Mailbag: Zak Irvin’s injury, recruiting needs, expectations & more

Dylan Burkhardt

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. 

Burke_Does_Work: Moving forward, what are the team’s biggest areas of need when recruiting?

Looking at Michigan’s scholarship chart, I think the focus in the class of 2017 will be finding an instant impact wing scorer and another point guard — essentially filling the scholarships vacated by Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin.

The Wolverines should have an experienced roster when the class of 2017 sets foot on campus as the current sophomore class will be entering their senior years, but there will only be two underclassmen guards on the roster (Xavier Simpson and Ibi Watson). Simpson should step in as the starter as a sophomore, but given the experienced roster the Wolverines could look for a plug and play instant impact player to elevate the roster to the next level.

It’s also still very early for the class of 2017 and attrition is always possible. The class could and probably will end up being bigger than just two spots, but for now I think that’s the primary focus.

goblue62: I know Beilein won’t install a platoon system here, but what would a Michigan platoon system look like with our increased depth this year?

This is a fun one even though you are right that Beilein isn’t likely to install a platoon system anytime soon. Given how last year played out, there’s something of a natural fit to build a platoon system.

Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton could spearhead the first platoon while the core players that filled in during their injuries could anchor the second group. That could leave you with two lines that look something like this:

Derrick Walton, Caris LeVert, Duncan Robinson, Zak Irvin and Ricky Doyle in the first group and Spike Albrecht, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Aubrey Dawkins, Kameron Chatman and DJ Wilson in the other.

Those groups certainly seem respectable and just having that possibility should lead to some quality 5 on 5 practice — especially this fall when roles are up for grabs. I left most of the sophomores in the second group since they had so much starting experience last season and could make a nice group.

mgobluehoops23: If Zak Irvin is to miss any time, who will take his spot in the starting lineup?
: What do you think the effect of Irvin’s injury will be on the team? When do you think he will be back to full strength?

John Beilein laid out a 6 to 8 week recovery time frame that would have Irvin back in action right around the start of the season. Backs can be tricky — and we don’t know exactly what sort of procedure Irvin underwent — but we also don’t have any reason not to take the release at its word. Assuming that Irvin recovers smoothly and is ready to go before Michigan faces Xavier early on in November, I think it could really help sort through one of the deepest positions on Michigan’s roster.

Aubrey Dawkins is the obvious candidate to step into the starting lineup if Irvin were to miss time. He was a starter down the stretch last year, he can shoot the ball, play some undersized four similar to Irvin’s role at times and he’s the most experienced.

But along with Dawkins, guys like Duncan Robinson — the next most viable option to replace Irvin in the starting lineup — Kameron Chatman, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, DJ Wilson and Moritz Wagner will all have significantly more of an opportunity to make an impact during fall practices. No one is going to take Irvin’s spot, but not everyone in that group is guaranteed consistent minutes. Irvin’s absence should give Michigan’s wings more than enough opportunity to stake their claim.

mgobluehoops23: Who are the most likely players to be a part of the 8 man rotation?

John Beilein himself admitted he’s not even sure who will fit into the rotation right now, so let’s break it down into tiers.

I think Derrick Walton, Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin, Aubrey Dawkins, Ricky Doyle and Spike Albrecht are locks to make the rotation. I would also pencil Duncan Robinson into that group because Beilein has referred to him as at least a rotation player several times over the last year.

That gives us seven players and we haven’t even included a second big man in the group.

If one of Mark Donnal, DJ Wilson and Moritz Wagner can secure the backup five position outright then that’ll be a great sign for Michigan, but I can’t see it yet. When Doyle is on the bench I think we’ll see a host of different options until someone can separate themselves from the pack.

The two names that I haven’t mentioned are Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Kameron Chatman. I’m not ready to count Chatman out of the rotation by any means, but he’ll have to beat out Dawkins — who badly outplayed him last season — and the threat of any of Michigan’s hybrid bigs earning minutes at the four spot. Abdur-Rahkman provided terrific minutes in the backcourt when Walton and LeVert were sidelined, but is he going to play over Walton, Albrecht or LeVert? That trio could easily split the majority of the available minutes at the one and two spots without breaking a sweat.

kje22kje: Do any of the big men in 2016 (including the freshmen) have the ability to play in a 2 big lineup? If so 1. Who are the most likely pairings and how do they work and 2. is JB willing to do this?

Long term I think DJ Wilson and Moritz Wagner both project to the four position. Beilein and/or his assistants have all hinted at this with both players, but right now the roster is loaded with wings and low on true five men. Because of that, I see Wilson and Wagner both sliding upward and playing some five this season — mostly be necessity.

Down the road when Michigan has Ricky Doyle, Mark Donnal, Jon Teske and Austin Davis on the roster, then you could see a ‘two big’ look with Wagner or Wilson at the four spot. Doyle, Teske and Davis are pure centers and while Donnal is known for his shot, he still projects as more of a stretch five than a stretch four for the foreseeable future.

any chance with pitchforks or flamethrowers that we can get the shorts overturned?

