Mailbag: Caris LeVert, Schedule, Zak Irvin, Shot Clock

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan 70, Arizona 72-15

The UM Hoops Mailbag is a collection of questions tweeted (@umhoops), e-mailed or sent via our Facebook page. Submit your questions and we’ll answer as many as we can. (Photo: Dustin Johnston)

@jamalegbaria: If you had to pick the most NBA ready player at the end of this year from our team, who is it?

Caris LeVert. He’s the most proven, he’ll have more opportunity and he’s already projected as a first round draft pick. I think Chad Ford’s latest mock draft hit the nail on the head, slotting LeVert at No. 27:

LeVert was a revelation last year and scouts are still trying to get their arms around him as a prospect. If he can continue the improvement as a junior and shoot the ball as well as he did last year, he could end up going much higher than this. For the Celtics, another shooter could never hurt.

LeVert’s sophomore season was better than most realized at the time and it lost some of the shine because Nik Stauskas was playing next to him. If LeVert is able to repeat his performance from a year ago, it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s representing Michigan in the lottery once again next season.

@JStew14: Do you see Chatman locked in at the 4? Seems like him and Wilson only options there if Donnal being considered a pure 5?

I do think that Kameron Chatman will play predominantly at the four this season and right now I’d expect that he’s the starter there. Wilson is a guy that can probably play the four or the five, but might be kind of stuck in the middle this year. He’s not quite big enough to be a five and his ball skills aren’t quite good enough to be a regular four man in Michigan’s offense.

The other options are Aubrey Dawkins and Zak Irvin. Dawkins has a similar skillset to Glenn Robinson III while Irvin played the position in spots last year. Irvin will play major minutes, but it makes more sense to slide him to the three spot, especially if Dawkins proves a viable option at the four.

@dsobes: Walton over / under 7 assists per game?

Under. Look for Walton to make a big jump in his distribution, but also his scoring. Trey Burke didn’t even average over 7 assists per game during his sophomore season (he was at 6.7) and he was the best player in the country. Walton averaged three per game last year, I would set the over/under on assists per game at 5 for this year.

‏@dsobes: Donnal gets 2 quick fouls in a big game. First big off the bench?

Ricky Doyle – in fact this could even be the other way around with Doyle starting in front of Donnal. Donnal and Doyle will have everyone’s attention in Italy and their ability to provide quality minutes at the five could determine Michigan’s fate.

@CarlBleich: How much does DJ Wilson being injured and missing Europe hurt his development/chances to contribute? Could he redshirt now?

It definitely hurts, but it’s not a deal breaker. Wilson has already added 20 pounds since he arrived on campus and he has a very unique skill set for Michigan’s roster. With so much uncertainty in the front court it seems likely that Wilson could still be needed this season even if he starts slowly due to the injury.

wolverheel: With the expected advancement of Zak Irvin as a better all-around scorer and a starter, who do you see fulfilling that 6th man “microwave” role that he provided so well?

There are a few viable candidates, but I’m not sure if there’s anyone that’s wired to shoot quite like Zak Irvin. I’ll go with Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, but he’ll fill the role slightly differently. He’s a player that’s wired to create with the basketball in his hands. I don’t think you put him on the floor unless you are going to let him play his game – which is attack the basket and make things happen.

ajerome33: There has been quite a lot of talk recently about shortening the length of the shot clock in college basketball. How do you see that impacting Michigan’s offensive approach, ability to control tempo, etc. If changes are made to the shot clock, what kind of adjustments do you think the coaching staff will need to implement to still maintain high offensive efficiency?

We’ll get a taste in Europe, where I believe Michigan will play with FIBA rules (24 second shot clock) as it did when it went to Belgium four years ago. I remember that (and competition and inexperience) causing Michigan consternation in Belgium, but at this point I think Michigan would be just fine. John Beilein has proven himself as an offensive guru (the best offense in the country in back to back years) and he wouldn’t have much problem turning up the pace a bit.

