Mitch McGary’s departure means the future is now for Michigan’s young frontcourt

Dylan Burkhardt

1224151[1]Mitch McGary is headed to the NBA, which means Michigan will have one of the youngest and most unproven frontcourts in college basketball next season.

Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford accounted for about 95% of the available minutes at the four and five positions last season. They are all gone.

Max Bielfeldt, Mark Donnal, DJ Wilson, Ricky Doyle, Kameron Chatman and Zak Irvin are left in their place.

Irvin led that group, playing 569 minutes last year, but he only played the four out of necessity last season. Bielfeldt was the only other returning player over 6-foot-6 on Michigan’s roster to log minutes (89) last season while the other four have freshman eligibility and have never played in a college game.

In an ideal world, McGary would have come back and manned the five spot. Jon Horford would have backed him up, providing the perfect transitional opportunity for Michigan’s young frontcourt players. Donnal, Wilson and Doyle could have added strength, quickness and agility while learning under experienced players that had been through the rigors of a Big Ten season.

Donnal, Wilson and Doyle were supposed to be thrown into the mix in 2015-16, not in 2014-15. But that doesn’t changed the fact that this group is, and always was, the future of Michigan’s frontcourt.

December 26, 2013 Rancho Mirage, CA.   in the MaxPreps Holiday Classic basketball game between the De La Salle Spartans and Columbia Christian Knights (St Louis, MO) at Rancho Mirage High School in Rancho Mirage, CA.  David Hood/CSM.There were many questions as to why Michigan was chasing guards and wings instead of post players in the late signing period, but they are already on the roster. The Wolverines incoming class is heavy on bigs and Mark Donnal was a top-100 recruit with a redshirt year. Five of Michigan’s 11 scholarship players next season are likely to play the four or five positions. Michigan is all-in with its young bigs.

Kameron Chatman is Michigan’s highest rated front court player and he measured in at 6-foot-8, 213 pounds at the Jordan Brand Classic. He appears to be the perfect fit for the four spot at Michigan. He’s skinny, but he rebounds (9.8 rebounds per game in the Nike EYBL). He’s a lefty, which makes him a perfect fit to play on the right side of the floor for John Beilein.

Chatman is the sort of player that could start his career at the four position and end his career playing point guard. Bacari Alexander compared him to Jalen Rose in early April. Regardless of where Chatman projects, Michigan needs him in the frontcourt this season.

Mark Donnal looks like the natural fit to slide into the starting five-spot in Michigan’s offense. Donnal was listed at 6-foot-9, 230 pounds before the season and added weight, strength and athleticism thanks to an entire year in the weight room with Jon Sanderson. Donnal provides something that Michigan’s five men have lacked since DeShawn Sims: a reliable three-point jumpshot.

“Mark is still 18 years old right now. So that is very encouraging to us. Every day when our guys were out shooting around, he was finishing a mammoth lift with John Sanderson in the weight room. Mark will take coaching and move it right away,” John Beilein said earlier this month. “When in doubt, he shoots it — and it goes in. He’s got great instincts, as he learns other parts of the game”

Ricky Doyle has been praised by John Beilein for his more traditional game. Doyle is a  back to the basket big man that has an array of post moves and can even step out and knock down 15-footers. Doyle could struggle with the pace and athleticism at the Big Ten level, which could manifest itself defensively and on the glass.

“We love that Ricky can play in both high and low post,” Beilein said when Doyle signed his letter of intent. “He has a tremendous feel for the game whether he is on the perimeter or with his back to the basket. He loves contact so he is a great fit for Big Ten basketball. Our fans will love Ricky’s ‘old school approach’ to playing the game.”

Max Bielfeldt has never played a significant role for Michigan and lacks some of the height to make an impact at the center position, but he’s Michigan’s most experienced player. Reports from practice are that he has a reliable jump shot and John Beilein commented on his gamewhen he was thrown into the fire in the Big Ten Tournament final.

