I know we all predicted a bit more from this Michigan team at the start, but we were realistic too. 6th in the Conference, big season from Caris LeVert, improvement from Irvin and Walton, presumably a big or a combination of bigs stepping up to clog the middle and finish on the pick and roll...
Oooo Here Comes Duncan
The instant emergence of Duncan Robinson, combined with a Charmin' Soft early schedule, staked the Wolverines to a 10-3 non-conf record. But let's enjoy some discussion of just how money Robinson was early in the year...Yeah, he was lights out, leading the nation in three point shooting early on. What a fun guy to watch shoot the ball. Until later in the Big Ten season, when teams did a nice job of challenging his shots.
Let's also talk about that terrible schedule: Michigan, and the Big Ten in general, suffered tremendously thanks to low RPI rankings (plus Rutgers) which led to super low seeds in the NCAA Tourney. Stop scheduling a ton of cupcakes. The RPI can be manipulated. Manipulate it.
Spike Albrecht was lost early too, lost for the season in fact, and his presence would be sorely missed as the season went on. Andrew Dakich couldn't do much of anything when inserted into games; frankly he shouldn't have been on the floor, but Spike was gone and you've got to rest players at some point.
And then a ton of lowlights.
The back-loaded Wolverine schedule gave early hope (7-2 in conference play!!!, beating Maryland??!!) which then quickly turned into failure and horror (10-8, Tourney bubble team). Michigan's defense went downhill during B1G play. Ballhandlers slashed into the middle unimpeded, big men turned for jump hooks from two feet away...
After years of watching Michigan guards step up and lead the Maize and Blue to amazing heights, this team never found its Nik or Trey.
Beating Indiana pushed Michigan into the Tourney's play-in, clutch shots against Tulsa pushed Michigan into the Round of 64...and Michigan was inches away from beating a good Notre Dame team, blowing a big half-time lead. It felt like a nice way to end the season: Finally, those clutch shots were dropping, finally the defense was stiffening just a bit.
Here are my projected Michigan starters in 2016-2017:
G: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (Junior)
G: Duncan Robinson (Junior)
G: Zak Irvin (Senior)
G: Derrick Walton Jr (Senior)
F: Mo Wagner (Sophomore)
This was an extremely young team in 2015-16. MAAR looked more and more capable as the season progressed and turned into, at times, the #1 offensive option for Beilein. Mo Wagner, with a couple added pounds, is a high-energy, aggressive F/C who can shoot the rock too. Incoming Frosh Xavier Simpson looks game-ready; a small 4-star guard coming into an offensive perfect for talented guards.
Took tremendous criticism this year for...Well, it's hard to say. Didn't double A.J. Hammons* and Purdue's big guys in the Big Ten Tourney, which is the Beilein philosophy, but it led to a winnable game turning into a blowout. Failed to develop Irvin and Walton into NBA-ready studs, like he had before with Burke and Stauskas and Hardaway. Didn't pick up any exceptional recruits.
As you'll note, the 2016-17 Michigan starters are pretty close to the 2015-16 Michigan starters, so maybe fans think the ceiling may have already been reached with this group.
The truth? Beilein has done an exceptional job at stabilizing the program. He will (usually) lose recruiting battles to "basketball" schools, so it's up to JB to coach up 3 stars and make his system work like it did in 2012, 2013, 2014.
I love this finishing thought from MGo:
Next season will mark a turning point one way or the other. Beilein can lean on the team's experience to get the offense back to top-ten level, patch up the leaky defense, and make basketball look easy again while cementing Michigan's (health-permitting) return to the basketball elite. Or the team can look much the same, leaning on stars that aren't quite stars on one end and failing to address their myriad issues on the other, and it'll become more clear that a once-in-a-generation conflagration of talent and coaching is unlikely to be replicated here in the immediate future.