Michigan Basketball: The unveiling of Zak Irvin

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you Michigan basketball freshman Zak Irvin.

Just in case you needed any more convincing, Zak Irvin showed up in a big way Friday vs. Coppin State. A 24-point outburst to the tune of 6-of-10 from behind the arc solidified the hype surrounding the 5-star freshman: Irvin is the real deal, when he gets the minutes.

Filling in for the injured Nik Stauskas, Irvin was finally able to perform to his lofty expectations, after struggling through the first seven games of the season. The timid freshman had averaged just over 15 minutes per game and was firing a ghastly 19% from downtown. From personal experience as an Atlanta Hawks fan, I was reluctantly beginning to make Josh Smith connections. Luckily, Irvin shook off the cobwebs and lived up to a 5-star recruiting profile that emphasized deadly knockdown shooting ability.

“He’s a shooter. He can shoot it,” said Glenn Robinson III. The Wolverines have pulled together behind Irvin through his rough start, encouraging the freshman to keep hoisting. The team unanimously believes in his capabilities as an outside shooter, as well as a leader on both ends of the court. Irvin has excelled on the defensive end and remained a presence in the paint, consistently pulling down boards, despite minimal minutes behind Stauskas and Robinson III.

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Zak Irvin (isportsweb.com)

But Friday showed us just how dangerous Irvin can be when given the chance to orient himself with sufficient playing time. And the stellar shooting performance and defensive effort clearly rubbed off on the rest of the team, holding Coppin State to 22 points in the 2nd half.

John Beilein expressed his confidence in Irvin with a gracious comparison, “He’s got the ability to get his own shot at times, he’s got great lift and a pretty shot. It was sort of Tim [Hardaway Jr.’s] strength as well, and you can really use that. Just be a little more selective and make sure you’re in rhythm,” Shot selection is something with which many young players struggle, and Beilein acknowledges the significance of remaining confident and excelling in other facets of the game. “Zak can shoot and defend. And really those are his two things. So really our defense picked up a lot.”

But let’s bear one thing in mind: Holding Coppin State to 22 points in the 2nd half at home isn’t that spectacular of an accomplishment. Don’t get me wrong, the defensive effort has been outstanding, and from downtown the Wolverines have been shooting the lights out. But this is the same team that looked miserable in a loss to Charlotte. A true test comes Tuesday against perennial powerhouse Duke in Cameron Indoor.

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A breakout performance on a national scale is a legitimate possibility for Irvin, as the strong Michigan defense looks to shut down fellow freshman standout Jabari Parker and Coach K’s 10th ranked Blue Devils. Like Michigan, Duke is coming into Tuesday’s matchup with two losses. Unlike Michigan, Duke’s two losses have come against 4th ranked Arizona and 5th ranked Kansas.

This is a young Michigan team that struggles on the road, a la Iowa State, but perhaps the national attention will push the Wolverines to a hot shooting start for which they are so famous. Game airs Tuesday at 9:15 on ESPN.

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  • Alex

    I agree that Zak Irvin is a great shooter, but from watching last game, it appears that he has an extremely slow release. Don’t you think this will be detrimental to his game when Michigan plays a more skilled team applying much more pressure on the defensive side?