Michigan’s basketball season tips off on Friday at 9 p.m. ET at home against Howard. After a blown lead against Notre Dame cost them in the NCAA tournament last season, the Wolverines revamped their defense.
The biggest changes, though, are the four players Michigan lost to transfer and the two assistants that left to become head coaches. New assistants Billy Donlon and Saddi Washington have been given a lot of freedom under head coach John Beilein.
Here are five key things to keep in mind headed into Friday’s opener:
1. Billy Donlon’s defensive changes
Michigan hired Donlan, the former Wright State head coach, this offseason. A lot of what he brings to the table revolves around defense, specifically on the perimeter with the guards.
Last season, Michigan’s defensive efficiency ranked No. 168 in the country. A lot of the Wolverines’ success was hindered because of their defense. If they can make some progress, it will at least give them a shot in the Big Ten.
2. Moe Wagner’s development
Sophomore center Moe Wagner had a lot of raw potential heading into the 2015-16 season. But the German native lacked strength and needed to gain basketball knowledge in his first season playing in America.
Heading into this season, Wagner is up 15 pounds, developed a good jumper and his defensive awareness has seen a rise. Wagner’s charisma on the floor, and overall energy, is much like that of former Michigan center Mitch McGary.
A lot of Michigan’s success will weigh on how well Wagner can play.
3. Shying away from the 3-point shot
Michigan attempted the most three-pointers in the Big Ten, and 26th most in the country, last season. While the beyond-the-arc shot is a big weapon for the Wolverines, forcing them was an issue last season. There were plenty of shots that could have been passed on for an easier shot inside with just an extra pass.
The offense ranked No. 141 in the country in points per game. Less threes and more easy baskets might mean more points in the long-run for Michigan.
4. Cultivating depth
This has to be done both on the bench and within Michigan’s stable of younger players — especially after losing transfers Kam Chatman, Ricky Doyle and Aubrey Dawkins, graduate transfer Spike Albrecht and Caris Levert, who went to the NBA.
Although Michigan’s roster has four freshmen, it also has players who only were used in particular roles or whose focus was on development. Those include Mark Donnal (659 minutes in 34 games with 25 blocks) and Wagner (258 minutes in 30 games), and players who only got a handful of minutes each game. More playing time now could pay dividends in February and March.
Michigan also has to develop its youngsters, particularly its inside height in freshmen Jon Teske (7-foot) and Austin Davis (6-foot-10), and an outside game with guard Xavier Simpson.
5. Build off the experience it has
Michigan returns its entire starting lineup, valuable for a team that made a valiant run through the Big Ten tournament and returned to the NCAA Tournament.
But many regard this year as one that should be a breakthrough for Derrick Walton Jr. (11.6 points, 4.5 assists, 59 steals in 2015-16) and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rakhman (8.6 points, 2.7 rebounds).
Michigan will also return Zak Irvin, who averaged 11.8 points and 4.4 rebounds in 35 games after undergoing back surgery prior to the star of last season.
Landof10.com’s Rachel Lenzi contributed to this report.