2015-16 Player Preview: Ricky Doyle

Dylan Burkhardt

With the start of college basketball just weeks away, we’re breaking down Michigan’s roster player-by-player. Today we look at sophomore big man Ricky DoylePreviously: Aubrey Dawkins, Caris LeVert, Derrick WaltonSpike AlbrechtDJ Wilson, Duncan Robinson.

Sophomore big man Ricky Doyle enters his second season in Ann Arbor as Michigan’s most experienced big man. He started 19 games last season, but he also still has plenty to prove after an up-and-down freshman slate.

It only took Doyle ten games into his career to beat out Mark Donnal for the starting center spot last season, but near the end of the year he lost the spot to Max Bielfeldt after an illness forced him out of the lineup in March.

Doyle has all of the tools to provide what Michigan wants from the five position. He has a wide body, can finish consistently around the basket and isn’t afraid to play physically. As a freshman, it was predominantly his conditioning and quickness that held him back when he struggled.

Doyle was presumed by many to be Michigan’s likely starter at center to start his sophomore year, but preseason developments have raised a few eye-brows. Mark Donnal has received more positive press from the Wolverine coaches for his consistency and it was Donnal, not Doyle, who was practicing with the first group at Michigan’s open practice on Monday.

Consistency & conditioning

Double-digit performances early on in his career against Oregon and Syracuse set expectations high, but after reaching double figures three times in his first seven games, the 6-foot-9 big man only reached double digits in the scoring column five times in the final 25 games of his freshman campaign.

Doyle’s game-to-game production seemed to vary wildly over the course of the season. Here’s a look at his minutes, points and rebounds in each game last season. He showed flashes, but was never able to consistently provide the sort of production that Michigan needed from the position.


The good news is that conditioning is probably the easiest thing to improve over the course of an offseason. Doyle made significant strides from when he graduated high school through the start of his freshman season and appears to have made similar gains this offseason. Slowly but surely he’s shedding the baby fat and should be able to hold his own in the paint for longer stretches as a sophomore.

“He came in country strong. He didn’t lift a lot of weights but he was strong walking in the door,” John Beilein said at Michigan Media Day. “I think one of his bigger issues was to change the muscle mass and make it more productive. His lean muscle mass has gone way up. He’s probably in the best condition he’s been in. He’s far from a finished product but I like what I see.”

A reliable finisher

Doyle shot 61% on two-point attempts and an impressive 70% at the rim. He doesn’t have much offensive game outside of 6 or 7 feet, but he’s proven reliable around the basket. At the center position in such a pick-and-roll heavy offense, finishing becomes critical. Jordan Morgan made a career out of playing physical defense, grabbing rebounds and finishing drop-offs around the basket.

doyle chart

“He just loves to work out,” John Beilein said at Big Ten Media Day. “He is in the gym and in the gym and in the gym. He was a young 18 year old freshman, now he’s a 19 year old sophomore. He has made great strides. Can shoot jump shots, he’s not a three-point guy but he’s comfortable with that. Comfortable with keeping his game simple in the post. I love the progress that he’s making.”

Doyle isn’t perfect in this regard. His ability to catch tough passes around the rim certainly leaves some room for improvement, but overall he’s shown the signs of being a reliable finisher inside for the Wolverines.

Rebounding must improve

Michigan was the second-worst defensive rebounding team in the Big Ten last season and while it will take improvement across the board to remedy those woes, it has to start in the middle.

Doyle posted a defensive rebounding rate of 11.9% which tied him with fellow Big Ten players like Melo Trimble and Dakota Mathias — perimeter guards that no one would think about praising for their defensive rebounding ability.

Competition and next steps

Doyle still seems like a guarantee to play major minutes at center, at least for now. He has more experience than Michigan’s other options and he’s naturally the most physical player of the bunch.

Doyle averaged 18 minutes, six points and three rebounds per game last season and I’d expect all of those numbers to grow. Assuming he can handle the minutes and stay out of foul trouble, 25 minutes per game seems reasonable along with modest bumps up in points and rebounds per game seems realistic.

On the other hand, he’s facing legitimate competition for playing time this year as well. The coaches have been praising Mark Donnal, not Ricky Doyle, for his consistency in practice and it wouldn’t surprise to see Donnal earn the starting spot out of the gate based on open practices and comments from the coaches. DJ Wilson and Moritz Wagner are both extremely versatile players and have the potential to play the five as well.

