33 days. That’s all that stands between us and opening tip of Michigan’s first non- conference game against North Florida. For most of us, it’s seemed like an eternity since the wolverines walked off the court after a loss in the Sweet Sixteen. But while we sat at home and waited for football season to come, Coach John Beilein has been hard at work adding impact players to a roster that returns many key players, but loses talent as well. We’ll go more into depth on the talent returning next week, but for now let’s focus on the new faces that’ll be plastered all over Crisler Center this season.
Jaaron Simmons (Graduate Transfer)
After we all took our time getting over the Sweet Sixteen loss to Oregon and began looking towards the 2017-2018 roster, it became apparent that there was a gaping hole at the point guard position. Derrick Walton was gone and the option behind him (the person formally known as Xavier Simpson) wasn’t experienced. But then Beilein pulled in one of the premier graduate transfer guards on the market. The 6-1 guard averaged 17.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists in 36.0 minutes per game at Ohio University. Simmons adds much needed veteran leadership and experience to this team. His pick and roll forte will lend itself perfectly to Beilein’s system and his ability to drive and dish will pick up a large load of the slack left by Walton’s graduation.
Charles Matthews (Transfer Sophomore)
While Matthews isn’t necessarily a new fixture to the team--he transferred last year from the University of Kentucky, but had to sit out a year due to NCAA rules--we’ll include him here, as it will be his first time playing in Crisler. In his lone season in Lexington the 6-6 forward from Illinois was shrouded by five-stars and averaged a measly 1.7 points and 1.6 rebounds per game. But don’t let his stats fool you. Charles Matthews very well could be the most important addition to the team this year. A player with his athleticism hasn’t been seen in a Michigan jersey since the likes of Tim Hardaway and Glenn Robinson III headed to the NBA ranks. If Matthews can make up for lost time, Michigan will have on its hands a tenacious defender to pair with Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman to form one of the best defensive wing tandems in the B10. His shooting was suspect in high school and at Kentucky, but if that improves and he becomes able to consistently knock down open jumpers, Michigan will have a bona fide two-way star to pair with Mo Wagner.
Isaiah Livers (Fr)
Dubbed similar to DJ Wilson by Beilein himself, the 6-7 stretch forward will look to replace some of Wilson’s production. Michigan’s Mr. Basketball in 2017 has a smooth stroke and was the #73 ranked recruit in his class by ESPN. Livers will be looked on for spot minutes at the 4 this year and of all the freshman in the 2017 class, he has the best shot at carving out a role in the rotation. That said he is much more comfortable playing on the perimeter right now and
that can be due to lack of physicality. For Livers to play significant minutes this year, he’ll have to be able to bang with the big boys down low and hold his own rebounding the ball. It could take a year for him to get his body in the right place for him to be able to do this, but if he shows up with a willingness to rebound hard every play, he will have a role on the 2017 squad.
Austin Davis (Rs Fr)
Like Matthews, Davis was also a part of last year’s team. But again like Matthews, he never took the court last year and redshirted. Looking at the 6-10 forward’s high school tape it’s easy to see why the year was needed. While his length and rebounding ability are welcome traits, his footwork in the paint was very poor. He has a nice first move, but against bigger more physical defenders he wasn’t fast enough to get around them. He had a year to work on these post moves and gain much needed weight to become a more ferocious presence down low. Given how much Beilein has raved about the big man during the offseason, it seems like he’s made great strides and should be in line for a bench role--albeit a smaller one thanks to Mo’s return.
Jordan Poole (Fr)
Poole is a 6-4 sharpshooter that was the highest regarded prospect in Michigan’s class this year, but may have the hardest time seeing the court this year. He is a great shooter with an elevated shot that is a bit slow. Beilein will assuredly speed up his release or he’ll see a more than a few of his step back j’s knocked into the first or second row. Beside his stroke, Poole has an advanced feel for the game that led to several great passes a game in high school. His biggest question mark is defense and as we all know, if you can’t stick with your man, Beilein will stick you to the pine. For that reason I wouldn’t expect Poole to get a ton of playing time this year and a redshirt campaign isn’t out of the question. That shouldn’t be taken as a knock on Poole. Rather, as a testament to the players around him. Matthews will snare a majority of the minutes at the three and Abdur-Rahkman will lock down the two spot. Their primary backup will probably be Duncan. So the real question is whether Poole’s play in practice will be enough to warrant taking minutes from those three.
Eli Brooks (Fr)
Brooks is very much a Beilein point guard. The six foot nothing floor general has shown in high school that he has the traits to be an elite scorer and distributor in the B10. That may not be for a while, but his game will remind many fans of a raw Derrick Walton. But similar to Walton, Brooks will have to learn how to finish amongst the trees down low as a freshman. In high school he could run by guys and finish against smaller guards, but he won’t have that luxury against the Bryant McIntosh’s and Anthony Cowan’s in the B10. He has a smooth shooting stroke and solid defensive feel for the game, but shouldn’t have to play major minutes as a freshman thanks to the addition of Simmons. He will compete for the backup 1 spot and should have a solid chance to play 10-12 minutes a game to start the year. Whether he earns a heftier role in the rotation will be determined by his play, but he has the look of a future starter at point for the Wolverines.