Welcome to the future. After one of the most exciting and accomplished stretches in program history, Michigan basketball enters into the next era. Gone is John Beilein, as well as Ignas Brazdeikis, Jordan Poole, and Charles Matthews. In their place enter a pair of intriguing freshmen and first-time head coach Juwan Howard, who has the unenviable task of keeping the program moving forward.
There has not been a season in recent memory that has opened with this many question marks, but perhaps some lower expectations could be beneficial for fans and players alike. The Wolverines return a good amount of talent in Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske, and Isaiah Livers, but even without a coaching overhaul, this year this team was going to undergo some significant turnover.
The Wolverines are not conference favorites, but the talent remaining on the roster is enough to keep the momentum rolling. It is imperative for the cornerstones of the roster can help facilitate the growth of all of the youth. The schedule has some challenges early on, so hopefully Michigan can work its way through the bumps without too many damages.
Advanced metrics may not completely grasp the adjustments this team will have to make, as both Kenpom (No. 21) and Bart Torvik (No. 29) place Michigan right in the middle of the fray. Meanwhile, visiting Appalachian State — who needs to permanently get off the schedule of any varsity sport — sits on the wrong side of 200 after a forgettable 2018-19 campaign. This is a game the home team should win, but there is much more to look for than just the final score.
What to watch
The rotation: No one really knows what Howard’s strategy will be this season, and the ample amount of inexperience on the roster only makes his decisions harder. The exhibition against Saginaw Valley State saw Eli Brooks and Adrien Nunez enter the starting lineup, but that may be the coaches just trying to figure out what combination works best. Brandon Johns and Colin Castleton should also see some solid minutes as bigs, and David DeJulius will compete for a guard spot. Freshman Cole Bajema only played five minutes against the Cardinals and could potentially be looking at a redshirt. If Michigan can build a lead, look for some mix-and-matching throughout the second half.
Style of play: Early reports see the Wolverines being more aggressive on both sides of the ball, shooting earlier in the clock and pressing on defense. The exhibition put a little bit of this on display, and expect a coach coming from the NBA to implement a faster pace. Beilein was very methodical on offense and valued protecting the ball; Howard appears to be willing to open the team up. Given the team’s youth, this seems like the correct move.
Starting on the right foot: Appalachian State represents a traditional opening opponent and should not pose a huge challenge. The most important thing for Michigan is proving that this team can pick up somewhere close to where its predecessors left it. Simpson and Teske are the leaders who must set the tone, especially with so many younger players on the roster. Too many times last season the Wolverines struggled to consistently put forth good efforts, even when they were winning. The goal for Game No. 1 should be to inspire some confidence and show that this team is capable of making some waves later on.
Simpson continues to be the alpha, and multiple sophomores look good in a win that is never in doubt. 78-60 Michigan.
Teams: Appalachian State Mountaineers at Michigan Wolverines
Date: Tuesday, November 5, 2019
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Television/Streaming: Big Ten Network/Fox Sports Go