If Doyle struggles, there are certainly other options available.

The larger question is what is Doyle’s ceiling and how does he reach it? Do we see him start to knock down the 15-footer? Develop a more dependable post-up game? Truly master the ball screen game and improve in not just setting picks, but rolling to the basket more effectively?

We’ve seen the flashes from Doyle before, but Michigan needs greater consistency from him in 2015-16. If he can reach it, the Wolverines will be in good hands. If not, the number of low-post options on the roster will only increase going forward.

  • Chillax

    “can finish consistently around the basket”…

    Dylan – do attempts where he gets stuffed under the basket count against his shooting percentage? When he played against anyone with reasonable size, he seemed unable to finish. What’s his vertical?

    • Yes, blocked shots count as FGA. So he still shot 70%, that’s not bad. Could he improve? Always, but he was an above-average finisher overall.

    • Tyrell

      I felt the same way, I can’t believe his percentage was that good. Plus I would really hope he has improved his ability to catch the ball in traffic.

      However, I have always been more of a Donnal fan due to his shooting ability. I hope he can take this positive momentum into the new season and play a larger role on the team.

  • Fab 5 Legends

    Doyle will be an X-Factor in my opinion…he was solid last year for a freshmen in most games…if he can develop along with Donnal/Wilson we should see a big improvements downlow which was our biggest weakness last year…

    • X-factor.. maybe? But really could be THE factor. This team has the talent in the backcourt and on the wings, needs production inside.

      • Fab 5 Legends

        true, THE factor is a better word…if we get an improvement inside i think we can be a top 15 team all year long

  • MrLG

    I think we might see Kam Chatman playing some 5. Sure he’s skinny, but he’s pretty tall, can rebound and pass…. and he’s available. If Kam can do some minutes behind Ricky and Mark, then DJ and Mo can be 4’s, where they both have abundant potential.

    • Trask

      I don’t think that’s very likely. Kam is more likely to play the 2 guard than the 5.

  • Champswest

    I expect the 5 spot to be a 2 or 3 headed monster. Most centers (Morgan, Horford) take 2 or 3 years to develope. That position is the key to how far this team can go. Let’s hope that, as a group, we can be good enough to get it done.

    • bobohle

      You are right about time needed for Centers to develop. Wisconsin’s Kaminsky is a great example and look how he finished.

  • Trask

    I think his individual def. rebounding rate is being taken too harshly. He seemed to box out, and let guards grab the rebounds, rather than get them himself. It would be more interesting to look at team def. rebounding rate when he’s on the court vs. when he is off the court to get a better idea of what the team was trying to do.

    • MAZS

      There may be a bit of truth in what you say, but I think you overstate the other way. Doyle had some difficulty gathering balls he got his hands on, plus he is a somewhat slow jumper—Morgan and McGary were very good at directing the ball on their first jump and grabbing it on their second jump.

  • Mark Worthley

    We have seen Ricky display high ability finishing around the basket like Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary, and this has raised expectations in fans. We want to see the guards do all the great work with ball-handling and passing that create those easy layups and dunks at the basket for those players of the past in Ricky Doyle because we’ve seen him demonstrate an ability to finish.

    The idea that Donnal is beating Doyle out is why people keep wondering why they both can’t play at the same time with Donnal at the four. Donnal, if he’s improved, has the skill set to be the stretch four, and Doyle plays a different position. Not seeing them both on the court at the same time suggests to me that playing an undersized man at four and giving up some defensive ability and rebounding is necessary because either Doyle or Donnal aren’t good enough? Will they commit too many fouls requiring them to share minutes? Maybe Donnal can’t guard an opposing big ten four. It will be exciting to see it play out, but also a little worrisome that they aren’t being slotted to play at the same time.

    • Trask

      If donnal plays the 4, who plays backup at the 5? Maybe next year when we have 2 more bigs coming in, but Donnal doesn’t have the ball handling and passing skills to play a wing. That’s why we’ll see DJ/Kam/Moritz/Zak playing the 4.

      • I don’t see any way that Donnal plays the four.

        • John miller

          The only way I see donnal playing the 4 would be against Purdue for a very limited time if they send out swanigan and hammonds/haas at the same time. Swanigan would work over Wagner or Wilson at this point down low.

          • Feel like Michigan’s best bet in that situation is to bite the bullet and go small and try to create mismatches the other way.

