Looking for positives, John Beilein pleased with Mark Donnal’s career afternoon

Alejandro Zúñiga

The problems facing the Michigan basketball team are numerous: The Wolverines aren’t hitting open looks, they’re struggling to establish an inside presence, they’re slow on defensive rotations and key players are injured.

After Saturday’s loss to Southern Methodist, Michigan’s fourth-straight defeat, coach John Beilein was left seeking reasons for optimism.

“I think there’s small positives tonight just in what Mark Donnal did,” he said. “And that’s not only for him — that’s for others to grow in their confidence for him.

“But that’s what we need right now: We need to get a win and grow from that as well. But we’ll grow a lot from this loss. It is tough.”

That Donnal became the highlight of an otherwise mistake-prone performance was surprising in its own right. For the first time this year, the freshman center didn’t start, and he didn’t check in until 4:45 into the contest. By then, Ricky Doyle had already established himself with a strong offensive rebound and layup off the pick-and-roll.

It didn’t take long for Donnal to make a splash of his own, though. Ten seconds after he subbed in, Derrick Walton found the center open at the corner, and he didn’t hesitate to bury the three-pointer. He made another trey in garbage time and finished 2-for-3 from long range — a weapon Doyle can’t deliver.

“[Beilein] has built trust in me that I’m able to take those kind of shots,” Donnal said. “He has full confidence that I can make them.”

Donnal ended the afternoon with a career-best 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting in 14 minutes. Only Zak Irvin made more field goals for Michigan.

“I told [Donnal] before that game that we want him coming off the bench with a shooter’s mentality,” Beilein said. “He’s a very good shooter, and we have to use him more like that in the future.”

But the freshman’s biggest moment was a strong play inside that capped a quick 7-0 run midway through the second half. When Spike Albrecht missed a three-pointer, Donnal boxed out SMU’s Markus Kennedy to grab the board, made a strong layup through a foul and sank the ensuing free throw.

It was a powerful move Michigan simply hasn’t seen before from Donnal.

“I don’t know what the magic is,” Beilein said. “When you take a guy and take him out of the starting lineup, he comes back and he comes off the bench much more relaxed. So that’s a part of the reason that you make the change. The starters, sometimes, maybe they’re feeling too much.”

Donnal, though, said there wasn’t any different mindset coming off the bench rather than starting. Instead, it was a simple adjustment to playing the second five-minute block than the first. And given the Wolverines’ frequent rotation at center, it’s not such a big deal who starts anyway. (Donnal is averaging 13.8 minutes per game; Doyle is averaging 16.8.)

Still, Donnal’s nice day offensively can’t mask SMU’s 34 points in the paint to Michigan’s 10, SMU’s 37% offensive rebounding rate or Yanick Moreira’s 7-of-9 shooting day. More importantly, it doesn’t hide the reality of a 6-5 record and the season in a tailspin.

But as Beilein looked for positives Saturday afternoon, Donnal was a good place to start.

  • Chezaroo

    IMO, Mark’s future is on the perimeter with this team. I get all the defensive concerns, but would he really be doing any worse than Kam at the 4 right now? He doesn’t have the mentality of a post player and is the closest thing to a copy of Pitsnogle that JB has had here at M. The kid can shoot and I’d like to see him get some time as a stretch 4. Even with his slow release, JB needs to find some looks for him going forward. Anybody that can make a shot has extreme value to this team right now.

    • Justin

      Agree completely. Ive talked with many coaches directly with my broadcasting career and collectively you always want to highlight what a player does best. Let him focus on his strengths instead of trying to make him into something else.

      Donnal is not 5 especially in the b10. He is too soft, not strong enough, doesnt invite contact, undersized, not athletic.

      Donnal is a skilled forward who is a shooter, nothing more. He is a the 7th or 8th guy off the bench who should have a career ppg between 6 and 10 pts who may eventually work his way into a consistent starters role towards the back end of his career. Nothing more.

    • Wherever his future might be… who else do you have to play at the five? It’s not like he’s blocking someone’s playing time at the five spot.

      • Justin

        And there in lies the problem. That guy is most likely suiting up for another team right now. Fyi i have heard eron harris is really looking good at msu in practice. Best player on msu right now is word out of camp. We will feel that one next year. Excellent news. Not

      • Chezaroo

        I’m almost ready to sink or swim with Doyle at the 5, with some arbitrary minutes allocated to Max and Mark as needed. Kam can’t shoot, can’t guard, and is dazed and confused with the system as it exists. I just wanna win a game, and to do that I’d rather give more minutes at the 4 to Donnal. At least he can make a shot.

        • Not sure how many minutes over 20 Doyle can even go. Even last game, Dakich was talking about his conditioning. Don’t think he’d be ready for much more than 25 in a game — especially with fouls as well.

          • Chezaroo

            It is what it is, we know that. Kam is giving us NOTHING right now. What 13-14 minutes a game, and zero production? I’d much rather increase Donnal’s minutes by starting him at the 4 and filling in as needed at the 5. Doyle isn’t going to improve his suspect conditioning sitting on the bench. Who gives better effort and hustle, Doyle or Kam?

    • Chris De Sana

      Moving Donnal to the 4 will do a couple things, get him more jump shots and possibly some mis matches in the paint against smaller defenders. But………. it could also mean some tough match ups on the defensive side as he does not have great defensive quickness.

      Maybe when Wilson comes back it will happen.

  • Wayman Britt

    Plenty of season left and Beilein will improve this team, but here are five things we know about this team:
    1. Everybody can stop worrying about Zak leaving for the NBA after the season, he is not ready.
    2. Ricky Doyle will be a very good player for UM. He has the tools, toughness and grit to have a great career for UM.
    3. Spike is a great role player and spark – nobody denies that, but does not have enough height or talent to play 34 minutes a game- every game – and lead UM to a top 15 team in the nation.
    4. There is a reason Dawkins and MAAR (19 yrs old) did not have any other legit D1 offers, if they cannot find the floor with Spike and Walton hurt, that says it all about their talent. I understand they are freshman, but we can all name freshman throughout the NCAA who are contributing – that’s just the way NCAA basketball is now days. We sure could have used either Booker or Blackmon.
    5. I cannot tell anything about Kam yet. Is the game to fast for him? Maybe he just needs time. I see talent at times, but then the next game I wonder if he is way over his head. His grade is incomplete at this time.

    • Chris De Sana

      At this point why not get MAAR and Dawkins on the court, can Dawkins give us any less than Kam and we need to be honest MAAR can not do much worse than Spike especially on the defensive side of the ball.

      • I get the thought process that Player X is struggling and Player Y isn’t playing, so he must be better… but at the same time the coach sees them play all the time in practice. I’m pretty sure Beilein realizes what certain players are/aren’t giving them on the floor and he would go to another option if he thought they were ready.

        Monday should be interesting though because it’s the last real chance to give both guys some PT.

        • Chris De Sana

          Never said better, just tough to think they can do worse.

          So Dylan question, if you had to bet who would hit the open jumper would you take Kam or Dawkins?

          • Well Kam is 4-21 in games and Dawkins is 1-7. It’s a problem either way.

  • Brian

    Guys we need to realise that this isnt going to be a shinning year for Michigan, Beilin is slowly building up for the next few years because we have lost so many guys over the past 3. We need some sort of foundation, 1 0r 2 guys go to the NBA and we have to always start from scratch every year lets have a bad year build up our bench and our athletes and try to land some huge recruits to help us continute to grow. None of the althletes that are on the team now are bad, you guys speak of them as if they are trash, they are young and green. If we can land a couple of key recruits we have a great foundation to continute to win.