After a run to the Elite Eight last year and a trip to the championship the previous year, Michigan will have to answer some important questions if they want to have that type of success in 2014-15.
While the Wolverines, who are coming off their first outright Big Ten regular-season title in 28 years, are not lacking in talent, they did lose a lot of manpower in the offseason.
Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary all declared for the NBA draft. Also, Jordan Morgan used up all his eligibility while Jon Horford transferred to Florida.
With the firepower they're losing, head coach John Beilein will have to do one of his better coaching jobs this year, and fans of the Wolverines have some questions they want answered before the team begins the 2014-15 season.
Below are the top four questions Michigan basketball fans want answered before the 2014-15 season.
1) Who will the Wolverines depend on for front-court play and rebounding?
This is where the loss of McGary, Morgan and Horford really stings.
Caris LeVert is the Wolverines' leading returning rebounder (4.3). That is not a good thing. Either there has to be a group mentality toward rebounding, or Michigan will have to get great seasons from redshirt freshman Mark Donnal and junior Max Bielfeldt (who first has to overcome a hip injury) or true freshmen DJ Wilson and Ricky Doyle.
There is some upside in this group, though.
Wilson, in particular, is an intriguing case. Wilson, who is ranked the No. 67 prospect in the country according to Scout.com, is a 6'8” power forward with great size and skills who can face up and shoot as well as rebound the ball.
Donnal, at 6'9" and 230 pounds, is another interesting player. He, like most of the Michigan big men in past years, is known for his ability to play inside and out.
At 6'9” and 230 pounds, Doyle has the requisite size to bang with the big bodies in the Big Ten, but he still will be a bit unrefined.
Many of these players will be learning on the curve, but their development is vital toward Michigan's success.
2) How will Michigan replace the scoring punch left by the departure of Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III?
Out of all the questions facing the Wolverines, who will pick up the scoring slack is perhaps the least of their concerns. Nevertheless, losing Stauskas' and Robinson's 17.5 and 13.1 points per game respectively, is still a concern.
LeVert should blossom in his junior year and you saw glimpses of greatness last year when he averaged 12.9 points. He should take the natural progression in his game and assume a leadership role with Wolverines. He has the chance to become an All-Big Ten player in the process.
One player to watch out for is Zak Irvin, who can really bust out in his sophomore campaign. Irvin will have more freedom in Beilein's offense this year and his ability to attack the rim and shoot from the perimeter will help Michigan absorb the loss of Stauskas and Robinson.
Just like the Wolverines rebounded last year following the loss of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. in 2013, the Wolverines won't be lacking in guys putting the ball through the hoop.
3) What can we expect from the recruiting class?
We've touched on Wilson and Doyle already, but the Wolverines boast a fine overall class which is ranked 17th in the country, according to Scout.com.
Highlighting the class is Scout 5-star recruit Kameron Chatman. Chatman, a 6'6” wing, will be a natural fit to fill the void left by Robinson III. Chatman can not only score effectively in a variety of ways, but he is a great rebounder who uses his athleticism and length to his advantage.
The freshmen recruiting class is rounded out with the additions of 6'6” wing Austin Hatch, 6'4” wing Aubrey Dawkins and 6'4” guard Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman. Between the six newcomers and the players coming back, the Wolverines will have a nice nucleus to build on and get back to the tournament.
4) Can Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin make big steps in their game?
This is piggybacking on the question of how the Wolverines will replace the scoring load left by the departures of Stauskas, Robinson III and McGary, but outside of just scoring, both Walton Jr. and Irvin have to take on more of a leadership role in their sophomore seasons.
As said prior, Irvin, who was Michigan's Sixth Man Award winner last year, will take on more active role this season and has all the tools to succeed.
Walton, though, most likely will be the glue that will keep the Wolverines together, and his progression is critical to Michigan's success. He had a fine freshman season, running the point for the Wolverines and was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team after averaging 7.9 points, 2.9 assists and 3.0 rebounds.
If those numbers jump to, say, 13 points, five or six assists and four rebounds, then Michigan should be on the right track toward contending for the Big Ten crown once again.
Walton, who can shoot the ball well, has to be more of a facilitator this year and look for him to lead both vocally and by example.
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