          • John miller

            I could see that. But you couldn’t really go smaller to a Irvin/Dawkins because swanigan would feast plus rebounding would be dominated by them. If he went to a Wilson/wagner lineup, they better be hitting shots. I think Purdue will be one of michigans toughest challenges this year.

          • MAZS

            We faced a mega-version of Swanigan–Hammons–Haas when we played kentucky in the Elite 8. We didn’t try to go big then–instead, we did exactly what Dylan suggests–created mismatches on the other end. We were one deep 3 from that working. And Purdue won’t be anything close to Kentucky 2014.

          • John miller

            That was two years ago. If horford and Morgan not being able to shoot, I bet beilein would have given that a shit. Doyle already being an average rebounder, playing another poor rebounder along side him would be very dangerous. It will be interesting, but can definitely see donnal/ Doyle dup being able to work. Whether beilein does or not is a different story. Plus, what did randle do to our small at the 4 spot? 16 and 11. Maybe swanigan won’t be a force down low this year. If he is, playing physical with younger guys seems to be a better option from what I’ve seen. Michigan rebounding is well below average, playing small against a big rebounding team is saying if we make 3’s we win and if not we won’t. Too easy for it to go the wrong way.

          • John miller

            Mega version? Randle and Johnson are not bigger than hammonds and swanigan. At that point most likely aren’t more talented than them either. Morgan, at that stage in his career, was worlds better than Doyle is right now. This Michigan team doesn’t have a stauskas or gr3 for that matter. Rebounding is a weak point and going smaller on a good rebounding team sacrifices too much and makes it too easy for it to go the wrong direction. Whether or not it ever gets a shot a working we will only see in time. Donnal being able to stretch the floor on offense, the added size would be nice on defense. Dj could be a big surprise this year and be s good defensive player against physical guys, but until we see it we can’t count on it. This team has many options, but I would not rule out Doyle/donnal getting a shot here or there to see if it works.

          • I just don’t think Donnal at the four stretches the offense…Donnal as a five could be something of a stretch five, but there’s nothing he can really do on the perimeter with the ball.

          • John miller

            Donnal doesn’t have to drive and create. Set screens and hitting open shots is all that would be required. At the scrimmage, he looked much more confident and engaged from what I remember last year. Dj did look really good and maybe his length would be enough to defend swanigan. Then you look at rebounding and I feel Michigan would be at such a huge disadvantage on both ends of the court. It’ll be interesting, dj and mo and time to improve before those games come around.

          • Mark Worthley

            I’m thinking about Mike Scott for the Atlanta Hawks. They don’t use him to drive to the basket, but his defender is always drifting towards the basket or helping on a driving guard, and then he’s wide open for three point attempts. He hit at 34% last year, but just always seemed to be wide open.

          • section13row15

            Yeah agreed. Did you notice how Donnal fell backwards on all of his jump shots last year and most of them hit off the front of the rim? Hopefully he learns to jump straight up or forward this year so they go in.

          • MAZS

            So a totally unproven Swanigan and a major league under-achiever in Hammons are more dominating big men than Kentucky’s 2014 pool of big men, who were NC runners-up? Wow, your expectations for Purdue are exceedingly high. Again, everything in Beilein’s resume says he will be happy playing small ball. It is possible that Wilson may see some time at the 4–far too early to tell–but I don’t expect Donnal and Doyle to be on the court together after the first few games. Too many skilled players to not play small ball. We’ll see.

          • John miller

            Maybe Wilson can shoot with confidence right from the start. As Michigan fans, we have to pray Irvin will be back to the way he finished last year for this team to be really good.

          • section13row15

            Yeah, Iowa did that last year with Adam Woodbury and Aaron White and ran us out of the gym.

          • John miller

            Let’s just hope dj is ready to play right away. I’m a bit worried about Irvin returning to form and if he doesn’t, I see MAAR having to play because he is the only player that can drive well and finish effectively. Walton will be ok but only having two guys that can do it at all will be very tough. If MAAR isn’t out there I see Levert doing a whole lot of overdribnling like he did last year because as much as I love Dawkins, I don’t see him attacking the rim off the dribble just yet.

  • JJ3ball

    Even if Donnal starts Friday, I won’t believe Donnal is a better 5 than Ricky Doyle. Other than having more range on his shot, I can’t think of anything that Donnal can do as well as Doyle.

  • Wayman Britt

    I am really looking forward to see how much Donnal has improved. I am finding it hard to beleive he is better than Ricky, but we will get to see for ourselves over the next 2 months.