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Zak Irvin’s best season is still not enough

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The senior is ending his career on a personal upswing, but the team is still struggling.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Zak Irvin has struggled with consistency throughout his Michigan career. There is no denying his talent, and he has enjoyed his share of big moments, but it has felt like he is always on the cusp of truly putting it all together. A shooter with a knack for living in no man’s land, Irvin has been the source of criticism because of disappointing offensive outputs for most of his career. But just as he is heading out the door, things are finally starting to come together.

Taking the reigns

As an underclassman, Irvin and classmate Derrick Walton were surrounded by players like Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, and Caris LeVert, which allowed the duo to begin their careers in more of a support role. After Stauskas and Robinson left for the draft and LeVert was sidelined with injuries, it seemed like everything was set up for Irvin to become a more central figure.

Unfortunately, things did not really work out that way. Irvin, coming off of an injury before the 2015-16 season, was nowhere near ready for that role. Occasional bright spots last season were overshadowed by an underwhelming statistical output that only fueled his critics.

Irvin came into the 2016-17 season as a senior with something to prove. The expectations were realistic given his previous three years and the responsibility was not slated to be on him alone, but this was his last chance to show his true potential. Halfway through the season he has looked up for the challenge.

Improvements across the board

2013-14 5.3 6.7 0.4 1.3 43.4
2014-15 12.7 14.3 1.5 4.8 40.2
2015-16 11.0 11.8 3.1 4.5 40.7
2016-17 11.9 13.8 3.5 4.9 45.5
Career 9.8 11.1 1.9 3.7 41.8

From a pure numbers standpoint, Irvin’s improvements have been somewhat modest. He is averaging two more points per game from last season, while his assists and rebounds are up as well. He is attempting more field goals, while shooting less three pointers and free throws this season. However, the biggest change is in his field goal percentage, which is significantly higher than last year and his career average.

Season eFG% 2Pt% 3Pt% FT%
Season eFG% 2Pt% 3Pt% FT%
2013-14 59.2 46.0 42.5 71.4
2014-15 49.8 45.7 35.5 69.7
2015-16 46.9 48.4 29.8 65.8
2016-17 51.7 51.1 35.2 73.5
Career 50.7 48.0 35.6 69.1

This rise in field goal percentage is seen both inside and behind the arc. Irvin has been good when getting to the hoop, but also successful with his mid-range jumpers as well, even if they are not the most efficient short on the floor. His rise in three-point accuracy is good to see but is still frustrating for a player that takes the third-most threes on the team. Irvin’s 51.6 effective field goal percentage is his highest since his freshman year and shows that he has made great strides from last season.

Better, but not good enough

Irvin’s career is one that fell short of many expectations, but his final year with the Wolverines is at least his best to date. So far this season, Irvin has a 17.6 player efficiency rating, which is the highest he has achieved. While this is not as high as he would like it to be, it represents an improvement over a frustrating 2016-17.

But while Irvin has been better than he was last season, the team is still struggling as a whole. A disappointing start to conference play has many wondering if Michigan will even see the NCAA Tournament. Irvin has not been a liability, but he has not really been the team’s leader either. After four years of action, he still looks better served as a supporting player.

The reality is that much of Irvin’s game should be able to be replaced, but he still has time to make one last impact down the final stretch of his college career. Michigan currently has issues all over the place and will need to be much better to compete in the Big Ten. Irvin has been through many peaks and valleys during his career, but perhaps now is his biggest chance to leave his lasting mark.