Notebook: John Beilein on defense, Moritz Wagner, roster and more

Dylan Burkhardt

John Beilein was on WTKA’s Michigan Insider this morning to look back on Michigan’s 23 win season and also discussed where the program will have to go moving forward. Here are some notes from the head coach on everything from roster breakdown to defensive woes to Moritz Wagner’s improvement.

Potential transfers

It’s no secret that Michigan is over signed by one for the upcoming season and some attrition might be inevitable. Beilein noted that conversations about roles — both last year and going forward — would be addressed immediately.

“We (have those discussions) immediately after the season,” Beilein said. “As we get into it we start telling everybody where they have to work at, what their role is and what their role is in the future. It usually works itself out.”

One other offseason storyline will be the health of Spike Albrecht. Albrecht was sidelined by his hip surgery last summer and his ability to play remains unclear.

“His health and long-term health is our number one priority right now,” Beilein said. “Forget about basketball, we don’t want this man going around the rest of his life with two bad hips.

“His rehab is really important and I know that during the spring here we’ll talk more about his future including his graduation and all of the things that are so important to him right now. I really feel bad for him and we really, really missed him.”

Moritz Wagner taking next step

Moritz Wagner emerged down the stretch as a playmaker in the front court for the Wolverines after disappearing for large stretches during the regular season.

Wagner has shown a ceiling that Michigan’s other big men simply haven’t displayed and John Beilein was excited about his still 18-year-old German forward.

“He really played well down the stretch,” Beilein explained. “We saw some of that earlier, but during the middle of the year he was still struggling with a lot of defensive concepts. He didn’t block any shots and all of the sudden he’s blocking three or four in one game.

“He’s a young kid and as he develops, we think he has the chance to be a very very good player. We put him on the scout team for a couple of weeks to see if he could get his swag back and then he went 9-for-9 in the postseason with a rebound every six minutes.”

Wagner’s defensive improvement might have been the most promising as Beilein compared him to Iowa big man Adam Woodbury for his ability to move his feet in the pick-and-roll hedge.

“He was impacting the ball screen in that game (vs. Tulsa) and in the Notre Dame game better than our other guys were,” Beilein said. “Woodbury really bothered us from Iowa and he’s got feet like Woodbury where he can play in those spaces like that.”

Defense must improve

It’s no secret that Michigan had defensive issues this season and John Beilein preached that improvement on that side of the ball would be a primary focus this offseason.

“We were more connected (on defense) this year, this was more of an individual type (of struggle),” Beilein said. “The shot clock led everybody toward driving more. Absolutely everyone was driving more and we just did not guard the ball well.

“The team knows this and we have to get better in that area. It’s an individual thing, it’s a coaching thing, it’s an everybody thing. We’ve gotta get better guarding the ball one-on-one.”

Beilein added that he didn’t see the Wolverines shifting away from their overall goals defensively, or making a drastic shift to a zone defense, but he understood that improvement must come sooner than later.

“We’ve gotta get better individually. The Wisconsin model of where they aren’t giving up the three and they guard the ball really well,” Beilein said when asked how he envisioned Michigan’s defense. “Our ball screen defense ended up being one of the top in the league as well, but it was just individual ISO breakdown is where people picked on us and found matchups they like and went after it.”

Guards expected to make early impact

Beilein sounded enthused about all four incoming freshmen, but noted that he’s been watching the guards in-person this season because of how important they are to Michigan’s future.

Xavier Simpson and Ibi Watson will replace Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert on the roster, so they’ll have an opportunity to play.

“I watched to see how ready they were to play, knowing that Spike and Caris were seniors, and really was encouraged by what I saw. I think that the guards, obviously where we’re losing the most, that’s where we have to have the most immediate impact.”

Simpson earned Mr. Basketball honors in Ohio while Watson was named to First Team All-State by the AP.

Abdur-Rahkman growing into playmaker

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman improved in almost every statistical category from his freshman year to his sophomore season. By the end of the year, he was also one of Michigan’s most effective playmakers.

“He had the exact same number of turnovers he had last year but with two or three times more assist. That was a huge thing,” Beilein said. “That area continued to grow. He’s still not a point guard, he’s still not a guy that sees the game like some of our great point guard have.

“His biggest thing is that he just finishes at the rim. He didn’t do that that well when he first got here, but he’s gotten a lot better. He lofts the ball, he floats it, he does different things to get around – I don’t care who the shot blocker is he scores.”

Abdur-Rahkman shot 51% on two-point attempts while Michigan’s other guards and wings were all comfortably under 50% on a roster that had 10.3% of its two-point shot attempts blocked.

  • Leslie Hoerwinkle

    Is Taco Bell really Mexican food?

