Five Takeaways from Michigan Media Day 2016-17

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan held its annual Media Day on Monday to discuss the upcoming season and provide a first look at the new roster and assistant coaches. It was only Michigan’s third practice of the season, but here are some early thoughts and takeaways.

Billy Donlon’s ‘defensive coordinator’ role is for real

John Beilein was asked directly about how big of a role new assistant coach Billy Donlon would have in coaching the defense and he didn’t shy away.

“I am giving him a lot of responsibility, more responsibility,” Beilein said “I probably should have given more in the past.

“My eye and the detail that we do in offense, I think he’s got a similar eye for defense. We’re trying to combine that without confusing everybody.”

Michigan has never been a great defensive team under Beilein, but the last two seasons had been something of a rock bottom. The Wolverines ranked 95th and 99th in adjusted defensive efficiency and were among the bottom-third of Division I teams in 2-point defense. Beilein finally reached the point where he knew something had to change.

“He’s probably spoken more in practice right now than a lot of our coaches were allowed to in the past,” Beilein admitted. “And I’m not saying they weren’t allowed to… they were always allowed to talk, but maybe I didn’t give them time. I’ve tried to really sit back and say, okay, when people are shooting 47 percent like they did last year, we have to have a different mindset in practice and our players have to have a different mindset.”

Donlon dabbled just a bit into the specifics of his defense, noting that it’s a gap-style defense which is a slightly more extended pack-line look that creates easier closeouts. Beilein was also asked about the need to be more aggressive defensively and the differences between his generally foul-averse approach and Donlon’s more aggressive defenses. Beilein admitted that the Wolverines need to find ways to be more aggressive and that the lack of depth restricted that at times last season.

Two-guard looks will be common

Xavier Simpson and Derrick Walton will play together this season — potentially quite a bit. That possibility was discussed on radio interviews this summer and brought up specifically by John Beilein again on Monday.

“Derrick knows that he’s the heir apparent here (at point guard) and Derrick is challenging him,” Beilein said. “You should look forward to seeing both of them in the backcourt at the same time, let Derrick come off and just hunt shots and have X run the team. You might see that more than you’d expect.”

Now, Michigan has only had three practices, but there’s no reason not to expect it with the head coach endorsing the approach in early October. Walton has proven that he’s a dangerous shot maker off the ball, and Simpson is coming to Ann Arbor with the intention of playing.

“I like the idea of having that quickness out there,” Beilein continued. “We have two very quick guards. When Connecticut won the National Championship with two quick small guards, it’s very appealing to us defensively to have that type of quickness defensively. Nobody has even talked about Muhammad-Ali he’s had a really good postseason, preseason and he has great quickness as well.”

Beilein praised Simpson’s ability to get to different spots on the floor with the ball.

“Here’s what I see with Xavier, he’s very very quick in small spaces,” Beilein said. “Almost like a running back that can hit the hole and cut and get into spots. He really sees the game very well, he sees what’s going on.”

Two position battles to watch

John Beilein mentioned two position battles to keep an eye on in the early season in the front court. Both spots where Michigan has questions to answer, but also has experienced options compared to the freshman reserves in the backcourt.

The position battles in the front court are between between Moritz Wagner and Mark Donnal for the starting center position and between Duncan Robinson and DJ Wilson for the wing position opposite of Zak Irvin.

“Whether Mo or Mark wins that position, we’ll have one of those (more experienced) guys behind him. Whether DJ or Duncan wins that other position, we’ll have one of them behind him,” Beilein said. “That’s really veteran depth, guys that have played for a full year.”

Donnal commanded the starting center spot for most of last year, but Wagner came on strong late and showed flashes of tantalizing potential. Now he’ll hope to put everything together as a sophomore.

“We think it’s very important that he got back to the home land, so he went back right at the end of April, but instead of coming back June 27th for the start of summer school II, he came back June 1st so he could get another month of workouts in,” Beilein said. “He had 12 weeks of intensive workouts and I’ve seen a big difference in that, his body, everything.”


As for Donnal, Beilein didn’t commit to a fifth year for the big man (“he’s a senior right now, but he does have an extra year”) and he’ll certainly have plenty to prove. The key for Donnal will be finding consistency over the full season.

“(Mark’s) been practicing okay, he’s gotta get himself in great shape right now,” Beilein said of the senior center. “But we’ve all seen what he can do, we need about 35 games like that at least from him this year.”

And on the wing, Robinson started the final 29 games of last season, but DJ Wilson has a chance to step up into a critical reserve role after roster attrition.

