Duncan Robinson is a 6’9″ sophomore transfer from Division III Williams College where he was DIII’s Freshman Of The Year and he helped get Williams to the national title game. He elected to transfer in order to test himself at the highest level of the collegiate game and found his way to Michigan in part due to a connection between the two coaching staffs involved. What I’ve heard is that he’s a lights out shooter…he hit 45% of his threes at Williams. What I don’t know is how his game, physical makeup, etc. will translate to the Big Ten level. Michigan seems to be optimistic that he can at least earn a rotation spot next season. Despite his height, he is entirely considered a perimeter player. Can he guard Big Ten wings? Will he be able to adjust to bigger, stronger and faster opponents? It helps that he had all of last season to work out and practice with the Wolverines. I’m expecting him to get every chance to earn a role…I’ve seen enough of Beilein by now to realize what he values and Robinson appears to bring some of those things to the table.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Michigan has a verbal commitment from 6’9″ German forward Moritz Wagner. The descriptions I’ve seen and clips I’ve watched suggest a typical Beilein 4 sort of game…he’s long and lean, with a nice looking jumper and a skill set which is very much oriented toward the perimeter. He’s not a great athlete, nor is he particularly strong. He played mostly at the youth level for his club team in Berlin though he did get a handful of minutes for the senior team. Trying to guess how guys like this translate is a very tough thing. He appears to have talent, enough that NBA people are at least aware of him. He also appears to have some physical issues which might make a major impact unlikely right away, before a year of strength and conditioning work can take hold. Sometimes guys with Mortiz’s profile come over and just get it done. Sometimes they don’t. For example the Mykhailiuk kid who played for Kansas last year was considered a sure thing, an instant impact player. He averaged 11 mpg, 2.8 ppg and couldn’t hit a shot to save his life. I suspect he’ll get better but it goes to show you…that transition is no done deal to be smooth.
There’s also reportedly still a question as to whether Moritz will be eligble. Michigan has been burned on Euros in this area before. The way Beilein was talking the other day, it sounds as if they think they’ll know the deal within the next couple of weeks, so we’ll see how it goes. If he can play, figure that he’s probably good enough to push for a rotation spot and that guys like Chatman and Donnal will have even more reason to play well early on or risk losing a lot of PT.
There are two other guys, both perimeter players, still on the board as 2015 possibilities. The big fish is 6’7″ forward/guard Jaylen Brown out of Georgia. Brown is an elite talent, a consensus top 5 guy in the class. He’s a little different than most of even the high level Michigan wings in recent years in that he won’t have a strength issue..he’s ready to go right now. He has some inconsistency with his shot but he’s not what you’d call a bad shooter, but the primary strength in his game is his combination of strength, athleticism and motor. He would be the first truly elite recruit Beilein has landed, in that he would have beaten out the cream of the crop to land him head to head, not by getting in early and getting an elite talent by virtue of early identification. There is a suggestion out there that Michigan may land him but it seems to me to be wide open at the moment, with any of a number of possible outcomes, with programs like Kentucky and Kansas still in the mix, along with California. If Michigan gets him, I’ll valut them over Wisconsin at a minimum and I think Brown would put them just the smallest shade behind the “big 3″ in my view…they’d still have the same interior questions to answer but their perimeter group would be tremendous.
Michigan is also still in the mix for former VCU commit Kenny Williams. He’s a 6’3” guard who is a great shooter and needs some work developing other parts of his game. He’d likely be able to push for a rotation spot but he’s not close to the impact guy Brown would be. Just a guess, but if Michigan fails with Brown, I suspect they probably add Williams.
OVERALL – This is going to be a better team, no question. If everyone is healthy, their perimeter group is deep and talented even without Brown. If they add him, it’s that much better still. They have size, versatilty, shot makers and some athletes.
The reason I’ve got them here instead of a notch higher is two fold. First, I have them behind Wisconsin for one reason…Bo Ryan doesn’t finish lower than 4th. That’s it. On the merits, on an evaluation of “talent,” I’d have them 4th over Wisconsin. Can’t do it, though, at least not yet. If Brown commits, I might have to but I just know I’ll regret it in the end. The second reason is that for all the depth and offensive talent, this team is still going to be suspect in the two areas where Beilein teams almost always are…rebounding and defense. Unless DJ Wilson is a real game changer or Mortiz Wagner is eligible and plays very differently than I expect him to, I think Michigan will have issues inside. I think they’ve got problems defensively all over the court. LeVert is their best perimeter defender and I struggle to even consider him to be objectively anything much beyond slightly above average.
Now, we’ve seen John Beilein figure out how to overcome middling or even bad defensive teams before. He did it two years ago, when they were godawful on defense. However, it took a historically good and efficient offense in order to do that. Can this group play that way on the offensive end? Maybe they can, but that’s a tall,tall order. My feeling as of right now is that they’ll be very good offensively but not good enough to completely override a suspect defense. This will be a good team, capable of beating anyone on the right night, but I suspect consistency will be just enough of an issue to keep them out of the title race.