This past Friday, Michigan topped Grand Valley State University 82-50 in an exhibition matchup and with it came a look at what could be the starting lineup for the Wolverines.
As the first game approaches, here is an in-depth look at what could be starting for Michigan as they take on North Florida at 7:30 p.m. from the Crisler Center.
Strength: If there was any surprise to the opening starting five that John Beilein sent out on the floor, this would have to be it. With transfer Jaaron Simmons coming in with much more experience at the college basketball, he was expected to be the starter most of the offseason. However, Beilein has a very complex system that can take awhile to pickup and comprehend to a science. This is where Simpson has an advantage. After watching a season behind Derrick Walton Jr., it now appears he may be ready to take those keys, and Beilein must have seen enough to put him in drive over Simmons.
Weakness: While he has played with Michigan for a full season, the production wasn't there for Simpson in his freshman year. The former Mr. Basketball in Ohio only averaged 9.7 minutes per game in 20 contests, averaging 1.5 points and 1.2 assists per game. Those numbers will need to improve massively if he plans to out-run Simmons all season, who averaged 15.9 points and 6.5 assists per game a year ago.
My Take: It’s only a matter of time before Simmons overtakes this role and becomes the starting point guard for the season. His statistics and experience coming in is too much for Simpson to overcome and I believe Beilein wouldn't have went out to get Simmons if he didn't plan to use him more. Simpson played 18 minutes while Simmons tallied 15 in the exhibition game against GVSU, so I’d expect a lot of splitting time to open the campaign.
Strength: If you were watching the exhibition game on Friday night, it was clear the Matthews was the best player on the floor. The Kentucky transfer went 9-for-14 from the floor, totaling 23 points while adding four rebounds, two assists and a block. He looks like a complete player that can do it all for Michigan, as he has been compared to Manny Harris multiple times. If Matthews can produce double-digit scoring numbers consistently, it would take a lot of weight off his German teammates shoulders.
Weakness: While the performance was impressive for his first actual in-game action in nearly two years, it was just Division II GVSU. Numbers can be deceiving and Matthews did struggle under the spotlight when he played with the Wildcats. He will need to show true maturity and poise on a every-game basis before expecting these numbers becomes reality,
My Take: I’m essentially “drinking the Kool-Aid” because Matthews looked like a player who has truly taken advantage of his time to get better when he couldn't play do to transfer rules. If the junior didn't have the ability to put up numbers like that routinely, I don’t think Michigan would've tried to give him that opportunity. The 6-foot-6, 200-pound guard looks like Beilein’s next swiss army knife and will do well in his system, bringing out a big year many didn't expect.
Strength: Robinson jumped on to the scene as a player who could really shoot the 3-pointer after transferring to Michigan from Williams College. It’s something that he has seemed to master. However, a season ago, his role took a step back as he lost playing time when D.J. Wilson and Moritz Wagner started to blow up. Now, with Wilson gone, Walton and Zak Irvin graduating, the door has been reopened for him to be more than just a sidekick. Beilein has a history of developing these types of players over time (Zack Novak, Nik Stauskas), now it’s Robinson’s turn.
Weakness: The main problems the fifth-year senior has shown since becoming a Wolverine is on-ball defense and driving to the basket. Last season, Robinson was a liability on defense and struggled to keep anyone in front of him and other then back-door cuts, it was rare to see him put his head down and attack the rim. If Robinson truly will advance his game this season, those are the key areas to improve.
My Take: By no means will Robinson become “the guy” for Michigan, but I think he will look a lot more like the player he was two years ago. Last season he got jumped by players who simply excelled quicker than him. Beilein has said he’s been happy with the work he’s done this offseason on improving “all areas” of his game. I look to see some of those improvements go to work and expect an increased role this year for New Castle, New Hampshire native.
Strength: Over the past three seasons, Abdur-Rahkman has quietly made himself into quite the player at Michigan. He scored in double figures 20 times a season ago, and only got better as the season went on. The senior averaged 9.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in the Big Ten Tournament, including a 17-point performance against Illinois. As the team has simply lost a lot of it’s scoring faces from a season ago, Abdur-Rahkman will be next in line to hand the ball when the shot clock is nearing zero.
Weakness: There have been times where this shooting guard has seemed to go invisible. On defense, he was solid for the most part as Michigan’s team defense improved as a whole, but those bad tendencies he has shown at times are things to watch for. Getting through screens has been a problem for him that needs to be improved. On offense, becoming one of the goto players takes it’s tole, and Abdur-Rahkman will have to stay in the spotlight rather than shy away from it.
My Take: If I had one bold prediction this season, it’s Abdur-Rahkman taking that next step and becoming the player to make the big shots for Michigan. With 103 career games under his belt, he has seen many players do it before him, the most recent being Walton last year. Shooting 48.9 percent from the 3-point line in Big Ten play (second-best in the conference), his game will become full-circle this year.
Strength: Last season was a major jump for this Berlin, Germany native. He was an All-Big Ten Team honorable mention in the 2016-17 season, averaging 12.1 points and 4.2 rebounds in 38 games. With Michigan losing the core of what helped them run to the Sweet 16 last season, Wagner is the one returning starter that averaged double figures in Michigan’s scoring attack. With all of the ability to blow up this season, Wagner will be given every opportunity. Now, it’s time to see how the All-Big Ten Preseason First Team candidate handles the pressure.
Weakness: While the forward did put solid numbers in the 2016-17 season, he didn't put up as many minutes as people may have wanted to see. This comes due to his foul troubles, forcing him to come out of games early and in the middle of the second half. Wagner averaged 23.9 minutes per game compared to his freshman year when he averaged just 8.6, but to be “the man” for the Wolverines, those minutes need to jump up to around 33-35 minutes per game. While being aggressive is a part of the 6-foot-11, 245-pounders style, it will need to be contained for success this season for himself and the team.
My Take: Wagner will have a great season, but he will only be able to go as far as how the players perform around him. He will need help on offense to take some of those double teams away from him so he can score and get more looks, while on the defensive end he will need major improvements to average over 30 minutes per game. I think Wagner does end up being one of the top players for this team, but some other faces will make it so he doesn't have to do it all alone.