“He’s understanding who he is,” Beilein said of Wilson. “He’s an athlete who can shoot, he’s not a shooter who’s an athlete. We want him to be a guy that is a great defender, always giving the opponent fits. Troy Williams is a great example of what he was able to do cutting and slashing to the basket without the ball.

“He’s had a good offseason, a great fall, he’ll have a great chance. We had a lot of options at that position last year if something didn’t work. We have options still, but not as many and he’s going to get a great chance to prove himself in practice and in games.”

Michigan hears toughness questions loud and clear

Michigan’s perceived toughness, or lack thereof, was a common question to players and coaches alike.

“Somehow we’ve won championships, we’ve went to the Final Four, we went to the Final Two, but people still think we play like wimps,” Beilein said. “If we can win two championships in the Big Ten every five years then I’ll take it and they can call us as wimpy as they want.”

Players and coaches alike all were aware of the comments and agreed that something has to change this season. Between a chip on the shoulder left behind from a NCAA Tournament second half collapse to Notre Dame and an offseason that devoted “500 percent” more time to defense, the Wolverines seem to be serious about fixing that reputation.

But the proof is in the pudding and all eyes will be on this team — which returns all five starters from last year’s season-ending roster — to see how much they can improve on the defensive side of the ball.

Clean bill of health

Michigan enters the preseason with an empty injury report.

“No, we’re as healthy as we’ve been in a long, long time,” Beilein said. “Let’s just (knocks on wood) keep it this way.”

Michigan’s last three seasons have been riddled with injury concerns, many of which were already present in early season practices. Now the Wolverines are healthy and apparently headed in the right direction.

Asked specifically about Zak Irvin’s explosion, Beilein said that the 6-foot-6 senior is getting close despite a small bump or bruise picked up in early practices.

“I haven’t seen enough yet because we’ve just been doing drills,” he said. “But there were some indications of it recently. Hopefully he’ll be at full go today.”

  • GTFOmycourt

    X must really be impressing the coaches.

  • Jon Sohn

    Hard to see on the court so far what DJ Wilson has done to even be in the conversation for a starting role.

    • MrLG

      Yeah, I rolled my eyes on that one. The chance of DJ becoming a starter this year is about 0.5%, not gonna happen. I think that DJ is still lacking in confidence and JB is trying to boost him up with those remarks.

      • Don’t think it’s as much him becoming a starter as him playing meaningful minutes. That seems far more likely.

      • Lopez

        DJ being an energy guy, playing tough defense and rebounding is exactly what his rolled should be at this point. These are things that Duncan struggles with and if he is going to play the 4 wing position the team needs someone with a complimentary game or skills.

    • MChem83

      Exactly. This is his third year in the program, and he’s shown nothing. People seem to think he’s going to be getting a lot of playing time at a “wing”, but more because they’d like him to be that good than because he’s actually shown the ability or the potential. Sure, it’d be great if he were a starting caliber player this season, or even a quality backup, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Players do not typically blossom late under Beilein.

      • Kenny

        We all had the exact same thought on Donnal five games into last season, then his light switched on. So you never know. What I worry most is that this team has no leaders. I still think that Beilein should’ve not let Spike go who could’ve provide the leadership this team desperately needs. Davis is at best Doyle 2.0 and I rarely complain about Beilein’s recruiting.

        • Here’s the thing with Spike… Did he want to play 3rd PG minutes? If you are serious about playing X and Walton for major minutes, can Spike lead from the bench? And then how healthy is Spike?

      • Mattski

        You’ve gone on about this quite a bit on the forum, and I just don’t know what pleasure anyone gets from sitting around anonymously harshing on a specific player brings. But I think that Beilein’s take on it is important: he’s asking DJ to really get after it on defense and make himself useful that way, to fly to the rim. Agree that he has not showed out much yet, but–in the absence of other people at the position–those sound like smart things to ask of him.

        • BlueBasketeer

          You seem to think that showering unwarranted praise is a better way to go. Not sure why you’re trying to put this down as “pleasure” or “harshing”, except to deflect from the facts. This is about a fair and accurate assessment of player performance. Unless I missed something, that’s what this board is supposed to be about, and what goes on here all the time. Wilson’s performance so far is what it is…not that good. Whether I say so or not doesn’t change the fact. And what? You’re saying that Beilein is only NOW telling Wilson to “really get after it”? Ridiculous. What has he been telling him the last two years? To just sorta “get after it”? If you want to cross your fingers and hope that he will be far better this year than we have any reason to expect, knock yourself out. I’ll go by what has actually happened on the court against real competition.

