Projecting Michigan basketball's 2018 starting lineup, rotation

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
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Forward Isaiah Livers, left, and guard Jordan Poole will likely open the 2018-19 season in Michigan's starting lineup.

With Wednesday's early entrant withdrawal deadline for the NBA Draft in the past, Michigan coach John Beilein now has all his pieces in place.

The Wolverines will enter the 2018-19 season with three returning starters — point guard Zavier Simpson, wing Charles Matthews and forward Isaiah Livers — two players with starting experience — center Jon Teske and point guard Eli Brooks — and seven total returning members from last season's national runner-up team.

Adding to that mix will be a top-15 recruiting class — Beilein's highest-rated since his 2012 haul that featured four future NBA Draft picks — with forwards Ignas Brazdeikis and Brandon Johns, guards David DeJulius and Adrien Nunez, and big man Colin Castleton. 

And, most importantly, Michigan will still have Beilein, one of the top offensive minds and talent developers in college basketball.

Put it all together and Michigan has the makings to be a preseason top 25 team capable of winning its first Big Ten regular-season title since 2014 and playing deep into March.

Barring a late 2018 addition to fill its last available scholarship, here’s an early projection at how Michigan's starting lineup and rotation could shake out at the beginning of next season:

Projected starting lineup

Zavier Simpson, Jr., PG

Entering last season, the starting point guard spot was a three-way battle among Jaaron Simmons, Simpson and Brooks. Simpson eventually won it, lost it and took it over again early in Big Ten play. While he figures to be the front-runner to assume the role at the start of the season due to his suffocating defense and experience, Simpson could put a stranglehold on it if he's able to become more of an offensive threat. He's fearless at attacking the rim, but he has much room to improve on 3-pointers (28.6 percent) and free throws (51.6 percent). If his flaws persist, it could open the door for Brooks or DeJulius.

Zavier Simpson's lockdown defense is one reason why he'll be Michigan's starting point guard next season.

Jordan Poole, So., G

Poole likely will slide into the two spot left vacant by Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman's departure and will immediately become Michigan's top 3-point shooting threat. With Moritz Wagner (draft), Duncan Robinson (graduation) and Abdur-Rahkman (graduation) all gone, Poole will be the lone Wolverine on the roster who made at least 40 3-pointers last season. However, during the NCAA Tournament he showed he's more than a long-range assassin with his ability to catch defenders leaning and take advantage of open driving lanes. 

Charles Matthews, R-Jr., G/F

Matthews led Michigan in scoring nine times and finished with one less shot attempt (414) than Abdur-Rahkman (415) in his first year as a full-time starter. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Matthews lead both of those categories next season by a wide margin. Like Simpson, he has room to grow as a perimeter and free-throw shooter. But if Matthews is able to cut down on his turnovers and pick up from where he left off in the NCAA Tournament, look out. 

More: Good day: Matthews returns, UM lands top-40 recruit

Isaiah Livers, So., F

Livers took over at the four midway through the year, but his development seemed to hit a snag after he suffered his ankle injury at Northwestern toward the end of the regular season. Still, his defensive versatility and familiarity with the system will give him a leg up over newcomers Johns and Brazdeikis early on. Livers also should see a larger role on offense and although the corner 3-pointer is his bread and butter, he needs to be more aggressive at attacking the rim and getting to the free-throw line.

Jon Teske, Jr., C

Teske's offseason development might be the most intriguing of anyone on the roster. He's not the same type of player as Wagner, who gave Michigan a distinct advantage in most matchups as a five who can pick-and-pop and beat defenders off the dribble. But Teske has proven he can knock down 15-footers and shown in warm-ups he can make 3-pointers. If he's able to extend his range in games, it'll be interesting to see how Michigan deploys him offensively in addition to being an imposing defensive anchor.

Key reserves

Ignas Brazdeikis, Fr., F

Brazdeikis, who tends to play more at the three, figures to be one of the incoming freshmen who will play a healthy helping of minutes right away. His versatility and interchangeability will help considering Matthews, who opted to return instead of stay in the NBA Draft, averaged 30.1 minutes per game last season. Regardless, Beilein will likely find a way to get Brazdeikis on the floor as much as possible.

Brandon Johns, Fr., F

Like Brazdeikis, Johns is likely to come in and play a top six or seven role from the get-go, primarily as a backup to Livers. But Johns eventually earning a starting role isn't completely far-fetched. He could follow a similar path as Livers did, and push for the job near midseason as he continues to learn and grow in Beilein's system. 

Austin Davis, R-So., C

Austin Davis was Michigan's third big man off the bench last season, and could be in line for a larger role next season.

This could be a make-or-break season for Davis. After redshirting as a true freshman, he was the third big man on the totem pole last season and mainly played when games were well decided or in brief stints when Teske and Wagner were both in foul trouble. Entering his third year in the program, Davis should be poised to handle 10 minutes in the backup duty and could play a role similar to former Wolverine Jordan Morgan with a focus on crashing the boards and keeping plays alive. 

Eli Brooks, So., PG

Like Davis, this could be a pivotal season for Brooks, who went from starting 12 straight games early on to being the third-string point guard by the end. He'll get to make his case for the starting role in the offseason and earn playing time in practice during the season, but he will need to significantly improve his stroke from 3-point range (team-worst 24.4 percent). 

David DeJulius, Fr., PG

DeJulius will enter the three-man point guard fray with the most promising offensive skill set. However, it's unlikely he'll threaten for the starting gig right away due to the intricacy of Beilein's system and the fact there's two experienced options ahead of him. But if his offense and all-around play proves to be too good to pass on, Beilein has utilized two-guard lineups at times and DeJulius could see minutes at the two.

The rest

Colin Castleton, Fr., C

Castleton will jockey with Davis for minutes as Teske's backup, however, Davis will have experience and a more mature body on his side. Castleton could face an interesting dilemma if he's unable to surpass Davis before the season starts, but taking a redshirt seems doubtful because he'd provide needed depth and could see a larger role if an injury strikes.

Adrien Nunez, Fr., G

With Ibi Watson gone via transfer, there are minutes at the backup guard up for grabs. While Nunez could carve out a role as a spot-up shooter, he'd have to fight his way into the eight- or nine-man rotation Beilein prefers to use, which seems like a tall task at this point.

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