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Michigan Hoops Preview | Welcome, Freshmen: Mark Donnal and Ricky Doyle

Michigan's two freshmen at the five will have big shoes to fill after the team lost both four-year starter Jordan Morgan and important backup Jon Horford in the off season.

Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

The Story

There is almost nothing left in the middle for Michigan.  Mitch McGary is gone to the NBA, Jordan Morgan to graduation, and Jon Horford to a grad year at Florida.  Max Bielfeldt has had no more than a cup of coffee for Michigan so far in terms of in-game experience.

Enter Michigan's biggest — literally — question marks for the season.  Mark Donnal, a six-foot-ninie and top-100 ranked big man from Ohio, was a member of the 2013 class and took a redshirt year behind Michigan's bevy of options at the five last season.  Practice reports were positive and Donnal is up to 240 lbs. after a year in the program and the weight room.

He will be joined by Ricky Doyle — also six-foot-nine — a true freshman out of Florida that was a three-star recruit with a solid offer sheet.  Doyle was thought to be headed for a redshirt before the departure of McGary and Horford left the Wolverines dangerously thin up front.  Doyle was the first member of Michigan's 2014 class to commit.

Their Game

The two players are often shown in contrast to each other as two sides of the big man skillset.  Donnal is praised for his ability to cut and get involved in transition.  He is also a good shooter with three-point range that would rather play face up to the basket.  On top of that, his shot, ball skills, and quickness make him a valuable part of pick-and-roll plays.

Doyle, on the other hand is characterized as a bruiser.  More of a traditional back-to-the-basket type that won't vernture too far out.  Not the best athlete, he is nevertheless praised for his motor and feel for playing down low.

In reality, John Beilein has said that the two are both a lot more capable and versatile than many give them credit for when playing up the Thunder and Lightning approach:

"We may get situational sometimes, but I wouldn't discount Mark's inside game or Ricky's outside game. The perception would be one is one and one is the other. I think both of them have the ability to play the other's game, and that's what we're working with."

Summer in Italy

Michigan went to Italy down two players who could also potentially contribute at the five.  DJ Wilson and Max Bielfeldt both missed the summer games with an injury.  This left Doyle and Donnal to soak up all the PT overseas.

Donnal showed off the quickness and off-the-ball skill that he is known for, playing well in transition and in the pick-and-roll offense, and his 80% mark from two is a good sign of his ability to finish around the rim when set up by others.  He also got to the line well — 47% FTA/FGA — and hit 80% from there.  His best game was a 20-11 performance, which helped push up his scoring average to double digits to go with 6.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game.

Doyle was the more consistent performer after blanking on the boards to start the tour.

Doyle was held to zero rebounds in the first game of the tournament and the resulting film session with Bacari Alexander had a singular focus: rebounding.

"I watched a lot of film, and watched what I could do to get those 50/50 rebounds that I should have gotten," Doyle said after Michigan's second game. "Coach BA really helped me take an easier approach to getting those rebounds, giving me simple steps and it worked. Being more aggressive and timing my jumps are some of the things I paid attention to and tried to bring it back out on the court."

He would put up an average double digits on the boards in the next three games (making it an 8.0 for the trip) as well as 11.5 points.  Doyle did this, true to form, by working in the paint and finishing in traffic.  He didn't get to the line or pass as well as Donnal (0.3 apg, 37% FTA/FGA), but he flashed a strong post presence that Michigan will need to see more of this year.

Outlook

We already have a pretty good idea what Michigan will be getting at the one through three positions this season, as the vast majority of returning experience on this roster lies there.  Michigan will be good because of its talent in the backcourt.

Whether Michigan can be competitive night in and night out in the Big Ten will depend on what kinds of contributions it gets from its young front court.  We know John Beilein has a knack for riding the hot hand at the five, and for gameplanning around what he has in the middle (e.g. the offense when McGary was playing and once he was out for the year).  We also know that both of these first-year players have a good combination of size and skill (possibly more than last year's duo of Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan).

All of that doesn't mean much if these two don't play smart.  Losing Jordan Morgan is more than just losing 6.4 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.  It is losing one of the smartest defensive point-men in the conference, a player that understood body positioning, worked tirelessly to box out and chase down loose balls, and finished with impressive efficiency in his small role on offense (i.e. the pick-and-roll).

Can Doyle bring the energy and post defense Michigan needs?  Can Donnal move as effectively in transition and in pick-and-roll situations?  Vice versa?

There is a lot of potential as Michigan has received a potential injection of size, strength, and skill greater than it had for most of last year (miss you, Mitch).  But the biggest key this year is going to be smarts.  Michigan doesn't need its bigs to dominate headlines.  It  needs them to dominate the little things, and be in the right place at the right time more often than not.

No pressure, young bloods.