I don’t think anyone is going to complain if you do.

do you think we are being underrated this season?

The consensus that I’ve seen is that Michigan is picked somewhere in the 20-40 range and around 5th or 6th in the Big Ten. The Wolverines return a lot of talent, but really struggled last season — for circumstances that we understand, but are also hard to quantify. If I’m previewing the whole conference or country and look at all of the losses Michigan suffered early on even with a mostly healthy lineup, it’s hard to really project that ceiling.

I think Michigan’s floor this season should be the NCAA tournament, but as I’ve written previously the ceiling will be determined by how well the big men can perform. The Big Ten looks to have its strongest crop of big men in quite some time and the frontcourt is the biggest question mark facing this team. If Doyle and company can shoulder the load, then this team can be very good.

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  • Lanknows

    I’m a little surprised you see Dawkins as the main obstacle to Chatman getting time. I see it a little differently because both Dawkins (and obviously Irvin) seem like locks to get time on the wing. Robinson is the guy who I see as the main competitor for Chatman. It comes down to how good their defense is. We know Robinson and Dawkins can shoot – we don’t know if either can defend. Dawkins seems more likely to get there though, given his athleticism.

    Kam brings a different skillset, but if he’s going to be an asset to THIS Michigan team he needs to rebound, defend, and pass. Of course if he is knocking down 35% or more of 3s that changes the dynamic too.

    • Lanknows

      Really it can go anyway you want to see it because of positional fluidity. Spike and Walton could play a lot of minutes together if they need guards. Some guys who play 4 (Irvin, Dawkins, Chatman) could slide to 3 or even 2. Beilein has a ton of options when it comes to lineups. Beyond the 1 spot (Walton/Spike) and the 5 spot (Doyle/Wilson/Donnal/Wagner) you could play 2-4 a lot of different ways.

      In other words a guard like MAAR is in direct competition with a forward like Wagner.

      To me, our lineup already has tons of offensive firepower and shooting with Spike, Walton, LeVert, and Irvin. So whoever else is going to play either has to be a knock-down shooter to create spacing (Dawkins and Robinson seem to fit) or be a significant asset on the defensive end (Chatman, MAAR?). It’s hard to go against shooters when Beilein is involved, but Beilein’s also not afraid to put out lineups with 3 shooters, a big man, and then a non-shooter. It’s going to be fascinating to watch it unfold.

      My hope remains that Chatman turns some of his physical potential into being a plus defender and rebounder and reliable passer. He doesn’t have to shoot much to be an asset. I’d love it if he played with the starters and then Spike, Dawkins, and Robinson came off the bench firing against opposing second units. That’s the best case scenario IMO, but not necessarily the most likely one.

    • Chezaroo

      Its still wait and see if Robinson can “shoot” effectively at the D1 level for me. Won’t be surprised at all if he’s the odd man out of the rotation until he adjusts to the uptick in defensive pressure at this level if he can. Shooting in practice against our “defense” is a world away from what he’ll see in conference. Dawkins is already a proven shooter, very interested to see how his game expands this year. If Zak misses extended time he will be a 25-30 minute player.

      • Lanknows

        I definitely put Dawkins over Robinson for now. Still, given all the practice reports it seems safe to think that Robinson’s floor is Matt Vogrich and that’s it’s likely he offers more than that. The offense with all the returning players will create easy shooting opportunities. Robinson’s already shown he can compete at a level way above high school, so there’s less uncertainty than you have with most recruits. I feel confident he’ll be able to shoot – what I wonder about is the defense, passing, movement, etc.

        The thing is Beilein has always wanted guys who will play a limited shooting role — just stand in the corner and shoot. Robinson would seem to fit, if he can handle the other stuff. I think there’s little doubt that Beilein can use a guy like Robinson and put him in a position to succeed. The question will be if Chatman, MAAR, Dawkins and others are doing other things to keep Robinson’s (presumably more limited) game on the bench.

        One way to think about it is that Robinson (as just-a-shooter) is an excellent worst-case scenario for the 8th man in the rotation.

        Here is my take of the 8-man rotation and personnel, ranked by certainty of contribution:

        1. Levert
        2. Walton
        3. Irvin
        4. Doyle
        5. Albrecht
        6. Dawkins
        7. Wilson (or whoever shakes out as the backup center)
        8. backup wing (Robinson vs Chatman vs MAAR vs…)

  • zeroskie

    As far as Irvin’s back procedure. I would venture to say that it’s likely a microlumbar discectomy for sciatic pain. It’s probably similar to what McGary had to go through too. It’s tough to say what kind of recovery period that means for Irvin. We generally tell patients not to bend/stretch/twist the spine for 6wks after a spine surgery, but MLDs are very non-invasive and it’s all about how much muscle was violated. I would expect someone in athlete shape to recover faster, but at the same time they have to perform at a higher level than most

  • Wayman Britt

    Wow Steve Fisher is a great basketball coach, but his legacy will be that he was involved in two programs with major NCAA violations. I would love to give him “truth serum” and learn the truth on what went on.