The Wolverine

November 2016

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 48 of 83

NOVEMBER 2016 THE WOLVERINE 49   MICHIGAN BASKETBALL With college basketball season less than a month away, numerous preseason magazines have begun to hit stores. These publications aren't very optimistic about the Wolverines' chances this season, though, especially after last year's disap- pointing 23-13 finish, culminating in a first-round exit from the NCAA Tournament. While publications such as Athlon, Lindy's and Sporting News don't necessarily agree on Michigan's exact place of finish in the Big Ten this season, they are all in agree- ment that the Maize and Blue are destined for a middle-of-the- pack finish in the Big Ten. Lindy's is the least optimistic of the bunch. They have the Wol- verines finishing seventh in the conference, behind (in order) Wisconsin, Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State, Maryland and Indiana. While they do like Michigan's vet- eran presence and offensive potential, they are still worried about the team's defense. "Who'll get better on defense so op- ponents don't shoot 51 percent on two- pointers again?" the publication asked. "Perhaps never before has John Beilein stressed defense more than he did over the offseason when locking teams down became a focal point." Former Wright State head coach Billy Donlon was brought in to help fix a de- fense that allowed opponents to shoot 44.8 percent overall last season while "the Wolverines' inability to get stops cost them on numerous occasions." However, Lindy's doesn't think it's en- tirely doom and gloom for U-M, noting that "the Wolverines have the kind of re- turning talent that could land them in the upper echelon of the Big Ten." The magazine also likes the potential of freshman point guard Xavier Simpson, who is expected to back up senior Derrick Walton Jr. this season. "Ohio's reigning Mr. Basketball has al- ready drawn comparisons to former Michigan standout Trey Burke," Lindy's noted. "After averaging 27.2 points per game, 6.1 assists and 3.8 steals as a senior, Simpson could make an imme- diate impact for the Wolverines." Lindy's tabs Simpson as the second best playmaker/passer in the conference among newcomers, placing second to Michi- gan State's Cassius Winston. The publication also projects Wal- ton as an All-Big Ten second-teamer and fellow senior Zak Irvin as a third-teamer. Lindy's concluded that "getting even just a few more stops per game will determine just how high the Wolverines can climb." Athlon is a bit more optimistic about the Wolverines this season, pegging them fifth in the Big Ten, behind Wisconsin, Michigan State, Indiana and Purdue. "After years of staff stability, Beilein replaces assistants Bacari Alexander (Detroit) and LaVall Jordan (Milwaukee) with former Wright State coach Billy Donlon and former Oakland assistant Saddi Washington," the magazine wrote. "An influx of new ideas might be a good thing." Athlon also feels that health is a key factor to Michigan's suc- cess, noting that "keeping Derrick Walton healthy for the entire season is critical for the Wolverines, who have a nice first five but little experienced depth." The publication lists Walton on its All-Big Ten third team, and also points out how crucial Irvin is to the Wolverines' success this season. "As a senior, he'll again be asked to do everything, but Beilein will try to lighten his playing time in hopes of improving his sometimes wayward shooting percentages," Athlon explained. "Irvin's importance is paramount, and he must shake some inconsistencies." Additionally, Athlon noted the importance of sophomore forward Moritz Wagner, saying he "might have as high of a ceil- ing as anyone on the roster. He'll push [redshirt junior Mark] Donnal for the job." Like Lindy's, Athlon likes the potential of the rookie Simpson. "Last year's Ohio Mr. Basketball, Simpson is a crafty and quick natural leader," they said. "He'll push Walton for minutes and often share the backcourt with him, slid- ing Walton to the two spot where he can thrive as a step-in shooter." Athlon projects the Wolverines will lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament again, citing that "Michigan has some nice pieces, but much will have to go right, notably major defensive improvements, for this group to threaten the top of the Big Ten." Sporting News views the Wolverines in a similar fashion, also projecting them fifth in the Big Ten, behind Wisconsin, Pur- due, Michigan State and Indiana. They also like the potential impact that some of the freshmen could have, calling center Jon Teske "a fine shot blocker and excel- lent passer" and guard Ibi Watson "a good three-point marksman who will see some time at the two spot." The magazine isn't too worried about the four players who transferred in the offseason, but does note they would have provided depth. "None of those departing Ann Arbor were expected to be a crucial part of the '16-17 squad," Sporting News wrote. "[Spike] Albrecht was thought to be finished with basketball due to hip problems. That said, having [Kam] Chatman and [Aubrey] Dawkins on the wing and [Ricky] Doyle inside would have given Michigan a deeper team that afforded Beilein more choices." Sporting News also points out the importance of improved play from some of the team's key veterans. "Irvin shot better from three-point range in Big Ten play than he did earlier in the year, but he still must sharpen his eye," the publication noted. "He'll need to rebound more and cut back on turnovers, too. [Redshirt] junior Duncan Robinson must be more than the standstill three-point shooter that he was in '15- 16, when all but 82 of his 293 attempts were from downtown. He's not that quick, but he understands the game well." The magazine calls Walton the "difference-maker" on the team, noting he will "have every opportunity to be one of the Big Ten's best, provided he can improve his shooting inside the arc while continuing to make plays for others." — Austin Fox PREVIEW MAGAZINES TAB MICHIGAN AS A MIDDLE-OF-THE-PACK BIG TEN TEAM Senior Derrick Walton Jr. was named a second-team All-Big Ten preseason pick by Lindy's and a third-team selection by Athlon. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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