Examining the 2013-14 roster by position

Dylan Burkhardt

Dustin Johnston

Michigan loses its top two scorers from a year ago but returns the rest of its rotation and adds three talented freshmen to the bunch. Michigan’s group of 11 is plenty talented but extremely young and the question that everyone wants answered is how the pieces will fit together in 2013-14.

The talk at Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary’s press conference was all about sliding down a position – to the three for Robinson and four for McGary – but that’s also a convenient aspirational talking point for the offseason. There’s little doubt that the coaches want both players to develop the offensive and defensive skills of the next positions but how often will they actually play those spots?

To frame the argument I sorted the roster roughly by position from the purest of point guards to the most absolute center. At times it’s hard to distinguish but the exercise can start to help piece together a preliminary rotation.

Spike Albrecht / Derrick Walton

Albrecht and Walton as pure point guards should surprise no one. If both players live up to expectations, it seems feasible that they can handle the bulk of, if not all of, the minutes at the point guard position.

Caris LeVert

LeVert played the two and the three as a freshman but seemed to spend more of his minutes at the two. He has a long frame but is still slender and we slotted him next on the curve for defensive reasons, he’s the next best equipped to defend smaller and quicker combo guards. Of all Michigan’s returning players, LeVert is the one who could make the biggest jump this season as he adds weight which could make him a viable option at the vacated starting guard spot.

Zak Irvin

Zak Irvin is 6-foot-7 but has guard skills. On a team loaded with 6-foot-6 wings, Irvin played point guard for long stretches last summer for the Eric Gordon All-Stars. He’s long but skinny and seems like a natural fit at either the three (with his scoring) or the two (with his versatility). Beilein was quoted as saying that Irvin can play anything from the one through the four but the one and four seem unlikely. He’s my odds on favorite to replace Hardaway in the starting lineup.

Nik Stauskas

Nik Stauskas played the three as freshman but should strive to be able to play both the two and the three as a sophomore with Tim Hardaway Jr.’s departure. He probably has the ball skills to play the two but that could also take him away from his favorite shot on the floor: the corner three.

Glenn Robinson III

Robinson wants to play the three and he made that clear last week. It’s his position at the next level without a doubt but he has to prove that he has that ability. Right now, that’s just not something he’s shown. Robinson ran just seven ball screens all last season according to Synergy Sports. Trey Burke ran 487, Tim Hardaway Jr. ran 126, Nik Stauskas ran 90, Spike Albrecht ran 33, Caris LeVert ran 18, even Eso Akunne ran 9. Robinson ran just 23 isolation sets… you get the point. Despite playing more minutes than any returning Michigan starter, almost all of Robinson’s offense was derived from other players. Playing the four isn’t going to necessarily prevent him from being more aggressive in creating his own offense but until he does it, it will be hard to replace him with another big man in the starting lineup.

Mark Donnal, Mitch McGary, Max Bielfeldt and Jordan Morgan all have at least one skill – Donnal can shoot the three, McGary has ridiculous ball skills, Bielfeldt is undersized, and Morgan has proven most capable of defending opposing fours – that could be useful at the four position. But three of those four were on the roster last year and rarely had a chance to play the four as Robinson clocked 35 minutes per game in Big Ten games.

Mark Donnal

I’ve seen a lot of people mentioning Donnal as a redshirt candidate but I don’t see it. He provides a stretch four, pick and pop option that Michigan doesn’t have on the roster. He needs to get stronger and improve on the glass but he could make an impact in limited minutes with his offensive repertoire alone.

Mitch McGary

McGary is dynamic, aggressive, a great rebounder and surprisingly adept at moving his feet on the perimeter. He’s going to play big minutes and he proved that he is a game changer in the NCAA tournament. Whether it’s Glenn Robinson III or Jordan Morgan at the four next to him in the front court, Mitch McGary is going to be significantly more involved in the offense next season.

Max Bielfeldt

Bielfeldt is the only returning player that didn’t play meaningful minutes down the stretch last season. He has the size of a four and the game of a five and it’s tough to see where he fits when there are more talented, experienced or versatile pieces around him at the four/five positions.

Jordan Morgan

Morgan went through a frustrating stretch to close the season but he’s still a dependable defensive player that has experience at both the four and the five. He couldn’t make a layup to save his life in March but he could still be a team captain in November. If Mitch McGary is healthy and playing 30+ minutes per game, there’s not a lot of opportunity for others but Morgan will still be there as a dependable option.

Jon Horford

Horford is a five through and through. He’s big, his offensive game is fairly refined within 10 feet and he’s a better defender at the hoop than on the perimeter. Horford would play the five next to Mitch McGary or Jordan Morgan which would require those two to prove they can adequately defend opposing combo forwards and four men; a result that remains to be determined after last season.

