Key Departures: Franz Wagner (NBA); Mike Smith (Grad); Chaundee Brown (Grad); Isiah Livers (Grad); Austin Davis (Grad)
New In Town: DeVante’ Jones (<–C. Carolina); Caleb Houstan (#9); Moussa Diabate (#16); Kobe Bufkin (#45); Frankie Collins (#46); Isiah Barnes (#112); Will Tschetter (#139)
State of the Program:
Absolutely nobody saw this Michigan team coming a year ago, but after an 18-1 start many had them pegged as the ultimate challenger to the seemingly inevitable Baylor-Gonzaga finale. An injury to Isiah Livers ended up being just enough of a hit to keep them from getting to challenge the Zags in the Final Four, as they lost a heartbreaker in the Elite 8. That run and a Conference Championship for this team and Juwan Howard in his 2nd year at the helm was the biggest surprise of the season. After taking a step in the wrong direction in year 1 he returned the program back to its old ways, playing controlled offense and absolutely smothering D. Coming back to keep the train going is 2nd Team All-American and leading scorer, big man Hunter Dickinson (SO), who was right up there with Suggs/Cunningham as the most productive Freshmen in the country. They also get back starting G Eli Brooks (SR), who has chosen to take his 5th Covid year and return, along with reserves Brandon Johns (SR), Zeb Jackson (SO), and Terrence Williams (SO). Combine all that with the Nation’s top rated recruiting class and it’s obvious they have a legitimate shot to repeat their Conference Championship, and maybe breakthrough to the Final Four.
Despite losing 5 rotation pieces from last year’s group the Wolverines expect to contend at the same level this season, and that is largely due to the absurdly talented group coming to Ann Arbor. We’ll kick it off with Coastal Carolina transfer G DeVante’ Jones (SR). The 6’1” Jones was the Sun Belt POY last year scoring 19.3 ppg. He’s a stocky G that attacks the basket with creativity and strength, and is a menace on D, much in the mold of Zavier Simpson. He should join Brooks in the starting backcourt and together they will provide stability for this young team. Next up, 5-star 6’8” F Caleb Houston (#9). Houston is the perfect new era stretch 4, with a sweet stroke from outside and the ability to attack the basket on blow byes. He’s not the most explosive athlete, but at 6’8” to have his stroke and handles he’ll likely be a lottery pick, and he should come in and start at the 3 or 4 next to Dickinson. Howard will have an interesting decision in terms of playing big or small, and that likely depends on the other 5 star Freshman, 6’10” PF/C Moussa Diabate (#16). Diabate represents mostly the inverse of Houston, as he’s a gifted athlete who affects the game with his shot blocking and above the rim finishing. He is a force in transition and on the offensive glass and should have a big role with the Wolverines this year. I would expect though, due to the lack of a consistent jump shot from Diabate, he will serve mostly as the backup 5 to Dickinson, with Houston at the 4 in order to keep the paint open for Dickinson to go to work. Also figuring to rotate at the 4 is Johns Jr, so a lot of options for Howard. Kobe Bufkin (#45) and Frankie Collins (#46) will join a crowded backcourt looking to compete for playing time. Bufkin’s a 6’4” CG who gives off De’Aaron Fox vibes with his ability to attack downhill and use his elite athleticism to score in a variety of ways. He will get a crack at playing time, and should develop into a star down the road with improvements to his jumper. Collins is a 6’1” PG who fits the mold of a more traditional point, attacking the basket with creativity both to score and facilitate. His jump shot needs some development, but he’s springy and twitchy with the ball, and should battle with Zeb Jackson and Jones for time at the point. There really will be a 4 man battle for the 5th starting spot and reserve backcourt minutes between these 2 and Jackson and Williams, who were top-100 recruits in last year’s class. All 4 are uber talented, but if I had to predict I would expect Terrance Williams to get the nod at the 3 to start, and the other 3 to be fighting for backup minutes. The other 2 freshman Isiah Barnes (#110) and Will Tschetter (#137) likely find themselves on the outside looking in and are sure to redshirt, so come back next year for a breakdown on them.
This gives Howard a solid group of 10 creating massive competition for minutes. Dickinson and Brooks are locked in, but the other 8 will be battling all fall to establish their roles. With all of that fluidity it could take some time for this group to find its footing, but if Howard can get this mass of talent to find some cohesion Michigan becomes one of the most dangerous teams in the country. With a go-to big in Dickinson, and plenty of shooters in Brooks, Jones, and Houston to space the floor, they could develop into a lethal offensive team. On D they’ll look to Jones and Williams step in and fill the toughness void left behind by the departures. As long as these Freshmen live up to the hype I think they have the right mix of experience and top end talent to have the highest ceiling of any Big Ten team, with legitimate Final Four aspirations.