Michigan basketball’s duo of sophomore basketball stars, guard Nik Stauskas and forward Glenn Robinson III, made it official on Tuesday afternoon when they announced that they will forego their final two seasons of eligibility and enter the 2014 NBA Draft.
Whether fans are on board with their decisions or not, they are final and the Wolverines will be moving forward with the talented roster that they still boast, regardless of if big man Mitch McGary decides to return or not, which I personally believe he will.
Since we all like to play the “looking ahead to next season” game, let’s take a look at the projected lineup that coach John Beilein will throw out there for the 2014-15 season.
This spot has Derrick Walton Jr‘s name written all over it. Going into his sophomore season, it’s really all but etched in stone. He averaged 7.9 points and 2.9 assists in 26.7 minutes per game this year, while shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc.
A lot of people love to make the Trey Burke comparison when it comes to Walton, and while they do have similar skill sets, that’s a very high expectation to live up to. Walton quarterbacks the offensive a bit better than Burke did at this point in his career, and he should definitely take a step forward next season.
Spike Albrecht will push him for minutes, but this job is Walton’s to lose.
After a season where he easily was the most improved player on Michigan’s roster, Caris LeVert should be holding down the two-guard duties in his junior season with the Wolverines. He averaged nearly 13 points per game and showed that he is one of the best finishers at the rim in the Big Ten, if not all of college basketball. He was another guy that shot over 40 percent from the three-point line.
Many are saying he needs to make Stauskas-like strides this off-season, but I don’t believe that is the case. Yes, LeVert can definitely give them more consistently and has things he can work on to get better, but let’s tap the brakes a bit on saying he could jump into NBA Draft lottery contention. Is it possible, though? Absolutely.
This is the spot I personally am most excited to see next season. With Robinson headed to the NBA, Zak Irvin will likely slide into the starting small forward spot in his sophomore year.
Irvin is a legitimate five-star prospect. The Wolverines did not showcase everything he is capable of doing, as he was more of a catch-and-shoot guy off the bench for them this past season. Make no mistake about it, this kid can fill a stat sheet and very well could be the next in line of Michigan basketball players who have decisions to make about the NBA come next season.
He has the highest ceiling of any player on this roster right now and could be a dark horse Big Ten Player of the Year candidate. When Beilein decides to unleash Irvin, it will not go unnoticed.
These two post spots are the most intriguing this off-season, but for now, I am expecting Mark Donnal to make huge strides in his game following a redshirt season in his first year with the program.
Donnal has some tools to work with on the offensive end of the floor, but his defense is something that many have pointed to as something he needs to improve. There isn’t any tape on him from this year because he did not see the floor, so I’m not exactly sure what we’ll see from him, but he’s a guy that the staff was high on when they recruited him, so expect him to get some early looks for the Wolverines.
If he decides to come back, that would be a big boost to the program. If healthy, which he reportedly is, Mitch McGary will be your starting center in the 2014-15 season. We’ve all seen what he can he is capable of when healthy, and he’s a piece down low that Michigan really missed at times during this season.
If he returns, McGary will have a chip on his shoulder. After an injury-shortened season, he has been absent from many NBA Draft boards. Teams aren’t willing to invest on a big man with back problems, but he will be out to send them a message and prove to them he is worthy of the investment, and that alone is reason for Michigan fans to be eager if he returns.
Michigan’s bench will have a bit of a different look next year, but the “star” of that group would be point guard Spike Albrecht, who will be entering his junior year. Albrecht was a calming presence at the one-guard spot this past year when Walton struggled. He will be taking a back seat to Walton in 2014-15, but he is one of the best backup point guards in college hoops.
Max Bielfeldt shoots up the depth chart in the wake of Jon Horford’s transfer from the program. He is a gritty backup power forward/center combo who doesn’t quite boast the athleticism of some of the other bigs on the floor, but he is a hell of a hard worker and will be in for an expanded role next season.
The Wolverines will bring in a solid freshman class in 2014 as well, led by wing player Kameron Chatman, who is a scoring machine much in the mold of a Zak Irvin, albeit a bit more raw. He may have a role similar to what Irvin had this past season and definitely is a great fit in Michigan’s offense.
Ricky Doyle and DJ Wilson are guys that could get some opportunities in the rotation of power forwards and centers, but may be candidates for redshirts. Both are skilled offensive players, but need to develop more physically and on the defensive end of the floor. With the rotation of bigs being a bit open with the loss of Horford and the potential departure of McGary, these two could get some early looks.
As of now, the Wisconsin Badgers appear the be the favorite to win the conference next season, but it would be a huge mistake to count this Michigan team out, even with the loss of some key players to the NBA. People have been focusing on the negatives, but Beilein and staff have a whole off-season and a trip to Europe in August to figure out what kind of team they have and who fits in what role.
The Michigan basketball program is not going anywhere anytime soon, and will compete again for a conference title and possibly more.