‏@hooverstreet: What do you see as the most interesting / compelling non conference game on the slate this season?

Michigan could have two NCAA tournament rematches from its 2013 Final Four run with games against Syracuse and potentially VCU. A game against Villanova, a 2 seed last year, would be a lot of fun as it would pit two perimeter-oriented guard offenses against each other.

But I think the answer has to be the road trip to Arizona. While Villanova, VCU and Syracuse are all good, Arizona is a truly elite program. The Wildcats stole a game in Ann Arbor last season and it will be interesting to see if Michigan can return the favor this year. It should also be a cool opportunity for a lot of Michigan’s freshmen from the West coast to play closer to home.

@SeanChurchy: What have you seen from Irvin that makes you think he’ll make the token “soph. jump”? Just didnt show flashes like Stauskas did IMO

I’m not so sure that Irvin will make a dramatic jump like Nik Stauskas or Caris LeVert – but I don’t think he has to either. Reports from Adidas Nations were that Irvin has improved physically, but is still mostly just a shooter. A stronger and more athletic version of last year’s Zak Irvin playing starter’s minutes with more experience isn’t a bad thing. Something like Nik Stauskas’s freshman year on the wing seems like a reasonable expectation if LeVert and Walton are able to take over creator duties.

@ZGrubes: Which B1G team on the schedule will be a sleeper nuisance for M and which will be an over-inflated team that M should handle well? Also, are we sold on Wisconsin as the team to beat in the B10 this year?

Most people consider the Big Ten to be Wisconsin and everyone else. I’m not ready to say that Wisconsin is over-inflated because Bo Ryan is always tough to beat, even when everyone thinks his team is going to struggle before the season starts. I’m not sold on Frank Kaminsky as a National Player of the Year, but I think the Badgers are legit. Traevon Jackson is really underrated as a point guard and I suspect he’ll have a big year.

Nebraska probably isn’t a sleeper team, but I’m buying the hype despite their pedestrian efficiency margin, easy Big Ten schedule and early NCAA tournament exit last season. I think the core of Terran Petteway, Shavon Shields and Walter Pitchford can really do damage. The good news? Michigan doesn’t have to play at Nebraska where Tim Miles has built up a really impressive home court advantage.

It’s tough to cherry pick an over-inflated team because there aren’t many Big Ten teams that are inflated. Iowa is a team that returns almost everyone other than Roy Devyn Marble, but the Hawkeyes really struggled down the stretch last season. I think Fran McCaffery’s team could struggle to break the .500 mark in Big Ten play once again in Iowa City.

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  • Brad S

    Villanova was a 2 seed last year

  • AC1997

    Dylan –
    At this point it is hard to say whether anyone will red-shirt this season with all of the early departures and undefined roles heading into the season. But historically Beilein has used a short bench (8-9 players) and you mentioned five freshmen in this mailbag as potential contributors. With the four returning players, Donnal, and five freshmen you’re at a rotation of 10 people and that doesn’t include Max. Something has to give.
    Who do you think are the most likely candidates for a redshirt?

    Do you think that Doyle/Wilson are battling to be the back-up big along with Max and that the loser will get a red-shirt?
    Or will the coaching staff be forced to play all 11 guys some in an attempt to sort out the roster, thus blowing everyone’s redshirt without a mysterious injury that pops up?

  • Quick Darshan

    You have to figure that Levert, Walton, Irvin and Albrecht are in the rotation. And that Bielfeldt will get spot minutes (at least) here and there.

    The question is which 4 or 5 out of the 8-man class will get playing time and which well get a red-shirt. Because Bielien’s not going to play more than 10.

    Duncan Robinson will stay in this class because he’s getting his redshirt this year. Donnal had it last year.

    On the other end, Hatch will most likely not stay in this class and will redshirt.