“Max is really good in practice every day,” Beilein said in March. “We can’t stop his three‑point shooting.  In practice, he’s done some really good things.  So I thought he carried himself really well.”

DJ Wilson projects as a stretch-four man, but he will bring an influx of athleticism to Michigan’s front line. He needs serious strength and conditioning, but he can run the floor, finish above the rim and step out and knock down jump shots.

“When you look at DJ Wilson in particular, I think he’s a multifaceted forward that can play inside and out,” Bacari Alexander said earlier this month. “What we try to do here at Michigan is we try to give our guys some type of migration plan and not just say you’re just a straight center, or your just a straight this guy. Our development suggests that he’ll be all over the floor. There will be times when he may be at the three spot, four spot, five spot. There will be times when he grabs rebounds and leads the break like you saw with Mitch McGary this year. We’re excited about his skill set.”

Michigan will have the opportunity for some extra practice this summer when it travels to Italy for a foreign tour. The tour should be invaluable for Michigan’s inexperienced front line, that hasn’t been tested at a college level.

“I’m excited about the foreign tour for two reasons,” Alexander explained. “One we get to lose a few games to get guys humble from the beginning. I think the other part of things is that we get to start the process of role definition. See what guys can handle in terms of being primary guys, in terms of roles. See where the skill sets are then it gives us all of the data we need to go into our preseason practices and start honing in on improving and enhancing those skill sets.”

The last time Michigan went to Europe was in Summer of 2010. The Wolverines were coming off of a losing season and were going to rely on a starting frontcourt that featured redshirt freshman Jordan Morgan, true freshman Evan Smotrycz and 6-foot-5 Zack Novak. Michigan went 1-3 in overseas, taking some rough defeats, but grew up in the process. The Wolverines returned home and finished the season on a tear, making the NCAA tournament and advancing to the round of 32.

Mitch McGary would have made Michigan a great team next year, and the Wolverines might still be just fine. The backcourt group of Derrick Walton, Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin is ready to step into the limelight and while the frontcourt is inexperienced, they are going to be fixtures in the Michigan program for years to come.

  • Fan4life

    The Italy trip is going to be huge for this young team to build chemistry. Go Blue!

    • BlueRev

      Was going to ay the same thing–You took the words right out of my keyboard! Really glad this is the year they will have the eurotrip to begin developing relationships, learn the system and find roles and rotation.

  • salama

    The good news is that the offensive drop-off from losing Stauskas might now be mitigated by the fact that, unless Doyle is shockingly ready right away, we will have 5 3pt shooters on the floor at at all times.

    And Defensively, how much worse than 94th or whatever we were can we get?
    Right now, I`d set the over under for minutes at something like this:
    Donnal 24 Beilfeldt 16
    Chatman 28 Wilson 12
    Irvin 32 Levert 8
    Levert 27 Walton 13
    Walton 20 Albrecht 20
    We really might have to look at pressing or some other gimmicky type D at times with that speed and length on the wing, and our lack of interior experience and shotblocking.

    • BlueRev

      Front court minutes I think you’re close… Donnal and Chatman 27ish mpg each and Wilson, Doyle, Beilfeldt combining for the other 27, imo in that order playing time-wise; tho its really too early to guess who gets what. I hope Doyle is ready for 10-15mpg as you can’t teach a 7-2 wingspan. Beilfeldt likely has better footwork at this point but so small for a 5!

      Back-court set at 1-3 with Levert, Irvin and Walton eating up 100 minutes and Spike, MAAR/Dawkins? picking up 20.

      Hey everyone–all the earlier projections were a waste of time as 4 guys out and at least one newb on team already. I wouldn’t be surprised to see us have 1-2 more guys available this coming year that mess up these projections again (although I really like the idea of Huff for a year down the road). I recall JB almost pulled off a Euro big signing a few summers back.

