Earlier this month, Moe Wagner entered the NBA draft and hired an agent, making him ineligible to return for his senior season.
Charles Matthews, by deciding against an agent, can test the NBA waters while still being eligible to return to school if he pulls his name out by June 11th.
While most expect Matthews to come back in 2017-2018, let’s take a quick look at what a roster could look like without Matthews, Wagner, Abdur-Rahkman, Robinson, and Simmons. Ibi Watson decided to transfer away from the program as well.
Projected Starting 5:
- PG - Zavier Simpson
- SG - Jordan Poole
- F - Isaiah Livers
- F - Ignas Brazdeikis
- C - Jon Teske
Projected Contributing Bench:
- G - Eli Brooks
- F - Austin Davis
- F - Brandon Johns
- G - David DeJulius
What’s Coming Back?
If you’re looking for the break-out candidate of next year, it’s Jordan Poole. The charismatic freshman enters his sophomore year coming off the high of a Second Round Buzzer Beater and a Final Four run. Poole is an athletic wing with good enough length and popcorn type shooting ability. The term “popcorn scorer” refers to a guy who can get inferno hot and put up points in a flash. Poole dropped 19 at Indiana and 15 at Ohio State during his freshman campaign and came off the bench to completely flip the script of the Loyola-Chicago game in San Antonio.
Zavier Simpson is going to enter the year with defensive All-American hype after the way he finished the 2018 season. He’s lightning quick with a killer crossover. His ability to finish at the rim is streaky, but when he’s on, he’s on. The “X”-Factor here is Simpson’s shot. After shooting 71% from the stripe and 26% from three as a freshman. He shot 51% and 28% respectively in 2017-2018. While his ball handling, defense, and comfort in Beilein’s offense make him the team’s most important player, the Markelle Fultz-like shooting block has to fix itself for Zavier to take the next step.
Isaiah Livers started a majority of last season and was a solid, if unspectacular contributor as a freshman. He can do a little bit of everything but isn’t great at any one thing. This is another guy that you’d love to see make a jump in three-point percentage as he shot 36% last year.
Jon Teske and Eli Brooks both got some burn at the end of the year and will be expected to make big gains in contributions in 2018-2019. Teske in particular is very interesting. The 7’0 center really flashed some brilliance at the end of last year’s campaign - peaking with a 14-point performance against Purdue’s stable of centers. He provides the first traditional center for Michigan to work with in quite some time. He has good touch around the rim and a decent mid-range jumper. Combine that with his size and defensive intelligence and he could really garner some notice.
The two big names to watch here are the forwards, Brazdeikis and Johns. Both are top-100 (as is DeJulius) in 247’s Composite rankings with the Lithuanian coming in at 36 and the East Lansing-product at 65. Brazdeikis is everything you want in a crafty European player (though he finished his HS career in Canada). He can shoot, drive, and finishes creatively around the rim. He’s also hyper-aggressive and I think he may very well step into Moe’s mantel at some point with his play and attitude. Johns, meanwhile is somewhat of an enigma. He has every skill you could possibly want, and is deceptively strong when he wants to be. But that’s the kicker. Johns is a brilliant basketball mind who sometimes gets checked out of the moment. If he’s engaged, he could make an immediate impact, but if he isn’t locked in, could get lost in the shuffle.
DeJulius is a lightning bolt and an athletic specimen. He’s someone to watch in a year or two, though he could get minutes this year. My hedging on David is more because of how hard Beilein’s offense is to learn for incoming point guards, transfers or recruits. There’s a massive learning curve here. Colin Castleton, a giant from Daytona, could be used as an extra big and body.
Michigan will have one scholarship slot available if Matthews returns, and two if he doesn’t. Matt Mooney recently cut Michigan from his transfer destinations leaving the transfer market a bit bare for the Wolverines. With or without Matthews, we already have a good idea of what the 2018-2019 team will look like, even if we haven’t pinned down the specific contributors.
Next year’s squad will be one of the most talented teams Michigan has had in some time, but experience is at a premium. Matthews coming back rounds things off nicely allowing Beilein to start five guys that contributed good minutes during B1G and NCAA tournaments in 2018. The bench will be young, regardless. Michigan has been ahead of this small-ball trend for a while now as Glenn Robinson III anchored the power forward role despite playing as a wing. You’re seeing Beilein return heavily to that formula as Livers continues to fill a similar spot.
There will indubitably be growing pains as MAAR and Wagner were the two most reliable offensive weapons last year. Losing Matthews takes away your third, but you have some young guys who have all of the confidence in the world coming up the ranks. I expect Charles to return and for Michigan Basketball to continue building its brand as one of the premier programs in the country.