Five keys for Michigan basketball
1. Stay healthy: It’s been written about over and over, but it’s the most obvious path to success for UM this season — a year after John Beilein’s team finished 16-16 and missed the NCAA Tournament, after losing Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr. for much of the season to foot injuries. Then, in the offseason, UM learned Spike Albrecht needed hip surgery and Zak Irvin needed back surgery. LeVert and Walton are healthy, and Albrecht and Irvin should be full strength by the time the schedule gets really tough.
2. Walton’s world: Junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. never was at full strength last season — at first playing through a toe injury suffered Nov. 25 against Villanova, and eventually being lost for the season with the toe/foot injury. The Wolverines need him to be the Walton of his freshman year, when he more than held his own against upperclassmen, including in one head-to-head battle with Michigan State’s Keith Appling. He averaged more points (10.7) last season, but had better efficiency (.429) as a freshman.
3. Big guys step up: Michigan was the worst rebounding team in the Big Ten last season, averaging about 30 a game. That’s why the Wolverines need one of their centers to break through this year — and the early watch is on sophomore Ricky Doyle and junior Mark Donnal, two 6-foot-9 fellas. Doyle averaged barely three rebounds a year ago and Donnal averaged roughly two. The early edge goes to a beefed-up Doyle, at least early in the season. As the season progresses, all eyes will be on 6-10 German sensation Moritz Wagner.
4. Don’t fret the hiccups: Michigan is a team of the unknown right now. Nobody would be surprised if the Wolverines were on the NCAA Tournament bubble, and nobody would be surprised if they rallied for another Final Four appearance. They have so much youth on the team, and that usually can be a problem — except that Michigan’s youth is so darn experienced thanks to last year’s injuries. John Beilein will use non-conference play to figure out what he’s got, so UM can’t sweat if they suffer an early upset or two.
5. Time to step up: Aubrey Dawkins and Kameron Chatman, a pair of swingmen, arrived on campus more than a year ago as members of the same recruiting class. Chatman was the biggest name in the class, Dawkins was a nice one — but the results contradicted those labels. Amid all the injuries, Dawkins really rose to the occasion, while Chatman didn’t at all live up to expectations. It’s a big year for both, but particularly Chatman, who risks being pushed out of the picture given UM’s increased depth.