Team 100

Mailbag: Zak Irvin’s injury, recruiting needs, expectations & more

In this week’s mailbag we look at what Zak Irvin’s injury means for Michigan, preseason expectations, a platoon system, two big lineups and more.

The UM Hoops Mailbag is a collection of questions tweeted (@umhoops), e-mailed or sent via our Facebook page. Submit your questions and we’ll answer as many as we can. 

Burke_Does_Work: Moving forward, what are the team’s biggest areas of need when recruiting?

Looking at Michigan’s scholarship chart, I think the focus in the class of 2017 will be finding an instant impact wing scorer and another point guard — essentially filling the scholarships vacated by Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin.

The Wolverines should have an experienced roster when the class of 2017 sets foot on campus as the current sophomore class will be entering their senior years, but there will only be two underclassmen guards on the roster (Xavier Simpson and Ibi Watson). Simpson should step in as the starter as a sophomore, but given the experienced roster the Wolverines could look for a plug and play instant impact player to elevate the roster to the next level.

It’s also still very early for the class of 2017 and attrition is always possible. The class could and probably will end up being bigger than just two spots, but for now I think that’s the primary focus.

goblue62: I know Beilein won’t install a platoon system here, but what would a Michigan platoon system look like with our increased depth this year?

This is a fun one even though you are right that Beilein isn’t likely to install a platoon system anytime soon. Given how last year played out, there’s something of a natural fit to build a platoon system.

Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton could spearhead the first platoon while the core players that filled in during their injuries could anchor the second group. That could leave you with two lines that look something like this:

Derrick Walton, Caris LeVert, Duncan Robinson, Zak Irvin and Ricky Doyle in the first group and Spike Albrecht, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Aubrey Dawkins, Kameron Chatman and DJ Wilson in the other.

Those groups certainly seem respectable and just having that possibility should lead to some quality 5 on 5 practice — especially this fall when roles are up for grabs. I left most of the sophomores in the second group since they had so much starting experience last season and could make a nice group.

mgobluehoops23: If Zak Irvin is to miss any time, who will take his spot in the starting lineup?
: What do you think the effect of Irvin’s injury will be on the team? When do you think he will be back to full strength?

John Beilein laid out a 6 to 8 week recovery time frame that would have Irvin back in action right around the start of the season. Backs can be tricky — and we don’t know exactly what sort of procedure Irvin underwent — but we also don’t have any reason not to take the release at its word. Assuming that Irvin recovers smoothly and is ready to go before Michigan faces Xavier early on in November, I think it could really help sort through one of the deepest positions on Michigan’s roster.

Aubrey Dawkins is the obvious candidate to step into the starting lineup if Irvin were to miss time. He was a starter down the stretch last year, he can shoot the ball, play some undersized four similar to Irvin’s role at times and he’s the most experienced.

But along with Dawkins, guys like Duncan Robinson — the next most viable option to replace Irvin in the starting lineup — Kameron Chatman, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, DJ Wilson and Moritz Wagner will all have significantly more of an opportunity to make an impact during fall practices. No one is going to take Irvin’s spot, but not everyone in that group is guaranteed consistent minutes. Irvin’s absence should give Michigan’s wings more than enough opportunity to stake their claim.

mgobluehoops23: Who are the most likely players to be a part of the 8 man rotation?

John Beilein himself admitted he’s not even sure who will fit into the rotation right now, so let’s break it down into tiers.

I think Derrick Walton, Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin, Aubrey Dawkins, Ricky Doyle and Spike Albrecht are locks to make the rotation. I would also pencil Duncan Robinson into that group because Beilein has referred to him as at least a rotation player several times over the last year.

That gives us seven players and we haven’t even included a second big man in the group.

If one of Mark Donnal, DJ Wilson and Moritz Wagner can secure the backup five position outright then that’ll be a great sign for Michigan, but I can’t see it yet. When Doyle is on the bench I think we’ll see a host of different options until someone can separate themselves from the pack.

The two names that I haven’t mentioned are Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Kameron Chatman. I’m not ready to count Chatman out of the rotation by any means, but he’ll have to beat out Dawkins — who badly outplayed him last season — and the threat of any of Michigan’s hybrid bigs earning minutes at the four spot. Abdur-Rahkman provided terrific minutes in the backcourt when Walton and LeVert were sidelined, but is he going to play over Walton, Albrecht or LeVert? That trio could easily split the majority of the available minutes at the one and two spots without breaking a sweat.

kje22kje: Do any of the big men in 2016 (including the freshmen) have the ability to play in a 2 big lineup? If so 1. Who are the most likely pairings and how do they work and 2. is JB willing to do this?

Long term I think DJ Wilson and Moritz Wagner both project to the four position. Beilein and/or his assistants have all hinted at this with both players, but right now the roster is loaded with wings and low on true five men. Because of that, I see Wilson and Wagner both sliding upward and playing some five this season — mostly be necessity.

Down the road when Michigan has Ricky Doyle, Mark Donnal, Jon Teske and Austin Davis on the roster, then you could see a ‘two big’ look with Wagner or Wilson at the four spot. Doyle, Teske and Davis are pure centers and while Donnal is known for his shot, he still projects as more of a stretch five than a stretch four for the foreseeable future.

any chance with pitchforks or flamethrowers that we can get the shorts overturned?

I don’t think anyone is going to complain if you do.

do you think we are being underrated this season?

The consensus that I’ve seen is that Michigan is picked somewhere in the 20-40 range and around 5th or 6th in the Big Ten. The Wolverines return a lot of talent, but really struggled last season — for circumstances that we understand, but are also hard to quantify. If I’m previewing the whole conference or country and look at all of the losses Michigan suffered early on even with a mostly healthy lineup, it’s hard to really project that ceiling.

I think Michigan’s floor this season should be the NCAA tournament, but as I’ve written previously the ceiling will be determined by how well the big men can perform. The Big Ten looks to have its strongest crop of big men in quite some time and the frontcourt is the biggest question mark facing this team. If Doyle and company can shoulder the load, then this team can be very good.

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