The Wolverine

November 2016

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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40 THE WOLVERINE NOVEMBER 2016 2016-17 BASKETBALL PREVIEW and also ready to take his game to the next level after averaging 8.6 points and 2.7 rebounds a game last sea- son. He was extremely efficient of- fensively, shooting 56.8 percent from two-point range in Big Ten play. "Nobody's talking about Muham- mad, but he's had a really good post- season and preseason, and he has some pretty good athleticism in the backcourt, as well," Beilein said. Some of the best backcourts Michi- gan ever had included a three-man rotation, Beilein said over the sum- mer, and if they're all healthy, the backcourt could be extremely dy- namic. Another freshman, Pickerington (Ohio) Central's Ibi Watson (6-5, three-star product), can shoot the lights out, Simpson said, and has shown above-the-rim athleti- cism in the early going. WING MEN ARE READY FOR THE NEXT STEP Watson could see some time on the wing, as well, an area in which the Wolverines hope to improve this year. The three position is much less crowded than it was a year ago with juniors Kam Chatman (University of Detroit) and Aubrey Dawkins (Cen- tral Florida) having transferred, creat- ing opportunity for two, in particular, to maximize their minutes. Michigan snuck into the NCAA Tournament last year — a First Four game — despite the absence of a marquee road win and a few home losses in which they weren't competi- tive (Michigan State and Indiana). The Wolverines' formula for success — avoiding "bad" losses; winning four games against top-30 RPI teams Purdue (No. 14), Maryland (15), Indiana (24) and Texas (27); and winning key games down the stretch, most notably the win over the Hoosiers in the Big Ten Tournament. U-M finished the year without a loss to a team outside the RPI top 75, and 11 of them came to teams ranked in the top 40. More than 45 percent of the Wolverines' season was played against NCAA Tournament competition and they did it without their best player, injured guard Caris LeVert, and with wing Zak Irvin spending much of the season getting back into game shape following offseason back injury. If healthy (knock on wood), this Michigan team shouldn't have to sweat out Selection Sunday this year. Keys to mak- ing a run in the Big Ten and punching their tourney ticket early include: • Avoid bad losses: Non-conference foes Howard, Central Arkansas, IUPUI, Kennesaw State, Maryland Eastern Shore or Furman … lose to any of those and go, say, 10-8 in the Big Ten and the Wolverines will be squarely on the bubble. Only one or two Big Ten foes (Penn State at home, for example, or at Rutgers) will likely present the danger of a loss to a team with a RPI of 100 or lower. Winning the winnables is paramount. • Win some big home games: That's one big reason U-M made the tournament last year, and Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue and Wisconsin come to Crisler Center this year. It's a good bet two or three of them, at least, will be RPI top-25 teams when they do. • Steal a big road win: Both Indiana and Texas were neu- tral-site wins last year. Nothing boosts the RPI like a victory over a top-25 team in the opponents' venue. This is where U-M's résumé was lacking a year ago. • Take the next step: Many seem to be overlooking the fact that U-M returns five starters and a couple of key back- ups on a team that was up 12 on Notre Dame — an Elite Eight team — at the half of an NCAA Tournament game last year. Sophomore big man Moritz Wagner could be a difference maker, Irvin will be healthy and redshirt junior Duncan Robinson will be in his second year of Big Ten ball. Add in some improved defense with the arrival of assistant and defensive specialist Billy Donlon, and this should be an improved team. — Chris Balas Redshirt junior wing Duncan Robinson shot 45.0 percent from three-point range last year, which ranked second in the Big Ten and ninth nationally. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL Wolverines A Good Bet To Make The NCAA Tournament

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