      • BlueRev

        for clarification:
        Levert, Irvin, Walton — about 33 each
        Donnal, Chatman — about 27 each
        Spike, Wilson, Doyle (or Biefeldt) — about 13 each
        MAAR, Bielfeldt (or Doyle), etc — about 10 combined

        • salama

          I`d take the over on Chatman and Biefeldt minutes there, based on Chatman seeming perfect for our team (the lefty thing will please Beilein) and being a fairly monstrous recruit whose game is very role-player and thus suited for being a 4th or 5th option while contributing right away, and Biefeldt being trust by Beilein in this year`s NCAA tourney, where he looked capable of setting a hard screen and grabbing some defensive boards.

      • salama

        I checked and we finished the year 109th on D for Kenpom, 2nd last in the Big 10, just ahead of Iowa.
        I think McGary gone will make it hard for us to get back into the 40`s or 50`s on D, but regression alone should mean we can`t get much worse, and we should still be top 10 on O with Levert, Irvin and Walton all improving, as well as even better spacing with our big men all being shooters (except Doyle).

    • Kenny

      I am certain that Ricky will play, he is as ready as DJ if not more.

      • BlueRev

        Can you share why you are so certain?
        I hope you are right of course.
        I remember UM playing several not big-time centers over the years and doing fine… Eric Riley, Chris Young, Jordan Morgan. Morgan was RS’d and the others maybe were too, but it seems like guys are more ready to go than they were years ago–and Doyle is taller than any of them except maybe Riley (which doesn’t mean a whole lot).

      • MAZS

        Me too? Based on what? His low recruiting status–even the latest ones? The relatively low level of his high school competition? His very limited AAU experience? In contrast, DJ’s status rose significantly his senior year.

      • chazer

        I don’t know, from what I’ve seen (on tape) DJ can run and get up and down the floor. This offense and the defensive hedge are really up tempo IMO. He needs to be in Great Shape as a Freshman to compete. I was thinking he might red shirt if Mitch came back…I really hope you’re right.

    • Ian Burr

      You forgot MAAR and possibly Dawson..

  • Tyrell

    I am excited for Mark Donnal. I expect him to be very good early and only get better with more time.

  • salama

    Who`s excited for Michigan being projected as a 9 or 10 seed now and everyone being shocked when Beilein has us as a dangerous 4 or 5?

    • BlueRev

      Can’t say I’m excited as I’m pretty down about today’s announcement, but yes I will be excited the coming Euro trip, next November and next March when we have 20+ wins heading into the B1G tourney and playing for a higher NCAA seed. Let’s shock the world!

      • salama

        Honestly, my post-Amaker Yay-Beilein reverie is permanent at this point. I basically see all news regarding the team as positive. If Walton went pro tomorrow I`d be sad for an hour then get excited about Spike`s efficiency and Chatman causing matchup problems for PG`s with his size.

    • 93Grad

      Not me. Sorry, but my days of being excited for that kind of team are over. I now want conference contenders and Sweet 16 or better tourney teams. That is what JB has built and what we would have been if not for the arbitrary NCAA rules and punishment.

      • maquih

        They did make the chapionship game as a four seed, you know?

  • Mattski

    Michigan will be alright. Appreciate the film reminders of just how great especially Donnal is going to be.

    • Mattski

      Watch for the starting five to set a collective NCAA 3-point average record next year.

    • countourzealous

      Bielfeldt is going to have to grow up quickly, as well as Donnal. If they can put in production minutes, I think our front court can carry us a lot of the way.

      • 93Grad

        Beifeldt is not a B1G quality 5 which is where he will have to play in our system. He is basically 6’6″ and will get destroyed down low.

  • Chuck

    As much as I love the coaching staff and young talent we have, next year is going to be a rebuilding year. The kids just aren’t physically ready for B1G hoops yet.

  • countourzealous

    Though this will certainly be a rebuilding year at the 4 and 5, we still have a lot of talent. We have lost a bunch of players, and losing Horford feels particularly bitter right now. Our team is certainly going to look different, but Beilein has demonstrated time and time again that he knows how to our team’s strengths.

