Michigan’s highest rated prospect of the 2014 class was a 6-foot-6 deadeye shooter from Fishers, Indiana. He was considered the best player in his state, a top twenty national player and a consensus five star recruit.
By now, most know Zak Irvin’s ridiculous senior season stat line. He scored 24 points per game while shooting over 50% from the field. He was named Mr. Basketball in Indiana and earned All-American honors.
His highlight videos featured titles like “Zak Irvin is the MOST Dangerous Shooting Guard in the Country!” His fluid motion and ability to create his own shot would continue to fuel the hype.
His arrival on Michigan’s campus couldn’t have been timelier. The Wolverines were losing Tim Hardaway, Jr., a streaky shooter who could turn around a game once he got rolling. His six three-pointers in the Crisler Center against Ohio State were an example of how valuable the junior was. Michigan was losing a man who had scored over a thousand points in his Michigan career, and someone who could pick up the slack if Darius Morris, Stu Douglas, Trey Burke, or Nik Stauskas weren’t hitting shots.
Irvin and Hardaway had the same physique coming out of high school, and Irvin was expected to be Timmy 2.0. However, it was the other heralded freshman, Derrick Walton, Jr., who saw more playing time.
After a decent showing in the exhibition games, Irvin was the third leading scorer in the season opener, including shooting
2-4 from downtown. It seemed like the freshman was on his way to a big season as a key reserve.
The next five games were not as encouraging. Whether it was adjusting to the big stage or simply a shooting slump, Irvin faltered. It’s tough for a player when shots are not falling, and Irvin’s 7 of 29 was not the sort of shooting he was used to. A shooter can’t do anything but shoot his way out of a slump.
Charlotte was the best example. While suffering through a terrible night, going only 2 for 12, Irvin was still getting looks at the basket. Spike Albrecht had enough confidence in the wing to get him the ball with Michigan down 5, and only fifty seconds left in the game. Irvin drilled the three-pointer to allow Michigan back into the game. He didn’t lack for confidence, and helped his team claw back to tie the game.
Michigan would eventually lose, and Irvin was no doubt unhappy with the missed shots, but he showed progress.
All of the experience would result in Irvin busting out of his slump last Tuesday against Coppin State. Irvin would hit early, and go into halftime matching his career high of 10 points. But the party hadn’t started yet, as Irvin would drain four consecutive shots from downtown to put Michigan up by 30. He had finally shown his potential as a shooter, shooting 9 of 13 from the field. His contributions to the box score were not only in points, as he also added 3 assists and 5 rebounds.
Irvin was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week for his breakout performance, continuing the trend of outstanding play from a Michigan freshman. With Nik Stauskas potentially out for Tuesday’s game against Duke, Michigan fans hope that their new three-point threat is here to stay.
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