Michigan Basketball: Guard Play Will Look Different Next Season

Mar 11, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12) celebrates with teammates on the bench in the first half against the Minnesota Golden Gophers during the Big Ten Conference Tournament at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 11, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12) celebrates with teammates on the bench in the first half against the Minnesota Golden Gophers during the Big Ten Conference Tournament at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports /

Michigan basketball is coming off its best season since Nik Stauskas led the Wolverines to the Sweet Sixteen in 2014. Things will look different next season.

Back in those days, Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin, and Mark Donnal were just freshmen, and D.J. Wilson had just recently committed to Michigan basketball.

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The summer of 2017 saw the exodus of those three players after bowing out to Oregon in the Sweet Sixteen.

Irvin and Walton, now graduated, are hoping to continue their basketball careers in the NBA. And after a season of swatting shots and hitting 3-pointers, Wilson will also chase his NBA dreams. The former Michigan big man is projected to go 27th overall to the Nets by Draft Express, which would reunite him with former teammate Caris LeVert. Meanwhile, Mark Donnal will finish out his college career at Clemson.

But enough about ex-Michigan players, because believe it or not, Michigan basketball will field a team next year. And though few are predicting the Wolverines will be a top-25 squad, the team will be sneaky good, much like this past year’s squad.

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Michigan returns three guards, though only one played a major role on the Sweet Sixteen squad. The Wolverines also picked up a top-100 talent in Jordan Poole and and a three-star prospect in Eli Brooks, as well as a graduate transfer in Jaaron Simmons. We break them down here:

Muhammed Ali Abdur-Rahkman 

MAAR, as he is affectionately known, has always been one of Michigan’s best shot creators. With a deceptive handle and the ability to get into the lane, Abdur-Rahkman is a deadly offensive weapon. But Michigan has used him off the ball for most of his career. Walton would drive and kick, and MAAR would come slashing to the cup.

With an inexperienced point guard in Xavier Simpson, look for John Beilein to give MAAR the rock more often. Don’t sleep on the Pennsylvania native. He’s raised his 3-point percentage and assist totals every year he’s been at Michigan.

Xavier Simpson 

When it comes to point guards, Beilein certainly has a type. Like Trey Burke before him, Simpson is Ohio’s Mr. Basketball. And like Walton, Simpson is a 3-and-D, undersized floor general.

Simpson played sparingly last year, and didn’t garner many stats. His shot certainly needs to improve, even given the fact it’s difficult to shoot well with minimal playing time. Where Simpson excels is getting into the lane, showing an incredible finishing ability despite his size. On the other side of the ball, Simpson is a terror with quick hands, and had two games with three steals.

Jordan Poole

I was sold on Poole after seeing this disrespectful pull-up jumper at the beginning of his mixtape. Keep in mind, this is from his sophomore year, so the Wisconsin native will only get better.

Watching his highlights, you see a smooth handle with a change of pace that fools opponents. Poole is also great at keeping his head up, with some highlight-level passes coming off the dribble. He also has a jumper that he can hit from what Scout’s Derek Piper described as NBA range.

The only thing scouts seem to think Poole needs to improve on is his body. In the mixtape, he doesn’t show a lot of athletic explosiveness and ESPN says he needs to add muscle. With Jon Sanderson’s program transforming everyone from Nik Stauskas to Tim Hardaway Jr., this won’t be a huge concern. He’ll be fighting with Ibi Watson (soon to be profiled in the wings preview) for MAAR’s backup minutes.

Eli Brooks 

The less heralded guard recruit is Eli Brooks. He mostly received interest from mod-majors like American and Lehigh. But that’s not to say he doesn’t have big-time talent, as he was recruited by Villanova and Ohio State.

He turned down dream school and recent NCAA champions in the Villanova Wildcats to come to Michigan. Brooks’ mixtape is wildly impressive. The first thing you notice is how fast he is. Whether it’s his shot, his ability to get into the lane, or decision-making, Brooks does it lightning quick.

He also displays a Kyrie Irving-like ability to finish. He twists and turns and fakes to put the ball in the basket from absurd angles.

Jaaron Simmons

Michigan has never been a big factor in the graduate transfer market, preferring to coach players through the system from a young age. When they do seek transfers, it’s been still green layers like Duncan Robinson and Charles Matthews.

Don’t sleep on Simmons, though, who was a force for the Ohio Bobcats last year. His 16 points per game was more than any Michigan player averaged last season. Additionally,  Simmons was the eighth leading assist man in the nation.

The tapes don’t lie, and Ohio Basketball’s Youtube channel had a video dedicated to Simmons titled “The Art of the Assist.” The video below demonstrates that along with his passing chops, he also has a silky shot. Simmons will likely start, and will be able to help mentor Xavier Simpson, much like Derrick Walton before him.

Fred Wright-Jones 

Wright-Jones may not play, but he provides the crucial function of pushing the other guards in practice. In addition, he’s a welcome addition to the Bench Mob for his superb celebrations. See the GIF above for proof.

Next: Top 10 running backs in Michigan history

Stay tuned here for a preview of Michigan’s wings and big men.