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2015-16 Michigan Basketball Position Preview: Big Men

With all of the talent that Michigan possesses at spots 1 through 4, the biggest question will be how Michigan's big men perform this season.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

PreviouslyThe MulliganPosition Preview: GuardsPosition Preview: Wings

Maize n Brew continues its 2015-16 Michigan basketball preview by concluding its position previews. We spent that prior two days exploring what Michigan has at guard and wing, but now it's time to take a look at the biggest question mark on the roster: the big men. Today, we preview Ricky Doyle, Mark Donnal, D.J. Wilson, and Moritz Wagner.


Ricky Doyle

Basic Info: #32 | Sophomore | 6-9 | 250 lbs. | Cape Coral, Fla.
2014-15 Stats: 31 GP | 18.2 MPG | 6.1 PPG | 3.2 RPG | 0.4 BPG | 61.2 2P% | 0.0 3P%

Of Michigan's three centers last season, Ricky Doyle received the most time on the court, but his time on the court was marred with inconsistency. In his first four games in which he played more than 10 minutes, Doyle averaged 10.3 points per game on 69.9-percent shooting, and the O'DOYLE RULES bus quickly was at over capacity. But, for the rest of the season, Doyle went weeks during which he disappeared offensively. The longest such stretch was 14 games against Big Ten teams in which he recorded double-digit points only once -- 15 against an Indiana outfit that had a 6-foot-6 center. The root of all of this? Doyle was a freshman battling illnesses that robbed him of the little conditioning he had.

After an offseason in Camp Sanderson, Doyle should be healthy and in the best shape of his life. Accordingly, he should be more consistent on both ends of the floor. Offensively, Doyle surprised us with an array of back-to-the-basket post moves that had us scream, "RICKY OLAJUWON!" on occasion, but, many times, those moves had little purpose to them and led to traveling violations. He should be more decisive with those moves this season, and he'll continue to finish well around the rim (70 pct. in 2014-15). Doyle also flashed a nice a mid-range jumper at the elbow from time to time. The one area on offense where Doyle must improve is his ball screens. His predecessor, Jordan Morgan, mastered how to take the right angle when setting screens in the pick and roll to free the dribbler, and Morgan's absence was noticeable in that regard last year. Doyle hasn't learned how to do that, but, if he does, he'll be an excellent screener with his 6-foot-9, 250-pound body, which will open lanes for Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, and Zak Irvin.

Defensively, Doyle was the best big man that Michigan had because no other candidate was a bruiser like him. Doyle has the strength to muscle most centers that attempt to post him up, and, with an offseason to further understand how he should be positioned in the post, his defense should improve. However, a concern is how little he rebounded the ball last season. Though he was adequate on the offensive end, his defensive rebounding rate was 11.9 percent, which was considerably lower than LeVert, Irvin, and Walton's rates. Some of that can be attributed to Michigan's preference to have the guards and wings rebound while the center boxes out, but not all of it (Mark Donnal: 16.1 DR%).

Doyle will open the season as Michigan's starting center and should expect to see 20 to 25 minutes per game. Michigan doesn't need Doyle to be an offensive star. Michigan just needs him to be solid, and that means finishing, setting strong screens, and defending the rim. If he can do that on a game-by-game basis, the Wolverines will be in fantastic shape.

Mark Donnal

Basic Info: #34 | RS Sophomore | 6-9 | 240 lbs. | Monclova, Ohio
2014-15 Stats: 29 GP | 10.7 MPG | 3.4 PPG | 2.1 RPG | 0.3 BPG | 56.8 2P% | 36.8 3P%

MGoBlog's Alex Cook said it best when he reviewed Michigan's centers after last season, claiming that Mark Donnal was "a perfect example of the dissonance between numbers and the eye test." On paper, Donnal was Michigan's most efficient player on offense, posting an offensive rating of 119.6 thanks to shooting 56.8 percent on twos and 36.8 percent on threes. Further, Donnal had better rebounding and block rates and a lower turnover rate than Ricky Doyle. This would suggest Donnal was better than Doyle.