    • Mattski


  • Champswest

    I hope he is serious about the defensive emphasis. We will have enough quality depth at each position that he could squeeze playing minutes depending on how well each guy plays defense. For example, if Simpson is better at keeping the opposing point guard out of the paint, he would earn more of Walton’s minutes. We should have better competition in practice, which should help everyone get better.

    • Walton is probably the best defender on the team, which makes it tricky if Simpson is the next best because you are looking at playing two 6-foot guards at the same time — not necessarily a great defensive recipe.

      • Wayman Britt

        I agree that playing two 6 footers at the same time is not ideal, but if Simpson is the 2nd best defender and can score I would rather have five good players on the floor. It sure would be better than having Dawkins play defense. I would take tough Walton on an opponents 6 foot 6 guy, rather than have soft Dawkins trying to guard anybody.

      • Champswest

        I was merely using the point guard position to illustrate placing emphasis on defense to dictate playing time. Not sure how you got playing two small guards out of that.

        • Point was if the team’s best defender plays the point guard and the best incomer defender plays the point guard, that’s not an ideal situation necessarily.

          I think it’s one that Michigan will have to make worst, but fact remains that the three guys who are in line to play the majority of the minutes on the wings are not good perimeter defenders. Can Ibi Watson help there? Maybe, but not sure he’s ready for that.

          • Champswest

            My point is, if you would expect to give your senior point guard 32 minutes and the freshman 8, but the freshman is much better at defense, then maybe it should be a 25/15 split in minutes. You want more playing time, get better at defense. You can apply it to Dawkin’s/Roninson at the 3 or Dannal/Wagner at the 5 or every other position.
            Izzo stresses defense and alots playing time accordingly. If you want to get better at defense, you need to demand it not just talk about it.

          • mikey_mac

            Agree on last point. Before the season, JB claimed he would have a short leash based on defensive lapses, but that clearly fell apart, as the starters were logging huge minutes, regardless of their turnstile counts.

  • A2MIKE

    For an offensive guru, I still don’t understand why MAAR is not the primary creator on offense. I think MAAR, Wagner and Simpson will determine our ceiling next year. I would love to see MAAR in a Stauskas level usage next year.

    • Chillax

      I have a feeling it might be an Irvin and Walton are the leaders situation. I hope not. But whenever they are in they always seem to be the 1 and 2 options.

      • A2MIKE

        Agree, and this is a pet peeve of mine. I hate when experience is rewarded over talent. As a manager I always want the more talented person on my team. I can live with the mistakes that come with inexperience. I simply think that the upside of MAAR being the “guy” far outweighs the upside of either Walton or Irvin being the guy.

    • I think that answer is one that Beilein has shared frequently… he doesn’t pass the ball at the level of the other playmakers that Michigan has had in that primary creator role. He’s getting closer, but that’s still a big leap IMO.

      • A2MIKE

        Understood, but you get a 51% finisher vs. A sub 42% finisher. I think MAAR needs to continue to develop his passing and court vision, but he need more opportunities.

        • mikey_mac

          You have to be realistic about trying to up a player’s usage by ~10% when his assist rate just became borderline passable toward the end of the season. We saw what happened to Irvin when his two favorite PNR moves were scouted into turnovers and blocks.

      • Chillax

        At this point I’d rather have the guy who can score than the guys who keep passing the ball around the perimeter until they run out of time or turn the ball over.

  • mikey_mac

    Not a very satisfying answer from JB about how to improve the defense (everyone just needs to be better? profound!), even if I like that he sees UW as the model to pursue. Here’s one suggestion: hire an assistant who knows something about B1G-level team defense!

    • Mattski


  • slowtrain

    some attrition might be inevitable… thoughts on how it ‘works itself out’?

    • Chillax

      I’m looking at Doyle…He is moving way back down on the bench in my eyes.

      • mikey_mac

        With two incoming 5s, and three already on the roster, this position needs to be unclogged for sure. A year of prep for Teske or Davis, to split up their freshman years, probably fits the order better than giving up on Doyle now. I don’t think Donnal is going to earn that redshirt back, so next year is most likely his last.

    • Steve2081

      DJ would be my guess.

      I also wouldn’t be surprised if Aubrey ended up at UCF with his father.

  • Wayman Britt

    Forwards Bess and Clark leaving MSU. Transfers happen at every program, even Izzo does it. UM needs some roster maintenance, if they want to compete against MSU, UW and IU.

    I am not sure about some of you other posters, but I hate being even with Northwestern and PSU. UM should compete with the top three teams in the Big Ten, not the Wildcats.

    • bobohle

      I think this also applies to coaching philosophy. Too many of the B1G coaches have figured out how to stop the Beilein offense consistently. Michigan needs to freshen up their offensive approach or learn to make quicker adjustments when their game plan gets shut down. We all agree on having to bring in a defensive special assistant would be a good idea for that side also. Back to Bess and Clark leaving Sparty; Izzo needs to make room to get Josh Jackson. The rich keep getting richer don’t they.