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Season preview: Five things Michigan will key on to open 2017-18

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With college basketball nearing the start of the 2017-18 year, here are some things to look at for Michigan as they approach their home opener in Nov. 11

NCAA Basketball: Big 10 Media Day Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

As the calendar starts to near November, so does the start of college basketball as Michigan prepares for it’s first game against North Florida on Nov. 11 at the Crisler Center.

Last week Thursday, however, the Big Ten Conference gave its first glimmer of whats to come for this season at the annual media days hosted at Madison Square Garden.

With tip-off being less than three weeks away, here are five major points to look at heading into the season from what we know after media days.

Who is the starting point guard?

It was evident that John Beilein hasn't made his mind up for who will take Derrick Walton Jr.’s spot to open the season.

Jaaron Simmons, Zavier Simpson and Eli Brooks are all still fighting for the job according to the Michigan head coach. He described the battle as very competitive with “intensity like nothing he has ever seen”.

“This one is three guys going at it,” Beilein told the media at Big Ten media day. “It’s really tough to even decide because nobody’s making each other look good because the competition is so hard.”

The favorite according to most of the media is Simmons, as the Ohio transfer averaged 15.9 points, 6.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game in his final campaign with the Bobcats. While Beilein’s system isn't something you can pick up over night, it is assumed his experience would outweigh the others.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan junior Moritz Wagner commented on Simmons saying he can “really pass and has a lot of talent” but that while he does have experience, he also still has to pick everything up about “Michigan basketball” and its schemes.

Simpson would be the next man up if Simmons did end up being the starter, as it was the likely choice before the Wolverines went out and got Simmons. Simpson only averaged just over eight minutes per game a season ago with 1.6 points and one assist per contest.

“He’s a great leader, he defends really, really well,” Beilein said. “He’s evolving as a player, and anything can happen in the next couple of weeks. I think people are going to love the progress he’s made in the last year.”

Wagner steps into the spotlight

Along with everything else on Thursday, Wagner was named to the preseason All-Big Ten list —as expected — being one of the ten players listed.

The Berlin, Germany native entered the NBA Draft process but decided to withdraw his name from the draft and return to Michigan.

Last season, he averaged 12.1 points, 4.2 boards and 0.5 assists per game. This season, Beilein will look for him to put up bigger numbers and he believes he can do just that.

“He just has to get back to doing the right thing every day. If anyone can handle expectations, Moe can,” Beilein said.

New faces, new front court

When D.J. Wilson elected to enter the NBA Draft and Mark Donnal was released and transferred to Clemson, Michigan’s front court took a hit in the depth department.

Wagner and Duncan Robinson are the only two players on Michigan’s roster who return experience at the four and five positions. The two of them accounted for 54 percent of Michigan’s 3,070 minutes played at those positions last season.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

This where Austin Davis and Jon Teske come into play as the likely replacements.

With Teske only seeing limited action and Davis never setting foot on the floor for the Wolverines to this point, Beilein said that their development will be key to Michigan’s success on the offensive side, but most importantly the defensive side of the ball.

“It is a concern but we have faith in this coaching staff to develop them,” Beilein said. “They are getting better everyday at practice but there is still a ways to go.”

Abdur-Rahkman is challenged

Zak Irvin and Walton have been the staple of Michigan’s back court for the past few years of Michigan basketball.

Without them there now, Abdur-Rahkman returns with the most experience as a guard, averaging 30.6 minutes per game in 2017 while playing in 103 career games as a Wolverine.

As for production, he has went up in points per game every season (9.1 in 2017), but has yet to average double-digits in his collegiate career.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Minnesota Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Walton and Irvin both averaged double-digits in scoring for 3-of-4 years with the program.

With those former players graduating, this should open up more opportunities for Abdur-Rahkman to score the ball. Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews is also expected to help patch the void.

Highly rated competition

Beilein didn't hide how he feels about the 2017-18 slate of games Michigan faces.

“We maybe have the most challenging schedule that certainly I’ve ever had at Michigan or maybe Michigan’s ever had,” Beilein said. “And we’re going to have to be ready for it and be ready early for it.”

What Michigan will have to be “ready” for includes the Maui Invitational, road games at North Carolina and Texas, the finale of the home-and-home series with UCLA and two early Big Ten games against Indiana and Ohio State — all coming to open the season over a three week span in November.

Beilein described it as “the mister of all monsters” and said while he doesn't know how they'll do, he knows they will keep growing.

“We’re going to do the best we can,” Beilein said. “And I know we’ll be really prepared for the second semester based on that schedule.”