    That leaves Chatman, MAAR, Dawkins, Doyle and Wilson. Chatman is the best option at the 4. And MAAR is the only guard. They’ll definitely play. So you’re down to Dawkins, Doyle and Wilson. I would think they’d like to redshirt two of them, but it’ll probably just be DJ Wilson and Austin Hatch.

    • AC1997

      I was wondering the same thing about Wilson. He seems like a nice player to keep in the rotation since he can play the 4 and the 5, he’s athletic, and he may have more shot blocking ability than anyone else. Yet he’s also skinny and now injured. Can you get by with Chatman-Dawkins at the 4 and Donnal-Doyle-Bielfeldt at the 5? Maybe.
      I’m less convinced that MAAR is going to play. Last year they played four guards, with Levert/Stauskas playing 35mpg and Irvin playing 15mpg. If Irvin steps up his minutes to match close to that amount you’re only missing another 15mpg from the wing. Some of that will go to Spike. If Dawkins can play a few minutes at the 3 to make up the rest, then you could save MAAR.

  • John

    I have not really said this on any blog-message board, because I seem to be in a serious minority, but I see some major problems with the idea of us as a legit Big Ten contender next year. When I see questions like “who could sneak up on Michigan” I think that our fan base is kind of getting ahead of ourselves. We lost 3/5 of our starting lineup, AND possibly the best player on our team and two upper classman bigs. We have very, very little size to match up with teams down low or on the glass. I just don’t see how we are a Top 25 team this year. Hate to say it, I just really don’t see it.

    • jkuofm27

      I understand where you are coming from given that the B1G is traditionally a very physical conference. MSU and Wisconsin traditionally bruise their way into the top position. It could be argued that post play is more important in the B1G than in any other conference. However, Beilein has not had a top big for most of his tenure. McGary is the only one and he played very little in the B1G. As raw as Wilson, Doyle and Donnal are, in my opinion they are all more innately talented then the upperclassmen bigs that were just lost.

      What you are forgetting is how good this staff is at limiting roles and simplifying the game for young players. Most importantly, juniors and sophomores will be handling the ball, scoring from the perimeter and creating easy scoring opportunities for the inexperienced bigs when they drive. As Dylan pointed out, Wisconsin and Nebraska will be tough outs, but everyone else of merit lost a lot. Indiana and Iowa lost arguably their best player, MSU lost a ton, so with 4 major pieces coming back it is not as bleak as your portrayal. UConn just won a title with guards and wings. They had bigs, but they filled very limited roles. I am not claiming championship, but I am not claiming collapse either.

      • AC1997

        I think my expectations for this team this year are “good side of the bubble” and not “conference champs”. It is fair to be skeptical when you lose five of the top nine guys in your rotation (including the POY and two other NBA picks). Wisconsin will also be a force.

        But on the other side, go back and look at the stats of the non-Stauskas players we lost. They all played critical roles and had their moments, but no one jumps off the page as being irreplaceable. The three post players combined for about a 10-10 stat line and GR3 shot about 30% from three with middling rebounding. Those stats aren’t particularly daunting.

        The real question is whether the big three returning players can replace Stauskas. The answer is almost certainly that they can’t to the point of running away with the conference title….but all hail John Beilein!

    • JohnNavarreIsMyHero

      I don’t understand how anyone can doubt Beilein at this point. The guy has continually proven to create conference title contending teams, despite the loss players to the first round of the NBA draft.

      I am actually proud that this blog and fans recognizes the fact that we are one of the teams to beat. Nationally every year, its we can’t be Big Ten title contenders, and every year, Beilein is winning the title and coming up an inch short.

      Right now we are no lower than a top 4 team in the conference. We have some excellent returning talent – guys that have shown they can win big games.

      Top 4
      Ohio State

      Then you have improving teams like Minnesota, Illinois, and Maryland.

      Our Big Ten Schedule looks pretty favorable. We play two of the better teams, Nebraska and Wisconsin once, each time at home.

