After its first two Big Ten conference games (one home and one away) the Michigan basketball team is undefeated. As it is for most major college basketball teams, the beginning of your conference schedule is where the true test of your team lies. It is no different for the 2015-2016 Michigan Wolverines under the expert direction of long time college coach and the highly respected John Beilein.
After their 13 preseason games the Wolverines put together a 10-3 record. However with wins over the likes of Elon, Houston Baptist, Youngstown State and Bryant University the true test was the beginning of the conference schedule which began on December 30th.
The team started the conference schedule with an impressive road victory over Illinois and followed that up with a home win over Penn State. The upcoming schedule features home games against in state rival Michigan State as well as Indiana and Purdue. Highlighting their road contests are games at Ohio State and Maryland as well as a game against Penn State at Madison Square Garden in New York on January 30th.
This year’s team is led by senior Caris Levert and juniors Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin. Overall expectations are mixed for this team which has Levert as the only one senior on the roster after the unexpected “retirement” of Spike Albrecht due to a genetic hip condition. Albrecht announced he was leaving the program December 11th.
In the win over Illinois however, Levert stepped on the ankle of an Illinois player and injured his left leg. The injury kept him out of the Penn State game and provided some uncertainty of his availability in the short term. Levert’s season was cut short last season due to a left foot injury.
Statistically, Levert leads the team in scoring (17.6), rebounding (5.4) and assists (73 total) and losing him for any length of time would be a concern. Levert did not play after January of last season after a foot injury derailed the remainder of his season. Had the injury not occurred it was possible that Levert may have declared for the NBA draft.
Robinson is an interesting addition since the sophomore started his career at Division III Williams College. So far Robinson has shown excellent shooting and passing skills and currently ranks second on the team in scoring with average of 11.9 per game.
Walton started out extremely productive last season only to have a lingering toe injury end his season in late January. Before the injury he was averaging about 14 points per game and was playing at a fast pace. The toe injury robbed him of the speed and pace that he likes to play. He toughed out 14 more games before calling it a season. An ankle injury this season has caused Walton to miss a couple of games but he has since returned to the lineup and is averaging 10 points and 5 rebounds per game.
Irvin is coming off of off season back surgery which caused him to miss the very beginning of this season. He is now back playing and looking better each game. Michigan is counting on Irvin to provide some offense as he rounds back into form.
Other contributors to the rotation for the 2015-16 season include guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, guard/forwards Aubrey Dawkins and Kameron Chatman as well as forwards Ricky Doyle and Mark Donnal. Donnal has played especially well as of late and has shown probably the most improvement of any player so far this season.
Beilein as Head Coach
Michigan basketball has seen resurgence in recent years and Beilein has been a key reason why. The veteran coach has compiled a career coaching record of 717-428 (.626) with winning records in 31-of-37 seasons placing him in the top 10 in victories among Division I head coaches. Beilein led U-M to its first outright Big Ten championship in 28 years during the 2013-14 season posting a 28-9 overall record, 15-3 in league play.
The 2014-15 Wolverines finished the season at 15-16 and did not qualify for the NCAA tournament. However, the talent level in Michigan has taken a hit in the last few years with Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Mitch McGary heading to the NBA. From a recruiting perspective Beilein was able to bring in one significant freshman recruit (Moritz Wagner – Germany) and also added a redshirt sophomore (Duncan Robinson).
Beilein has a long history of being one of the best offensive minds in the game of college basketball. Along with his strong winning background and with a team that will buy into his system and work hard, Michigan cannot be counted out as the Big Ten season continues.
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