After a painful, injury-ridden 2014-15 season, Michigan will finally take the court to start something new. The Wolverines host Le Moyne this evening at 7 p.m. for their lone exhibition tune-up before next week’s opener against Northern Michigan.
The matchup will feature a Beilein vs. Beilein coaching battle as John Beilein’s son Patrick coaches his second exhibition as a head coach. (Le Moyne lost at Syracuse on Monday, 97-58).
Versatile new bigs
DJ Wilson and Moritz Wagner might have generated more buzz than anyone this offseason and they’ll finally make their season debuts on Friday. Both players saw time at the four during Michigan’s open scrimmage on Monday and they both showed signs of playmaking ability at the spot.
Moritz Wagner rattled off some nice takes in transition and popped in a three while DJ Wilson manned the four position with the ones and knocked in jumper after jumper and showed off an impressive skillset. John Beilein says he wants to play Wagner as much as possible in the exhibition game before making a decision about redshirting the German forward.
That means we should get to see a healthy dose of the versatile German who should likely play some at the four and five position. Beilein has warned that his freshman is just as likely to wow one play as make a questionable decision the next, but the talent is there.
Judging by the scrimmage it is a safe bet that DJ Wilson will play, but we’ll be watching closely who he shares the floor with. How many minutes does Wilson get at the four and five spots and where does he look more comfortable?
Watching Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton at full health and bouncing around the floor will be a welcome sight for Michigan fans. LeVert and Walton haven’t been limited since practice started this fall and should start in the backcourt together for the first time since Michigan’s win over Northwestern in January.
LeVert has looked his usual self in practices, but Beilein admitted he’s not 100% back to form.
“There’s some days right now that I see he’s at his best frm last year and there’s some other days that I see that his lack of time to develop in the summer in some areas will stick out. There’s very few of thsoe days, but you have to remember from January to almost July he did nothing but lift weights.”
We know what to expect from LeVert, especially against an opponent as over-matched as Le Moyne, but I’m curious to see what we see from Derrick Walton. In limited viewings this fall, Walton has appeared to be a bit tentative and has settled to be more of a facilitator than a playmaker.
Zak Irvin will sit out Michigan’s preseason game as he recovers from his back procedure in early September. While Irvin recovers back to full speed, there will be opportunity at one of the most crowded positions on Michigan’s roster: the wing.
Kameron Chatman, Aubrey Dawkins, Duncan Robinson, DJ Wilson and Moritz Wagner could all be in position to take advantage of Irvin’s absence. Even Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman could slide in and push the rest of the lineup up a slot.
I suspect everyone will get their chance early on this season, especially with Aubrey Dawkins nursing an ankle injury sustained in Monday’s open practice, but those minutes won’t be there forever. Whoever can take advantage of the opportunity with strong play should have the leg up on more playing time when Irvin returns.
Two bigs? Two point guards? No point guards? Big wings? Zone looks?
The combinations are endless given Michigan’s depth and versatility across the board. John Beilein is usually cautious with his lineup combinations, preferring to keep his core group of players together, but exhibitions are exhibitions for a reason. As Beilein goes deep in his bench, pay close attention to who plays with who.
How does Michigan work Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman into the mix? What sort of 3-4-5 combinations does he prefer? What lineup does Michigan use when it tinkers with the 1-3-1 zone?
Beilein admitted that they’ve been tinkering with 1-3-1 and 2-3 zone looks this fall, especially with the new 30 second shot clock. But don’t expect DJ Wilson at the top of the 1-3-1 zone — a look that appeared in Michigan’s scrimmage on Monday — quite yet. Beilein admitted that that wasn’t his call at the time, crediting that move to his assistant coach.
“I wish we hadn’t played any (in the scrimmage),” Beilein joked. “That was the assistant coaches’ call. We’ve done some 1-3-1, some 2-3 zone, we will probably mix some in here and there. We’re always going to have something like that in our bag, but how good is it going to be? Only I would know. Sometimes we don’t know until we get it out there.
“I think with the new shot clock situation you’ll have more late inbounds with 7 or 8 seconds left. Do you want to guard a high ball screen at that time? Maybe you can zone up. The new shot clock is going to be a great friend to the Syracuses of the world that play a really good zone. It’s tough to probe and when you’ve only got 30 seconds to probe it’s even tougher.”
These lineup and rotation questions won’t be answered in one game and they probably aren’t even answered in Beilein’s mind, but the way he attempts to work out the puzzle in Michigan’s first exhibition will be a glimpse into what he has in mind.
Duncan Robinson’s debut
Duncan Robinson has been in Ann Arbor for a while now, but he’ll take the court for the first time in a Michigan uniform. We’ve heard about Robinson’s smooth stroke breaking Nik Stauskas’s three-point shooting record in practices, but now it’s time to see it in a game setting.
There will be far greater tests regarding his position and athleticism against more stringent competition, but tonight should provide at least a chance to finally see his shooting stroke in action.
How to watch?
This game (and Michigan’s season opener next Friday) will be streamed online by BTN Plus, a premium streaming service from the Big Ten Network.
Fans can access the stream via a BTN Plus subscription, which is offered in two packages: school-specific or conference. The school-specific pass is $9.95 monthly or $79.95 annually and the conference pass is $14.95 monthly or $119.95 annually. You can purchase a BTN Plus subscription here.
If you don’t want to purchase a subscription to BTN Plus, the game will be re-aired on the Big Ten Network at 7 p.m. on Sunday evening.
A subscription to BTN Plus is not included with a subscription to Big Ten Network.