      There are a lot of new look teams in the Big Ten – teams like Minnesota and Illinois look to be better, but neither are better than Michigan.

      So overall, the conference is in somewhat of a transition year with a lot of new faces and very winnable. Michigan has proven talent back that has already beaten better versions of a lot of these teams.

      • Northern Blue

        I agree with you.

        I could envision a bit of a rocky start, but then a team that really takes off in Big Ten season and goes into the tourny as a hot 5 or 6 seed.

        We are going in pretty blind at the center position. To me that’s the real X factor to this season.

    • AADave

      I can see your point but you’re underestimating this team’s potential. There are some big questions to be answered. How will our completely inexperienced front court hold up in Big Ten play? Who will step up to replace the contributions of NBA picks Stauskas and GR3? How good will the chemistry be with 3 new starters?

      But think about it. Last year’s team finished #6 in the country. With returning and new talent, this team could easily finish top 25 or much better. Let’s look at the talent at each position. At the one (PG), we have a returning top 40 four star recruit coming off a solid freshman year. Behind him, we have a very solid junior who has been literally spectacular in the biggest games. At the two (SG), we have a returning top 25 five star recruit coming off a solid freshman year. At the three (or the one or two), we have a projected NBA first round pick. At the four, we have an incoming top 25 four star recruit. At the five, we have a borderline top 100 four star recruit with a redshirt year under his belt. Backing up the four and five, we have two more very promising recruits, a top 100 four star recruit as well as a borderline top 150 recruit. Behind all these players, we now have added depth with a couple new raw but athletic players.

      Bottom line, Beilein has all the pieces for another good year. Will they all come together and develop as hoped? Who knows? But the roster looks like an NCAA tourney team to me and one with the potential for a deep run if they improve and gel over the course of a season.

      While tempering my expectations, I’m excited for this team’s potential.

    • Frank Chuck

      “I just don’t see how we are a Top 25 team this year.”

      Simple. We have much more talent on the roster now than we did back then.

      Won won a 2012 B1G regular season title with the following as our starting line-up:
      – Burke (freshman)
      – Hardaway (sophomore)
      – Novak (senior)
      – Douglass (senior)
      – Morgan (redshirt sophomore)

      Our starting line-up for 2015 will probably be:
      – Walton Jr. (sophomore)
      – Irvin (sophomore)
      – LeVert (junior)
      – Chatman (freshman)
      – Donnal (redshirt freshman)

      Our back-ups are pretty good too:
      – Albrecht (junior)
      – MAAR (freshman)
      – Dawkins (freshman)
      – Wilson (freshman)
      – Doyle (freshman)

      (I’m higher than most on our 2014 class which isn’t rated highly but has a good combination of talent. I think we’ll look back fondly on the 2014 class as somewhat similar to the 2012 class.)

      Btw, our 2015 starting line-up is strangely reminiscent of our 2013 NCAAT starting line-up that finished National Runner-Up:
      – Burke (sophomore)
      – Stauskas (freshman)
      – Hardaway (junior)
      – Robinson (freshman)
      – McGary (freshman)

      Notice the difference? Irvin is a sophomore while Stauskas was a freshman.

      Now, I’m not saying we’ll be as good as 2013 but there are definitely reasons to be optimistic because Coach Beilein has shown the ability to coach through youth and significantly improve a team over the season.

  • Adam St Patrick

    The Arizona trip could be totally frightening. Worse than Duke last year. But thanks to those tests there will be some good growth, and come tournament time the team should hopefully be ready to make it to the Sweet 16. As for the conference, top four isn’t saying much this year, but what matters to me most is that Michigan sweeps MSU again. It’s plenty doable. They lost even more off their roster than Michigan did.

    The great thing about this year is that it sets up next year. There probably won’t be three players moving on to the NBA, as it doesn’t seem like Walton and Irvin are on a two-and-done trajectory. The continuity inherent there is going to pay off big time.