But anyone that watched Michigan last season knew that Doyle and Max Bielfeldt were better options, which is why Donnal saw his minutes reduced as the season wore on -- 14.2 MPG in his first 13 games and 7.8 in his next 16. One of the biggest concerns about Donnal entering the season was his (lack of) physicality, and it came to fruition. He lacked the strength to finish well around the rim (an average 60 pct.), he didn't set strong screens, and he struggled to body up and hold position when defending the low post -- the last of which meant resorting to fouling to stop the opponent from making easy layups (6.4 fouls committed per 40). Michigan just couldn't trust him for long stretches.

It wasn't all bad for Donnal as he's proven to be a capable shooter from 15 feet out and beyond, and he can be a threat in pick-and-pop situations. But, if Donnal wants to increase his playing time, he must improve in the areas listed above, which means adding strength over the offseason. There have been some promising signs that this has happened as The Wolverine's Chris Balas reported ($) that, at a practice two weeks ago, Donnal looked like the "most improved player on the floor" and "muscled around the rim more than ever." However, this was just one practice. Right now, Donnal is in line to be Doyle's backup at center and will receive 10 minutes or so of playing time each game.

D.J. Wilson

Basic Info: #5 | RS Freshman | 6-10 | 240 lbs. | Sacramento, Calif.
2014-15 Stats: 5 GP | 4.8 MPG | 0.4 PPG | 1.2 RPG | 0.6 BPG | 33.3 2P% | 0.0 3P%

I've been high on D.J. Wilson since he enrolled, and it was disappointing -- though understandable -- when Michigan decided to redshirt him after an early knee injury. It was understandable because, in the limited time that Wilson was on the court, the game looked like it was whizzing past him. He didn't seem comfortable and appeared out of control at times. And, at 220 pounds, he wasn't physically ready to be a Big Ten big man.

But Camp Sanderson has paid off:

Wilson looks ready to make an impact this season, but the question is where. We've seen so little of Wilson that we don't know if he'll play more 4 or 5 in John Beilein's system. Wilson has the size and the length -- a 7-foot-2 wingspan (!!) -- to be the 5, and that's where there will be more available minutes because the wings will be crowded with the presence of Zak Irvin, Aubrey Dawkins, and Kam Chatman. I think this is where Wilson will play most of his minutes this season. His athleticism will be an asset when teams run the pick and roll, where he will be long enough to contest shots and have the agility to switch onto ball-handlers. His length also makes him Michigan's best rim protector -- he blocked three shots in 24 minutes last year. But can Wilson defend in the post? We'll see.

Offensively, the 5 makes more sense for Wilson, too. Wilson was a top-100 prospect in high school because of his potential. Though he has physically matured, it's unclear whether his offensive skillset has as well. To be a 4 in Beilien's offense, a player must be able to shoot, pass, and dribble the ball with precision on the perimeter. Wilson is capable of knocking down the outside jumper, but the other two areas? It remains to be seen. On the other hand, his athleticism and length will be more of an asset closer to the bucket, where he'll be able to finish above the rim. Also, Wilson may be someone that can crash the offensive glass for put-backs and to keep possessions alive. The 5 is the best fit.

Moritz Wagner

Basic Info: #13 | Freshman | 6-10 | 225 lbs. | Berlin, Germany
2014-15 Stats: N/A

Like D.J. Wilson, Moritz Wagner is another 6-foot-10 hybrid that screams potential and can play either the 4 or 5 in John Beilein's system. And, like Wilson, he'll probably redshirt as a freshman. Wagner is an 18-year-old freshman from Germany that not only is trying to adapt to Division I basketball and college life but also learning a new language in a foreign country. The first two are tough enough for most freshman. Doing all three? That's a formidable task. Plus, for as talented as Wagner could be down the road -- he projects to be a skilled big man that can shoot outside and put the ball on the floor -- he's still very skinny at 225 pounds and doesn't have the muscle to fight for rebounds and defend in the post. A full season of Camp Sanderson would do him wonders. Add in that Michigan has three big men in Ricky Doyle, Mark Donnal, and Wilson, as well as numerous players at the 4, and there's no reason to throw Wagner into the fire unless injuries strike. We'll see Wagner in the exhibition before he's locked in the weight room.


Tomorrow, we'll preview the Le Moyne exhibition before inspecting how Michigan stacks up against the Big Ten and predicting what's in store for Michigan after the weekend.