T-minus 15 days until the Wolverines tip off against Grand Valley State in their first and only exhibition game on November 3rd. That’s just over two weeks till we have a Michigan basketball game. The team’s been practicing for several weeks now and Coach Beilein probably has a good idea of who will get the starting nod in the first game and what the rotation, as a whole, will look like. That rotation will no doubt change over the course of nonconference play and the season, but let’s take a look at what it might look like in fifteen days.
PG- Jaaron Simmons
The transfer from Ohio has the inside track to the starting gig and a majority of the minutes at the 1. His leadership and composure will be welcome and will be needed to handle the load left after Derrick Walton’s graduation. The number one option at Ohio last year will have to become a willing distributor and be comfortable letting Mo operate down-low and run a large chunk of the offense. That said, if Simmons can shoot the ball well from deep and his pick and roll game translates, he’ll be one of the best guards in the conference.
SG- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman
He’s the senior on this team and if there’s ever a year for Rahkman to take a step forward offensively, this needs to be the year. While his defense has been elite for a while, his offensive game has been questionable for just as long. He will lockdown an opposing wing, but needs to take a larger role offensively and to carry over his shooting from B10 play last year is essential for this team to achieve its goals this year. As Beilein said during B10 media day, Rahkman needs to “hunt” for offense this year. He’s bided his time as the fourth or fifth option on offense, but now he’ll be one of guys counted on for buckets late in games.
An improved jump shot and athleticism not seen in Ann Arbor since Tim Hardaway Jr. will make Matthews a main stay on the court this year. An already polished defender, if his offensive game can take the next step, Michigan will have a two-way star on its hands. One who will command north of 35 minutes per game. Look for the Matthews-Rahkman defensive combo to lock down most teams wings’ and become one of the best perimeter defending pairs in the country.
Pick your jaws off the floor. Yes, John Beilein will possibly start a freshman this year. This year’s Wolverines are in need of floor spacing and Livers provides just that. Combined with improving rebounding and relentless effort on defense, the freshman from Kalamazoo, Michigan will command minutes and command them early. Don’t be surprised when the freshman is in the game with less than two minutes left either; this one has ice in his veins and won’t be afraid of the moment.
If you’re surprised that Mo’s in the starting lineup, you’ve never watched Michigan basketball a day in your life. Mo’s decision to return for a junior campaign provided the Wolverines with a go-to option on offense and a defensive anchor on the other end. He’ll have a great chance to boost his draft stock while he runs the offense through the high post and dazzles us fans with his smooth touch around the rim. Even before the year's begun Wagner is adding to his collection of accolades. This week he was named to the Preseason All-Big Ten Team. This is our star and we should expect big things from our big man this year.
The fifth year senior will provide something off the bench that every team needs and every coach wants: floor spacing. Robinson has a smooth stroke and is an elite shooter from behind the arc. That said, he is prone to defensive lapses fairly often. If his defense somehow improved this offseason by some act of a higher being, then he will probably start or at least contend for starters minutes. But even if he struggles defensively, his shooting will keep him in games when he’s hot.
First Backup Big- Jon Teske
How much has Teske’s offensive game improved this year? That’s the question of the offseason for the 7-1 sophomore center. He provided solid defensive minutes last year and altered more than a few shots, but his offense was nowhere to be found. His post game was lacking to say the least and his first step was as slow as any in the B10, if not the country. If he wants to get on the court he’ll have to show the coaches that he can provide at least some offense. If he can then he may push Mo to the 4 and get substantial minutes at the 5.
First guard off the bench- Eli Brooks
This freshman point guard is the most underrated player not only in the Wolverines recruiting class, but on the entire team. His passing is an elite skill and he sees the court like few guards do. His handles are above average and he has a smooth stroke that will connect in college. If he can find a way to finish around the basket, which may be a challenge in his freshman year with his 6 foot stature, he may steal minutes from Simmons. Brooks is the future at point for the Wolverines, but if he can’t play defense early then Beilein will keep him on the bench.
Next two to see the floor- Zavier Simpson and Jordan Poole
These two are both guards who have to prove a lot if they want to see the court for more than ten minutes a game. Simpson will play, but will have to beat out Simmons and Brooks for time at the one. He’ll have to show relentless effort on the defensive end and an improved feel for the game on offense that wasn’t there last year. He’s in line for minutes this year, but will have to play his way into a major role during the nonconference slate.
Poole is a different story. Right now he’s a smaller Duncan Robinson. He’s a great shooter, but will struggle with defense early. If he can’t show he’s ready to play on that end, a redshirt year isn’t out of the question. Having two inept defenders doesn’t make an average one and until he proves capable on that end he’ll only get spot minutes for Duncan.
Two with a lot to prove- Austin Davis and Ibi Watson
Davis will play this year because of the lack of bigs, but needs to show improvements in the strength department. He was redshirted last year and seems to have shown the coaching staff that this was the right decision. Thus far all that’s come out of Chrisler are rave reviews about the 6-10 big. His offensive moves and footwork have been a point of praise from his coaches, and if this proves to be true he could challenge both Livers and Teske for minutes. But right now there’s more we don’t know about Davis than what we do, and that’s enough to keep him on the bench at the start of the year.
Ibi is a wing who’s simply blocked right now. Who does he take minutes from? He’s not nearly as athletic or as good of a defender as Matthews or Rahkman. He isn’t as good of a shooter as Robinson and Poole. There simply aren’t enough minutes to share. He should earn spot minutes in mop up time in non conference games but needs to perform with them to carve out any role in the rotation.
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