The late signing period for 2008 recruits is complete and freshman will be arriving on campus for summer term at the end of June so I figured now would be a great time to look back at Michigan’s 2008 class and see how they fit in and take a look at expectations for next season.
Beilein’s first grab in 2008, Cronin had a very solid season leading his team into the playoffs. Cronin put up monster numbers, posting several triple doubles and totaling a ridiculous numbers of blocks. However the reports on Cronin have always been that he is playing against people much smaller than him for the most part and also against sub-par competition. Maybe Cronin can be like Mike Hart, another 3 star recruit from upstate New York who played against sub-par competition… but at this point that seems like a pipe dream. Cronin’s role has changed dramatically with the Ekpe Udoh transfer. Before Ekpe’s departure I expected Cronin to most likely red shirt or else get spot minutes off the bench against teams with a lot of size. Now Cronin is the back-up center for next year. At 7-1 260, Cronin has some of the size he will need but most importantly he needs to get his body in the kind of shape necessary for the rigors of the BigTen season. He definitely sounds like he has the right attitude so hopefully he puts in the work and is a pleasant surprise. (Past updates on Ben Cronin)
The next commitment was Stuart Douglass, a 6-3 sharpshooting shooting guard from Carmel, Indiana. Stu is a lights out shooter that much is a pretty safe bet. The questions with Stu are about his ball handling, defense, and athleticism and whether they can hold up at the Big Ten level. Stu was one of the leading scorers on a Carmel team that was state-ranked in Indiana all season but had a disappointing finish in the state tournament. Stu had a very rough day (day-night doubleheader) shooting the ball and his Carmel team were knocked out early and their run at the state title was cut short. That being said Stu was close to leading the state in 3 pointers made and shot them at close to a 40% clip for the season, on a team that had so much trouble shooting the ball, who’s 3 point percentage leader was Ekpe Udoh, and is coached by John Beilein it is hard to see Stu not getting a chance to prove himself this year. (Past updates on Stuart Douglass)
The next commitment also raised some eyebrows while there were still players like Watts, Cassity and Ebuka on the board Beilein went with Zack Novak, the 6-5 wing who is also from Indiana. Novak was a 4 year starter on varsity and was the third leading scorer in the state averaging 27 points per game along with 8 rebounds per contest. The number that is sure to have made Beilein’s eyes light up is Zack’s 39% three point shooting. With Novak’s numbers it’s hard to determine why he was never a higher rated recruit. Whether it is his reported lack of athleticism or tweener size, Novak appears to be a pure scorer. I think the big question with Zack is how well his game translates at the high major level. He had great battles with Luke Harangody in high school so he has clearly played against some decent competition. Novak is my bet to get more of the guard minutes at this point than Stu but that is just pure speculation. I think at this point he has a more rounded game and has a better chance to jump in and play. (Past updates on Zack Novak)
I am including Laval in this breakdown because he will be really joining the team next year and will have freshman eligibility after sitting out the first semester. Laval is a kid that I am really excited about, reports on Lucas-Perry are promising and I think he will be a starter from Day 1. For those who don’t know the background, Lucas-Perry was a Rivals 150 guard prospect from Flint Powers whom originally committed to Arizona (over Michigan and MSU) very shortly after Alex Legion effectively (re-)snatched the last backcourt scholarship Michigan had open. It is all mindless speculation whether Laval would have committed to Michigan if Legion wasn’t here but after Lute Olsen did not coach the Wildcats last year “LLP” decided to transfer back home to Michigan. I am confident that Laval Lucas-Perry will start from the first day he is eligible (presumably December 20th @ Oakland) and the only question is whether it is at the point guard or shooting guard. (Past updates on Laval Lucas-Perry)
I will include Benzing in this 2008 breakdown even though I fully expect the NCAA to rule him ineligible to play in the 2008/2009 season because of playing basketball in Germany. I see Benzing as the heir to DeShawn Sims’ position, a tall (6-10) lanky wing who will mostly play outside but hopefully has the size to guard opposing four men. Benzing is reportedly a good shooter (from the international line, even further than the new college line) and I think is a very good grab for Beilein. Many people think the Benzing commitment is in reaction to Ekpe Udoh’s transfer but I disagree. I don’t think Beilein ever sees Benzing getting minutes at the five unless it is due to injuries or some other catastrophic disaster. (Past updates on Robin Benzing)
The next issue is where does the playing time for these young cats come from. I basically see two possibilities for the depth chart:
PG: Kelvin Grady/CJ Lee/Dave Merritt
SG: Laval Lucas-Perry/Stu Douglass
SF: Manny Harris/Zack Novak/Jevohn Shepherd
PF: DeShawn Sims/Anthony Wright
C: Zack Gibson/Ben Cronin
Option 1 is probably the less radical depth chart for next season. I think that Laval may also spell Kelvin instead of CJ Lee or Dave Merrit (whom I am assuming is returning but not positive). I think Novak is capable to slide over and play the two if necessary too. Anthony Wright played a lot of wing this year but I don’t see how he doesn’t get minutes at the 4 when DeShawn Sims may even have to play some five with how thin this team is up front.
PG: LLP/Grady/CJ Lee/Merritt
PF: DeShawn Sims/Anthony Wright
In option 2, I see Novak, Douglass, and Manny as basically 3 guys for 2 positions. I think Manny will learn the wing next year and after playing the guard spot this year he will be able to basically play any position in the back court (1,2,3). I like Laval starting at the one guard if he can do it because he provides a scoring threat that Grady just can’t provide at this point in his career.
Note: With LLP not eligible until December 20th, option 1 is clearly the starting point for next season and Stu and Novak will probably both be getting pretty solid minutes to begin the season.
Note #2: I’m not including Benzing in any of these projections because I have nothing that leads me to believe he will be eligible next year.
In conclusion we have a group of kids who are all “under the radar”, “unranked”, or whatever else you want to call it. But we also have a group of kids that this team is going to rely on next year. Hopefully we can catch lightning in a bottle a couple of these kids get hot and we will have something to work with early. Beilein has spoken highly about all of these recruits (what coach doesn’t?) and some close to the program have also stated that the staff expects these kids to contribute. Once July rolls around and everyone is on campus I’m sure the meaningless reports of Zack and Stu shooting the lights out in open-gym will be out there but the real test will be when the lights turn on in November. One other note, I have a running list of scheduled (and rumored) non-conference games for next season.