Though it may not seem probable following Jon Horford's announced departure from the University of Michigan, John Beilein and the Wolverines do still have options in the frontcourt.
Yes, Horford's announcement was unexpected to a Michigan fan base that already was worried it might be losing Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary to the NBA. Big men like Horford with significant size, playing experience, defensive capabilities and nose for the offensive glass don't just appear out of thin air. Horford will be missed, but Michigan has a foundation in place to win without him.
Michigan ended the season with the best adjusted offense in the NCAA according to Ken Pom, but finished No. 109 in adjusted defense. Horford played the ninth most minutes (13.8 mpg) on the Wolverines last season, including McGary who only played eight games this season.
Although there's the assumption of what he could have become if he stayed next season, Horford's impact at the center position for Michigan was standard. Horford was useful for giving the Wolverines extra opportunities on the offensive glass, strong defense and game experience and a high percentage from the floor, all qualities that could have turned very positive in an expanded role.
Here's what Horford's assumed numbers would have been per 40 minutes:
But there were also negatives when it came to Horford's game. He was very injury prone, missing a total of 30 games in his career in Maize and Blue. Down the stretch of games, Horford had the tendency of disappearing or not getting enough opportunities for himself. In nine of his 37 played games this season, Horford didn't score, five of those nine games occurred between February 26th and the Big Ten Tournament championship game against Michigan State.
Horford wasn't always the best option, but with his departure, here's a few ways Michigan can rebound without the 6'10 big man.
1) Utilize Mark Donnal or Max Bielfeldt
It may seem simple since he's the only other player on next year's roster that's taller than 6-foot-9, depending on if McGary leaves or not. Donnal was a redshirt freshman this season and was the primary scout center during Michigan's practice sessions. Like Horford early in his Michigan career, Donnal gained nearly 20 pounds during his freshman season and worked with strength coach John Sanderson when his teammates were napping before games.
The now-240 pounder showed a strong perimeter game and worked well out of the pick-and-pop in practice sessions and could be the prototypical big man Beilein has been looking for since his days at West Virginia with Kevin Pittsnogle.
Bielfeldt, a 6-foot-7, 245 pounder, doesn't seem as much as a fit in the offense due to his lack of size, which makes him more of stretch forward rather than a center. Beilfeldt's stats are limited (he only appeared in 19 games where he averaged 0.8 ppt and 1.1 rpg in 4.7 mpg), which makes it difficult to gauge what his skill set could become.
Bielfeldt's talents seem as though they would be more useful as a replacement to GRIII if he were to leave Ann Arbor. Other than that, he seems like another bench asset for Beilein. But either Donnal or Bielfeldt could potentially work with the limited options Michigan has.
2) Take a risk with Ricky Doyle
Michigan's 29th ranked 2014 recruiting class, holds a few hidden gems that could be useful for Beilein in the 2014-15 season. But the only player that sticks out for the Wolverines to possibly add some minutes in the frontcourt would be Ricky Doyle.
Doyle, a 6-foot-9, 230 pounder from Ft. Myers, Florida is ranked as a four-star recruit by ESPN and a three-star by Scout. He's ranked the No. 9 incoming freshman from the state of Florida and No. 22 at his position, according to ESPN.
Here are his game stats and shooting stats from his high school career via Max Preps:
In his senior season, Doyle was a monster. In 25 games played, Doyle averaged 24.8 ppg, nearly two swats a game and shot 71 percent from the field while grabbing 9.9 rebounds a contest. The only issue you see within the numbers is that he only played nine games in his junior season at Bishop Verot high school, which means there could have been some type of serious injury occurred.
A reason Michigan could use him immediately would be his ability to score and rebound effectively, though he isn't a player that will necessarily stretch the floor to the three point line. In a January 31 contest against Fort Myers, Doyle recorded 30 points and 16 rebounds. That had to have caught Beilein's attention.
3) Hey, there's always those graduate-transfer kind-of guys right?
According to MGoBlog.com, Beilein is open to grabbing transfer players because they helped his program at some of the stops in his coaching career.
"I would be open to transfers," the coach said. "At Canisius and Richmond and West Virginia, transfers were really important to us. If we have openings and there are transfers who fit who we are, we would be open to that."
The only problem with grabbing a transfer-player would be that they would need to play immediately to solve the problem with in the frontcourt, if either of the aforementioned options weren't considered first. Looking at the available players that could come to Michigan and play immediately are listed below:
|M.J. Rhett||Tennessee State||F||6'9"||10.9||9.1||0.8|
|Malik Thomas||Boston University||F||6'7"||5.8||4.0||1.2|
As MGoBlog pointed out, the only player worth mentioning on this list is Tennessee State's M.J. Rhett, but he doesn't appear to have any interest in playing for the Wolverines. Unless Beilein wants to try his luck with his recruiting class or with his current players, he could take a transfer student and wait for him to be prepared, but by then he could have another player in a different recruiting class.
The options for a Michigan team using a guard-oriented, zone offense composed of a lot a dribble handoffs from the high post and weak-side of the arc, with shooters everywhere from 1-3 on the floor, isn't in huge danger. They return solid backcourt players in Spike Albrecht, Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. They have options coming with a four-man recruiting class and two potential options for the frontcourt.
It just comes down to what's best for the Wolverines, and no one will know better than Beilein.