  • Jake

    Hope fans will keep realistic expectations for next season, and do not expect something approaching the success of the past 2 seasons. There’s a good chance things are going to be quite rough next season– I think defense in particular could be a complete mess. That said, I’m interested to see what Beilein designs offensively for this team, particularly if most of the bigs end up being the sort of quality shooters that Beilein aims to get.

  • Kenny

    We had this before in 2009 when we had only RS freshmen morgan and McLimens, freshman Smotrycz and a returning iunior 6’4 forward Novak. I think the young group of Mark, Ricky, DJ, Kam, led by Max will answer the challenge well.

    • BlueRev

      I would take this group on paper over what we got from that group that year.
      Absolutely no insult to them, just I have higher hopes for this group right off the bat. Of course that team was only about 500 conference and won only 1 tourney game right? Still hoping for a borderline top 25 team that is dangerous come tourney time,

  • Webbdog

    The New Rules will help Doyle. You cant be as physical as in the past in the B1G. If he has the Moves he will draw a lot of Contact and stay on the Free Throw Line. JMO

  • Aaron

    Are the true freshmen allowed to play in this summer’s tour? If not, that’s a very thin team, especially in the frontline. I guess Huff could probably play on the European tour if he comes in (they are like practices), but Beilfeldt and Donnal would have to take all the 4/5 minutes with some help from Irvin? No Doyle/Chatman/Wilson… eek. Don’t care about winning, but injuries or defeatism would be bad.

  • Champswest

    I yearn for the day when out 3s can play the 3. our 4s can play the 4 and our 5s are true 5s. I was hoping that this was going to be that year. Now it looks like our 4 (Donnal) will have to slide down to the 5 and our 3 (Chatman) will have to slide down to the 4.

    • jblair52

      Donnal is a 5 for Beilein – he’s a big kid. Just cause he can hit the 3 and might have played the “4” in other systems, he’s a good 5 for Beilein’s system. Chatman is a perfect “4” and probably would be a “4” for many programs. He’s 6’8″ 215 lbs coming in. If he’s here for a year or two I’d figure he’ll easily get to 225+.

      Donnal is much bigger than Jordan Morgan.
      Chatman isn’t much smaller than when Peedi Sims came in as a freshman…and he filled out to be a beast.

  • Dustin Stone

    Have to say I’m really excited about the vast amount of unknowns going into next year… Is that weird? I mean don’t get me wrong I would have been ecstatic if one to all three of the big names came back…but this now the wild west! A crop of raw and versatile talent, with a few outliers thrown in, now awaits John and the staff to mold and grow as the season goes along. I know there is going to be some serious ups and downs (heck we went through that this year!) but for once in the 10 short years I’ve been watching Michigan basketball, I’m not at all worried about this program been a consistent success. Can’t wait to see how they’re going to get there, and who contributes! Hail!

    • Nick

      Completely agree with this sentiment. As you said, I would have been happy if the 3 stayed but their departure really makes this feel like a new era. All the starters from the championship game are gone.

  • 93Grad

    McGary was the key to next season. Without him this a middling B1G team and likely a one and done team in NCAA. What’s even worse is that having McGary out this year hurt our chances at landing a quality traditional 5 in 2015. Until we can land a big time shot blocker/rebounder I don’t see this team getting back to the Elite 8 anytime soon.

    • FWIW… This team just made the Elite Eight without a big time shot blocker/rebounder/traditional 5.

      • A2PioneerGoBlue

        Dylan, was watching the OKC v. MEM playoff game and commentators mentioned that Igor Ibaka is talking with Michigan about a potential offer (as reported by Igor’s brother, Serge Ibaka). Igor is a PF in JC right now. Heard anything?

  • geoffclarke

    My confidence level in these players goes in this order:
    1. Chatman
    2. Donnal
    3. Wilson
    4. Doyle
    5. Bielfeldt

  • gobluenyc

    You know, our front court is obviously not as good as if McGary had stayed, but if Levert is an all-american, which I think he is, and Walton and and Irvin get All-B1G second or third team, which I also believe, Donnal and Chatman can have very nice seasons as solid role players in front of one of the best backcourts in America.