How Michigan Basketball’s Future Backcourt can Achieve Greatness

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ANN ARBOR – Fresh off of an incredible run to the Final Four ultimately leading to a National Championship defeat to the Villanova Wildcats, the Michigan Wolverines’ season has finally come to a close.

After not being ranked in the AP Top 25 to begin the season, expectations were not high for Michigan’s Basketball program. This all changed in early January when the Michigan Wolverines defeated their arch-rival Michigan State Spartans (who were ranked in the top 5 at the time), by ten points, this was the turning point of the season, which led them to the National Championship.

Despite the loss to Villanova, the Wolverines have nothing to be ashamed of as on their way to the title game, collected hardware such as winning the BIG 10 championship, winning the West Region in the NCAA Tournament, but also recording the most wins in school history, finishing the season with a 33-8 record.

After accomplishing all that, the Wolverines still have a very bright future ahead of them as their roster is still very young. With the graduation of Muhammed-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Mo Wagner headed for the NBA, Michigan still brings back 3 of their 5 players from the starting lineup, that is if Charles Matthews elects to stay in school.

Although it may be unlikely that Matthews forgoes his senior season, if he does end up entering his name into the NBA Draft, the Wolverines are still in a positive situation.

The recruiting class for the 2018-2019 season for Michigan is ranked 11th according to 247sports, bringing in the likes of the 2018 Michigan Mr. Basketball finalists Brandon Johns Jr. (4-star) and David DeJulius (4-star) and Canadian standout Ignas Brazdeikis (4-star). Not to mention the experience gained from the underclassmen such as Ibi Watson, Eli Brooks shows that if Matthews were to leave, the Wolverines are still primed for yet another successful season.

However, if the Maize and Blue were to succeed as much as they did this year, a lot of work still needs to be completed. Here is what Wolverine players should be working on during the off-season, primarily focusing on their future Starting Point Guard and Shooting Guard:

Zavier Simpson

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Zavier Simpson in the Final Four / zimbio.com

In the beginning of the season, Head Coach John Beilein had difficulty in deciding who was going to replace Derrick Walton Jr. at the point guard position. At times, it was freshman Eli Brooks who would find time with the starters, but as well as graduate transfer Jaaron Simmons also found time as the starter. It wasn’t until halfway through the year when Zavier Simpson would separate himself as the starter from the crowded back-court.

What separated Simpson from Brooks and Simmons was his elite defending. Throughout the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA tournament, Simpson held elite guards such as Cassius Winston to 30%, Carsen Edwards to 25%, and limited Rob Gray to 8 for 22 for the field. Not to mention that Simpson averaged 1.2 steals throughout the year and had a defensive share rating of 2.2

While Simpson is among the elite on-ball defenders in the entire country, however did have some issues, issues that need to be improved on in the off-season.

The most noticeable problem for Simpson was his free-throw percentage. Simpson shot 51% from the charity stripe and it hurt the team numerous times down the stretch as teams would target Simpson and elect to foul him. Beilein would sometimes have to take Simpson out of the game due to his lackluster percentage and with that happening, its tough to play without your best defender and facilitator during the most important part of the game.

Another aspect of his game that he struggled with was his shooting. Simpson shot 28% from behind the arc, meaning his defenders would force to beat them with his jumpshot, and at times he did make them pay but not enough. In order for Simpson to become the catalyst for the Wolverines, and an elite point guard, he will have to work on all aspects of his shooting, both free-throws and his jumper. If that can be fixed, the Wolverines will be a very dangerous team.

Jordan Poole

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Jordan Poole’s heroics was the focal point of Michigan’s run to the National Championship. /

Heading into his freshman year, Jordan Poole had a lot of expectations from the Michigan staff. The Milwaukee native was the highest rated player in Michigan’s class of 2017, rated in the top 100 according to 247Sports.

Poole lived up to his hype, creating highlight reel moments in his first year wearing the Maize and Blue. Whether it was being the spark in the last-second victory against Maryland, his dunk and stare at the camera on the road against Penn State, or the greatest shot in Michigan Basketball history fell from the hands of Poole, from his buzzer beater in the NCAA Tournament against Houston.

All of these moments gave Wolverine fans a glimpse of the future, a future in which Jordan Poole can achieve greatness. He will forever be in the minds of fans due to his miraculous shot, however given his fiery and talkative personality, Poole should and will be destined to become a superstar.

If Poole wants that to happen, he will need to fine-tune a couple of things in his game:

Consistency needs to be Poole’s main focus heading into the off-season. With the loss of senior Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Poole seems to be the clear favorite to become the starting shooting-guard next season, meaning there will be added responsibility and more touches for the upcoming sophomore.

Finding his role as the spark coming off the bench for coach Beilein, more than often Poole would succeed in helping the team in any way he could. For example, in the close games against Maryland, Penn State, and Ohio State, it was in fact Poole who sparked the team with his performance on the offensive end, finding open looks from the three-point line and making those shots.

The downside of Poole’s freshman were the streaks where he couldn’t find his shot falling through. Following those performances in late February against Ohio State, Maryland, and Penn State in which he found himself with double-digit points on the score-sheet, Poole was unable to reach above 10 points for the rest of the season.

In order for Poole to become successful in his second year, he should look at the growth from a former Wolverine, in Nik Stauskas. It was the year of 2013 when Nik Stauskas entered the fold as a sharpshooter for the Wolverines. However, due to the NBA talent that Michigan possessed at the time such as Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. This meant that it was tough for Stauskas to shine being in the shadows of Hardaway and Burke, but when they left to enter the NBA that’s when it all changed.

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Nik Stauskas was one of the greatest Wolverines in recent memory. / zimbio.com

With an off-season to adjust, Stauskas focused on being more comfortable with the ball in his hands and the adjustments were seen right away into his sophomore season. His point production jumped from 11 points-per-game in his freshman season, to 17 point-per-game the following year. This amazing production from Stauskas led the Wolverines to yet another long run in the NCAA Tournament (losing in the Elite 8 to Kentucky), and earned 2014 Big 10 Player of the Year, and made him a top 10 pick in the NBA Draft.

Jordan Poole is in the exact same spot as Stauskas once was. Playing in the shadows of Mo Wagner and Muhammed-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Poole had difficulty showcasing his full potential. Now that Wagner and Abdur-Rahkman are no longer with the Wolverines, Poole should be primed for a big season, following in the footsteps of the Stauskas. If the Wolverines want to repeat a long run in the month of March (to possibly the National Championship once again), they will need steady production from their fiery star-in-the-making.

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