice starts up but it is still worrisome that he has hip issues before he even plays a college game. Cronin was described many times as slow and lumbering running the court but if he can disturb things inside on defense and on the glass he could be an asset for 10 minutes or so per game.
The other x-factors at the five position are DeShawn Sims and Eric Puls. I don’t expect Puls to play at all and would consider it a minor miracle, he has some height at 6-10 but lacks any size (listed at a generous 210 pounds). DeShawn will of course get most of his minutes at the four but Beilein mentioned going small and running him at the five. I think this would work for short stretches especially if we can spread the floor well enough. I’ll talk a lot more about “Peedi” in the power forward preview.
Overall the center position is probably one of the biggest weaknesses on this team just because of the depth issues alone. Michigan needs Gibson to be a solid big man who can at least hold his own offensively and defensively in the post as well as on the glass. The combination of Cronin and DeShawn should be able to cover 10 or so minutes per game. The problem here is that if Gibson or Big Ben can’t cut it, there are no other options.