Bottom Line

John Beilein’s job is to get the best players on the floor in the best spots to help the team win. While NBA development is a great talking point in April, it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) factor into Beilein’s coaching during the season. Robinson and McGary would have the opportunities to demonstrate improved skillsets even if they played the entire season at the four and five respectively. At the end of the day, Beilein is going to start the best five players.

If you slide everyone down, you run into a log jam. Gun to my head, the five most talented players on the roster are Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin, Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary. That group of five just happens to correlate perfectly with the sort of lineup John Beilein has preferred in Ann Arbor.

Could Caris LeVert or Spike Albrecht sneak ahead of Zak Irvin or Derrick Walton? Sure, but is replacing one of Michigan’s guards – presumably Stauskas, Irvin or LeVert – with a Jordan Morgan or Jon Horford going to result in a better lineup?

Playing a bigger lineup will become an increasingly viable possibility against larger foes with a growing arsenal of low post options but I would be surprised to see Michigan go predominantly with a two post look.

  • Fab 5 Legends

    good analysis…I think will be fine for next year…pre-season top 10 ranking…we go pretty deep if we want 2…Mitch, Morgan, Horford, Biefeldt and Donnal – downlow….levert, Walton, spike, Irvin, stauskas, gr3….on wing and guards…interesting to see development of some players and what beilein rotation will be…

  • ajerome33

    Completely agree with your analysis here. Best 5 need to be on the floor and thus all this talk of sliding down positions and playing bigger is probably just talk.

    • Northern Blue

      While I do think that GR3 might play a little at the 3 spot, I agree with what you are saying in regards to the top 5 players on the floor. I would be surprised if GR3 and McGary weren’t the 4 and 5 in crunch time every game. While I think that GR3 can play the 3, I absolutely do not get the reasoning behind Mitch at the 4. His game is much better suited to the 5. I like having him and Morgan out there together for spurts because of Morgans ability to defend the 4 against two post teams. Regardless of where GR3 plays, I’d like to see him get more ball screens as I think he had great potential in iso and pick and roll game. I do agree that maybe Donnal doesn’t redshirt, but if he can’t hit the 3 consistently or defend I think he will; it will be up to him and how he makes the transition. just like Caris, if he is good enough and will help the team more than the other guys, he will play. It is just hard to predict right now if he is ready.

      • ajerome33

        I agree that GR3 will be used some at the 3 and probably should at times. I think the majority of the time he will be playing at the 4, but with all the talent at his disposal, Beilein will have the ability to move people around at times, to create mismatches or try to neutralize them. Regarding the iso and pick and roll situations for GR3, I’m not sold yet. I haven’t seen anything yet that tells me that he has the court vision and feel to know how to play with the ball off a pick or not. It could just be that he didn’t really have that opportunity last season or perhaps it will be something he works on this summer. By comparison, I thought Stauskas worked very comfortably with the ball in pick and roll situations. Just didn’t see it out of GR3 yet, so I suppose I’ll reserve judgment and see what happens this year. Nonetheless, if he can develop that part of his game it will benefit him long-term (in the NBA) and us greatly next season.

  • gobluemd16

    Looking at the roster is so damn exciting to me. There are talented players everywhere, and I think minutes will be hard to come by for some guys who are really capable of contributing. This team may be deeper than last year’s and definitely provides us with a TON of flexibility. Interesting to see how everyone gels, and who gets the bulk of the playing time next season. Beilein of all people will make it work.

  • Daniel

    The best talent roster also has zero upperclassmen. Two freshman and three sophomores. Impressive.

    • ajerome33

      In my opinion talent is more important than experience when the experienced players are significantly less talented than the young players. Having a young team is not a detriment when the youth comes with high-level talent.

      • Daniel

        I agree completely. Next year’s going to be a ton of fun to watch. I imagine that the beginning of the year will have its rough patches due to starting a new point guard (in all likelihood), but the team should have a really high ceiling.

        • ajerome33

          Yeah it should be another fun ride. I agree they may take some lumps early on, but by the end of the season they should hit their stride and be a dangerous team in the tourney. I think we play Arizona at home next year and they will probably match us up with a UNC or Duke on the road in the ACC-BT challenge too. Those could be awesome games to watch early on, with lots of talent on the floor from both sides. When does the season start? I can’t wait.

      • Kenny

        agree and disagree, seniors and upperclassmen provide more than just minutes on the court. They understands the system and can help the younger player’s growth, and the leadership off the court. No better example than Merritt and Lee on the 2008 team.