          • Mattski

            Armchair fans shouting at players to be more disciplined, better, whatever. . . envy, anger, a weird lack of self-awareness, but common in sports. Doing it over and over again, against the same guy. . . wants calling out. I think we can assume that Wilson, like most of us, wants to excel. Nice kid, in a Michigan uni. . . I’m on his side.

  • Indiana_Matt

    I like DJ and he is an amazing athlete. But in my quick viewing of the video I just kept seeing him mess with his shorts.

    Would love to see him do more this year.

  • Corperryale

    I like the recent footage of X. I believe he will push Walton although I am always skeptical about the two-PG look, especially on the defensive end. My hope is that X will be a Tyler-Ulis-level showrunner. Time will tell. I hope JB’s comments speak to his optimism about X rather than his concerns about MAAR’s jump shot (I think MAAR’s ability to attack the rim negates any concerns about shooting, especially with Duncan on the wing… where MAAR needs to improve is his passing).

    Must say though — Davis seemed to struggle staying in front of Teske in the defensive drill, even though Teske isn’t exactly Kyrie Irving with the ball in his hands. I can guess who should get the RS.

    This squad may be a bit athletically challenged this year. Or more than a bit. That’s why I am really hoping Wagner wins the battle. He probably has the highest upside aside from Matthews (I wish CM could play immediately!). I really think Mo could become a taller Sam Dekker-type player if given the chance.

    • MChem83

      The two point guard look does have its drawbacks, but given that we lack a SG/W with the combination of size, floor game and 3 point shooting that we had in LeVert and Stauskas, it may be our best option more often than we’d like.

    • Coltrane

      I can’t remember a Beilein offense that looked as bad as last season’s. In my opinion Walton was ineffective, probably worsened by a supporting cast that wasn’t on the same page. Reading that Simpson will be seeing lots of minutes, moving Walton off the ball, is encouraging.

  • Mattski

    One month to basketball.

  • JJ3ball

    Players do blossom after third season with Coach Beilein. To suggest DJ Wilson is likely to be a lost cause, because he didn’t excel playing out of position the last two seasons is misguided.
    Jordan Morgan’s 5th season was way beyond anything he had done previously. He was a changed man, a confident, productive player.
    Tim Hardaway Jr. : nobody was predicting a first round NBA pick after his soph season. He made a giant leap his junior season.
    Jon Horford is another player who made significant improvement as an upperclassman. Unfortunately he didn’t stick around.
    Zak Irvin clearly improved his junior season, and if healthy, is poised for a big senior season. Hopefully all BIG caliber.
    Spike Albrecht was a very dangerous player as a junior, clearly better than his first two years.
    Stu Douglas and Zack Novak were at their best as Seniors.
    Mark freaking Donnal is a player who had done very little before last season and clearly evolved into a much better player as his Junior season progressed.
    Deshawn Sims improved every season.

    • BlueBasketeer

      Seriously? As a FRESHMAN, Jordan Morgan averaged 9.2 ppg and 5.4 rpg. As a senior, he averaged 6.4 ppg and 5.0 rpg. Yeah…WAY beyond anything he had done previously. If you were a math major at State. I could do the same with every guy you mentioned, but it’s not worth my time. Your answer to my claim is crap, and it’s not even a matter of opinion. Why do you waste my time with such obvious lies?

      • JJ3ball

        I apologize for wasting your time.
        I don’t think it is considered a lie to have a different opinion than yours.
        Anyway, Jordan Morgan was without a doubt a much much better basketball player his last season compared to his first, from my perspective.
        Good day kind sir

        • Morgan was, without a doubt, a much better player as a senior. Especially defensively.

      • Mattski

        Oh, you’re just flat out abusive. Wouldn’t have bothered to reply to you above if I had known. Too bad we can’t just neg this stuff and express dislike that way.

  • Hey guys… posting with different usernames and the same IP is a no-go here. Just a heads up. (Looking at you BlueBasketeer/MChem83)

    • MAZS

      that explains the log-rolling

  • Wayman Britt

    Looking forward to basketball season. It’s encouraging to hear the players and coaches talk about how they need to get tougher. I only hope they remember those comments in the heat of battle when an opponent is playing aggressive and trying to take manhandle them.

    • bobohle

      Totally agree!

  • engstl

    beeline forgets he got to the final 4 with a horse (mcgary) in the middle. 5 guys standing around the 3-point line doesn’t get it in the big ten or anywhere else