With three of their five starters, reserve Jon Horford and injured center Mitch McGary all having moved on, the Michigan Wolverines have some questions to answer during their summer trip to Italy. Among the issues head coach John Beilein and his staff will look to address are the health of Caris LeVert, the progression of sophomores Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr., and how ready their freshman class is to contribute immediately.
Through one game the Wolverines received positive answers on all fronts, with Irvin leading the way with 27 points in Michigan’s 99-60 win over Perugia Select. Irvin also accounted for 11 rebounds and four assists, and with the departures of both Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III he’ll be asked to create more offense for himself in 2014-15. As a team Michigan shot 62.7% from the field and made 11 of their 21 three-point attempts, scoring 39 first-quarter points to remove any doubt with regards to the pending outcome.
“We came out shooting the ball really well,” Irvin said according to the school release. “That just speaks volumes for our team. We are all looking for each other and playing unselfish basketball.”
LeVert and Walton will also be key factors for the Wolverines, with LeVert making his return after offseason foot surgery. LeVert returned to the court last week, and despite still going through the process of getting back into game shape he finished the exhibition with 11 points, seven rebounds, six assists and five steals. As a sophomore LeVert emerged as one of the Big Ten’s most improved players, using the increased playing time to raise his scoring average by more than ten points per game (12.9 ppg).
Another jump in production for LeVert would go a long way towards helping Michigan account for the perimeter production lost at the end of last season.
As for the freshmen, of the six newcomers (not counting redshirt Mark Donnal) three scored in double figures with Kameron Chatman and Ricky Doyle scoring 12 points and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rakhman accounting for 11. If a couple of those options can step forward for Michigan when the regular season begins, they’ll be in the mix of teams looking to challenge early favorite Wisconsin at the top of the Big Ten standings.
Michigan has four more games to play while on this trip, and by the end of the experience even more will be known about this team that has just three upperclassmen. And while there’s likely to be a few special moments to be had, it will be hard to top freshman Austin Hatch’s appearance on the court Sunday. In two separate plane crashes Hatch lost his parents and siblings, so the mere fact that he’s in a Michigan uniform is something to celebrate.
“It was a special moment,” Beilein said of Hatch’s appearance on the court. “Austin even led us in the fight song after the game was over. It’s something he has worked very hard for. It was a great moment for our team; however, it was truly special for Austin and his grandfather, Jim, who was here in the stands.”