  • AC1997

    I loved this summary and agree completely. I think a lot of the talk around the GR3 and McGary positions is to make them happy as much as anything. The coaches will look at everyone over the next six months and see what they have. If Irvin can bulk up and play the stretch-four position so GR3 gets the wing position, great. Or maybe there’s an injury. Or maybe Donnal shows he’s a star and takes the 4 spot.
    All of those things are possible, but the best lineup seems to be exactly what Dylan suggested. This is magnified when you look at the landscape of college basketball and see very few teams that play two conventional big men. The response from some is that “we would have an advantage playing two big men”. That is only true if the second big man offers more than a scoring wing player…..which seems unlikely.
    Finally, I love Bielfeldt and think he’s a solid rebounder and good guy, but he has to stare at the depth chart and the height listed on his drivers license and wonder what his role is. I almost wish they would have signed an athletic 4 like Larry Nance Jr. to back-up that position and bring defense and better match-ups.

    • Fab 5 Legends

      completely agree with Biedfeldt….I mean he can wait his turn…come junior year…and im sure he ill get more pt with mitch and morgan gone…but as of right now…only injury and foul trouble would we need to use him…caught up in a bad situation…especially if donnal which seems more versatile…takes pt from him…I would expect him to play a pivotal role in 2015, 2016 seasons if he still on this team

  • slowtrain

    Is it basketball season yet? Can’t wait to see this team start their next run!

  • HookEmBlue

    I’m big into player comparisons…and one comparison that has stuck out for Zak Irvin? William Buford. Silky mid-range game, will occasionally attack the rim, but more comfortable on the perimeter.

    • ajerome33

      I haven’t seen enough of Irvin yet to confirm, but just on the youtube videos of him, I can see that comparison with Buford. Buford always seemed to be a guy we had trouble guarding, so it would be nice to have a guy like that on our squad.

  • mqt

    Could we see Irvin or Robinson at the four with more 131 defense thrown in? Then we could get away with Irvin at the 4 on D while not sacrificing on the Offensive end? We could have a pretty lengthy and athletic zone with Irvin Lavert Robinson mcgary and one of the point guards on the floor. Just a thought.

    • I just can’t see Zak at the four. And Michigan never really ran the 1-3-1 this year and had a similar option…

      • Kenny

        second half again Pitts, if I remember correctly. 1-3-1 is not the first option now, but it remains as an option.

  • jblair52

    No way Beilein lets GR3 and MM THINK they are dropping position spots without coming thru on it. He’s a clear communicator and straight shooter. We WILL see MM at 4 and GR3 at the 3. How much?

    I think at times we’ll see GR3 at the 4 and MM at the 5. During these times I think we’ll see SOME 1-3-1 trapping to get GR3 in the open floor more. Also I think we’ll see the “4” on offense look a little different at times. More movement, more ball screens, etc for the “4” spot giving it the look of a 3 spot.

    Burke/Hardaway could create for themselves. Yet to be seen if Walton/Irvin can do the same. We may NEED the 1-3-1 and different lineups for creation of offense.

    • ajerome33

      I really don’t think you are going to see the 1-3-1 much more next season. This was used in the past by Beilein to neutralize athletic or talent mismatches. As he has started to recruit better talent the need to use a zone has decreased.

      • jblair52

        That’s too bad – I think it would work better with this group.

        And would give a better defensive option in the mix for GR3 when he’s in the “4” spot since M2M means he has to guard a bigger/physical player and hold position underneath the hoop on rebounds instead of leak out for fast breaks.

        And I think our offense could use a little 1-3-1 help next year. JMO

        • ajerome33

          Your opinion is valid and could definitely help out GR3 defensively, as you suggest. I think the biggest issue with it is the difficulty of defensive rebounding out of it, especially in Big Ten play. In my opinion, playing in the Big 10 with so many good rebounding teams and having better players on our team now the past few years has led Coach B to shy away from the 1-3-1. But you never know, maybe I’m way off on this one.

  • Mr_Sledge

    I respectfully disagree. I think the coaching staff is going to try and get McGary & Robinson to the 3 & 4. I think when the season tips, the starters will be either Walton or Spike, Nik, GR3, McGary, and Morgan with Caris backing up the 2, Irvin the 3, Donnal/Max the 4 and Horford 5. Since the team has proven that they can go small, it will still be an option, but I think this will be the common lineup. With a lot of the dominant rebounding B1G bigs leaving (Mbakwe, Zeller, Evans, possibly Payne, Berggren, Ubel, Oladipo, Watford, Bruesewitz – all guys in the top 11), I wouldn’t be surprised if we attempt to go big since other teams won’t have those leaders anymore.

    • ajerome33

      The problem with this approach is that it puts too big of a pinch on available minutes to be shared by GR3, Stauskas, and Irvin. Those three are way too talented to be sitting so that Morgan or Horford can play more or so that we can go big. Going big may be necessary against some teams, but most of the time you are going to see a lineup like Dylan suggests. The only way this changes and we do go with a big lineup approach is if Horford or Morgan improve significantly in the offseason.

