1. A big question mark going into next season is who takes over for Trey Burke at the point. While Michigan gets Spike Albrecht back and adds top-100 player Derrick Walton to the mix, it is undeniable that you don't just replace an all-everything player of the year without seeing a drop off. Burke leaves a gaping hole in the roster that will need to be filled by the contributions of multiple players. Thankfully, it seems that the more people see Walton play, the more convinced they are that he could step in early and make a noticeable impact.
ESPN recently released an article (paywalled) on potential sleeper recruits, and while Walton is the 30th player overall in ESPN's rankings, Paul Biancardi still lists the six-foot tall incoming freshman as the biggest sleeper on the board*. His reasoning? Not only does Walton walk into a point guard's dream leading a team of talented wing scorers and big men well suited for the pick and roll, all of whom are well acquainted with getting out in transition, but Walton has played well on the high level camp circuit and held his own.
Derrick Walton shouldn't need to take over all of Burke's duties, as the scoring load will be more evenly distributed among Michigan's big three scorers -- Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, and Nik Stauskas -- with Walton slotting into more of a facilitator role. However, this should allow him a little more space to get his shot off, and an 8-10 ppg scoring average isn't out of the question once he works his way into full time starting duties.
Also: all Spike all the time.
*(The comment section at MGoBlog did its best to eye roll the hell out of the idea that the 30th recruit overall could be a sleeper, incredulously stating that if this were the case he should just be ranked higher because ESPN has the power to do that (it is their ranking afterall), but in their rush to get outraged about something they overlooked the fact that A) Paul Biancardi probably doesn't do those rankings himself and B) the premise of the article isn't about who should be ranked higher, but what player could outperform his rankings the most. 30th overall is impressive, but given the amount of one-and-done NBA talent ahead of him and his own lack of size, Walton could still "overperform".)
2. A lot of ink has been spilled over Walton and fellow recruit Zak Irvin, a five-star wing and Indiana's Mr. Basketball, but that overlooks four-star big man Mark Donnal, a big bodied stretch four that can play from the high post and shoot from outside.
Recently he spoke to Scout.com's Sam Webb about his potential role in the offense:
"The coaches talked about that and in the Syracuse game you guys saw it -- Mitch playing and hitting the mid-range jumper beyond the free throw line," said Donnal. "If I just keep working, that could be me next year hitting those same shots. I just need to keep working hard so I can be put into the rotation like that."
With John Beilein already talking about his desire to shift the lineup bigger, moving McGary down to the four and Robinson to the three, a role in the lineup could open up for Donnal, who has more of the skills Beilein will want at the four spot than players already on the roster. With his combination of size, range, and offensive skills, Donnal could carve out a role as McGary's backup in the situations where Michigan wants to go big without McGary on the floor (or with McGary at the five).
3. Finally, with the addition of those three recruits to a roster that already brings back a lot of up and coming talent (five contributors -- three starters -- return for a second year on campus and should see big improvements with a full off season in the program to improve) Michigan is becoming a chic pick as an early top-ten team.
UMHoops runs down the rankings so far:
- CBS has Michigan 4th (behind Kentucky, Louisville, and MSU)
- Luke Winn has Michigan 5th.
- Jason King has Michigan 9th
On top of this, ESPN lists McGary as one of its early preseason all-American picks.
Michigan certainly won't be lacking for hype and positive feelings this off season, but the Wolverines have a lot of work to do to prove the prognosticators right. However, the talent is once again there to do this, even in a Big Ten that looks just as daunting as it did a year ago. Wisconsin brings back a lot of its talent from last year, Michigan State returns both Gary Harris and Adreian Payne, Ohio State loses just Deshaun Thomas, and Indiana signed so much talent it doesn't even have room for all of it.