2015-16 College Basketball Previews: Michigan Wolverines

The Michigan Wolverines will have a healthy Caris Levert back in the lineup for the 2015-16 season, and the team will look to climb back into contention in the Big Ten standings, and avoid bad losses at home in the process.
The Michigan Wolverines will have a healthy Caris LeVert back in the lineup for the 2015-16 season, and the team will look to climb back into contention in the Big Ten standings, and avoid bad losses at home in the process.

When you look back on the 2014-15 season for the Michigan Wolverines, the memories aren’t the ones you want to have. From injuries to key players to bad losses on their home floor against mid-major opponents, the 2014-15 year was one to forget in Ann Arbor.

Fast-forward to the 2015-16 season, and the level of optimism is high once again for the Wolverines. Star players are healthy, key transfers are eligible, and there are very few personnel changes from last season’s roster. The Wolverines had a brief one-year hiatus from the NCAA Tournament, and they’re hoping to make it back this season.

How will their star players fare coming back from their injuries? How will the team mesh together? How will John Beilein manage expectations and keep the players from overlooking their opponents? All those questions, and more, will be answered over the course of the season.

Scroll down to see what the Michigan Wolverines will have to offer this season, in a bounce-back year for the program in 2015-16.

Who’s Missing

Last season, the Michigan Wolverines took a big hit early in the season when they lost star guard Caris LeVert to a season ending injury. The attention of Michigan basketball fans quickly turned to the 2015-16 season, and for good reason.

Heading into the 2015-16 season, the Michigan Wolverines will be without only one regular from last season, and that is big man Max Bielfeldt. That news will bode well for John Beilein and the Wolverines as they look to rebound after a down year last season.

Bielfeldt, a 6’8”, 245-pound forward out of Peoria, IL, appeared in 30 games for the Wolverines a season ago, making three starts in the process. He averaged 5.1 points and 3.6 rebounds per contest. While he didn’t play much for the team (14.5 minutes per game), he did provide the team with another big body in the paint, something that the Wolverines needed on several occasions last season.

After the 2014-15 season, Bielfeldt opted to transfer from Michigan for an extra year of eligibility after graduating. In a move that’s not seen too often in the NCAA, he transferred to another Big Ten team, committing to Indiana for the 2015-16 season.

With only Bielfeldt missing from last year’s regular rotation of players, the Michigan Wolverines look poised for a big year in the Big Ten, and a potential return to the NCAA Tournament after a brief one-year hiatus.

Who’s Returning

The 2015-16 season could be the year that the Michigan Wolverines climb back into contention in the Big Ten and make a run at the conference title. With stars back to full health, and other key contributors back to help lead the way, John Beilein and the Wolverines are in a good spot.

Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, Jr. and Spike Albrecht are healthy and ready to lead the charge for the Wolverines as seniors, and a slew of others are ready to support the leaders. Derrick Walton, Jr. and Ricky Doyle will both factor into the starting lineup, and a sharp-shooting transfer should also leave his mark on the team in 2015-16.

The piece that everyone talks about this season is Caris LeVert, and for good reason. He’s one of the best players in the Big Ten, and the NCAA as a whole, and Michigan is a completely different team with him on the floor. Against Northwestern last January, LeVert sustained a foot injury on the last play that required surgery, forcing him to miss the last 14 games of the season. In 18 games last season, he averaged 14.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per contest. With a healthy LeVert leading the way in 2015-16, Michigan is in a good spot.

Joining LeVert in the back court are juniors Derrick Walton, Jr. and Zak Irvin. Like LeVert, Walton missed extended time last season due to a foot injury. Walton missed the last 12 games of the year after attempting to play through his injury for a brief time. In 19 games, Walton averaged 10.7 points and 4.7 rebounds per contest.

As for Irvin, he made 32 stars last season for the Wolverines, and stepped up as a go-to offensive option once Walton and LeVert went down with injuries. He finished the year with an average of 14.3 points per contest. In 2015-16, his production will likely take a hit, but now opponents will have to keep an eye on all three guards, so Irvin will still see his fair share of opportunities.

Off the bench, senior point guard Spike Albrecht will bring his high-intensity play to the floor for the Wolverines. Look for him to rotate with Walton at the point, providing a different look to the team when he’s on the floor.

The play of the front court will be the question mark heading into the season. The development of sophomore Ricky Doyle will be crucial, as will getting redshirt-sophomore Duncan Robinson acclimated to NCAA basketball. The transfer from Williams College practiced with the team all of last season, but was required to sit out games due to transfer regulations. He’s known as a strong shooter from deep, and could provide the Wolverines with another weapon in their arsenal.

Heading into the 2015-16 season, the Michigan Wolverines have a ton of weapons at their disposal. Their success will depend on how well they can mesh together and share the rock.

Projected Starting Five

Guard: Derrick Walton, Jr. (JR)

Guard: Zak Irvin (JR)

Guard: Caris LeVert (SR)

Forward: Duncan Robinson (SO)

Forward: Ricky Doyle (SO)

Schedule Notes

Last season, the Wolverines suffered uncharacteristically bad losses on their home floor to NJIT and Eastern Michigan. They will be looking to avoid such losses in 2015-16, and their schedule looks like a favourable one.

The Wolverines open up with three home games to get them ready to take part in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Northern Michigan opens up the season, then Elon pays a visit in a Battle 4 Atlantis Mainland game. The third and final contest is a date with Xavier as a part of the Gavitt Tip-Off Games. The games get increasingly tougher as they move along, and one can expect a stern test from Chris Mack and the Musketeers.

In the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Wolverines take on a much-improved Connecticut Huskies team in the must-see game of the opening round. Amida Brimah, Daniel Hamilton, Shonn Miller and company will give the Wolverines their first big test of the year. Depending on their result, they will take on either Charlotte or Syracuse in the next round.

There are only two “true” road games for the Wolverines on their non-conference schedule. They travel to Raleigh, NC to take on North Carolina State on December 1st as a part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, then they head to Dallas, TX on December 8th to take on SMU. Both teams have their fair share of talent, and Michigan will be in tough in both instances.

Home games against programs like Bryant, Northern Kentucky, and Youngstown State highlight the remainder of their schedule. Now, the Wolverines should win these games rather handily. But, that was said last season and look how that turned out. The Wolverines can’t take any of these programs fore-granted if they want to stay on track as Big Ten play approaches.

The Michigan Wolverines have a ton of preseason hype surrounding the program, and it looks like they are back on the national stage. They want to make sure they stay there, so you can expect a lot of good play from them over the course of the season.

In the past few years, the rivalry between Michigan and Michigan State has been taken over by the Spartans. Both teams bring out the best in one another, and the games are always exciting, as long as they don’t go to overtime (remember Michigan was held scoreless last season against MSU in overtime). Regardless of how the season goes, if the Wolverines beat the Spartans, it’s a successful year.

Fortunately for Michigan faithful, the Wolverines will have a good chance at knocking off their rivals, and the season as a whole should be a successful one.

– T.B.