  • Don Dula

    I love the depth on this team. I think this has become an increasing trend in recent years, but having 11 very capable players will make for some very competitive scrimmages and give the players a chance to go up against elite athletes in practice. We’ve already heard about Trey and Spike making each other better and apparently games of one-on-one between GRIII and McGary. I have great hopes for next year. Anyone expecting a step back might be pleasantly surprised.


      Caris and Burke played one on one everyday lol not mitch and glenn

  • Nick

    Great job Dylan. So glad I’m not alone in being skeptical about GR and MM playing 3 and 4.

  • Kenny

    Great analysis by Dylan.

    Not saying that it is more difficult, but GRIII moving down from 4 to 3 is a much bigger change than McGary going from 5 to 4. He was on the receiving end of many easy baskets last season but now needs to initiate a lot offense.

  • BlueBear_E

    After talent the next most important consideration in setting line-ups is match-ups (not experience, thought that might be third). I don’t think the difference in talent between the wings and Morgan is so big that it off-sets the match-up variable. We will see more of the two-post line-up, but only when the opponent dictates it.

    • BlueBear_E

      in the big line-up McGary should play the 5 on D and the 4 on O, with Morgan sliding accordingly.

  • Chazer

    Great job Dylan, I can’t seem to get enough of this team! You’re spot on, JB will put the five best players on the court come tournament time. The theory about playing two bigs is great in the B1G but you need your best athletes on the floor for a tournament run. IMO you need to be able to push the ball and run fast to win in the final 64. I don’t recall seeing many teams slow the pace or settle in for half court sets when all is said and done!

    It appears UM and staff recruit the big wings who are athletic and multi demensional that can run. I think JB learned how to compete against Syracuse and Louisville in the BIG East and knows slowing the tempo/pace rarely wins. You need to score and play tough MTM Defense….and this team is built to score. I love Trey but the PG will have a field day next year distributing the rock. Prediction……UM PG position will be in the top 5 in the country for assist/TO ratio. When they run they run under control and highly efficient. Spike really showed he can play….that left handed bounce pass to GRIII in the open court was the best dish I’ve seen all year!

    Wow this team is deep and the culture solid…

    Next!! Go blue!

  • Champswest

    Random thoughts:
    It’s not the 5 best players that need to be on the floor, but the 5 guys that make up the best team.
    Why do so many people want GR3 at the 4 when last year he was criticized for not being able to guard bigger 4s or create his own offense?
    Indiana did pretty well playing two bigs (Zeller 7’0″, Watford 6’9″).
    The GR3 & MM position switch could work out if both guys put in the off season work.
    If we do go with two bigs, I would prefer to see Horford get the start. I think he would give us better scoring and shot blocking and would be returning the following year (when Morgan, and likely McGary, are gone).
    On the other hand, we saw how good we were in the NCAAs with McGary at the 5, so why not just plug in Walton & Irvin for Burke & Hardaway and play on.

    • Ben

      Watford is clearly a stretch four, his game is much more GRIII than McGary or Morgan, despite the height. He shot a higher percentage on 3s than 2s! Anyways, I think at the end of the game Walton, Irvin, Stauskas, Robinson, McGary will be the lineup, regardless of who starts.

  • MikeInOH

    Fun to speculate playing time…it’s like spending someone else’s money. How the kids develop in the next 6 months will determine how it all shakes out. Beilein’s job with playing time was easy this year. With more depth though comes more playing time headaches for a coach, but I’m sure every coach in DI wishes he had a similar problem.

  • I’m all for Nik at the 2, get him out of the corner at at the top where he needs to be. 46 in a row in his latest video is just sick. Let’s get him out of the corner and into a spot to attack

  • Wayman Britt

    UM has a lot of players vying for playing time, many of them should not worry about how they do on the pic and roll, but who can play defensive. Whoever elevates their defensive game will see more minutes.


      Caris and Zak are very good defenders at least Zak was in high school.. I’m guessing glenn would be a solid wing defender.. Nik will need to improve..Walton is very good at steals but I’ve heard he’s an average defender in terms of staying in front of people kinda like trey.. gets A LOT of steals but isn’t like a lock down defender like a craft

  • mikey_mac

    I think GR3 would do well to see time at 3. He spent a lot of energy trying to match up with 4s, and his style of play just isn’t banging inside.
    As for McGary, I’m much less clear what upside there is to moving him off the 5. Sure, in the NBA, he’s sized closer to a 4, but he can bring whatever sort of offensive game he wants to the 5 position here with UM … Playing off the PnR, post possessions, occasional isos. And college 4s generally aren’t big enough to be a good matchup for him when he’s on defense.