The Michigan Wolverines basketball program introduced Juwan Howard as the 17th head coach in program history on Thursday. He has bigfoot-sized shoes to fill after John Beilein decided to head to the NBA and coach the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Beilein’s run was historic. He completely changed the program and the culture of the basketball program. He turned a struggling program into one of the elite schools in the country that made the NCAA Tournament in eight of the last nine years. Two of those seasons the Wolverines made National Championship appearances. Michigan was also a perennial contender for the Big Ten regular season and tournament championships.
Are those same expectations there for Howard? Over time the answer is a resounding yes. But it is important to remember this is the first time Howard has ever been a head coach and there will be some growing pains in the process.
The Wolverines will also be without three of their key starters from last season: Jordan Poole, Ignas Brazdeikis and Charles Matthews. Howard will be responsible for putting together a roster of players who mostly have never shared time on the court together in real game play.
With all of that on his plate, here are three things I expect from Howard and the Michigan basketball program in the 2019-20 season.
1. Retain Jalen Wilson
This may be quite a challenging task for Howard. Jalen Wilson was the Wolverines’ prize recruit in the 2019 class. Wilson, a 4-star prospect and a top 50 player in his class, de-committed from Michigan after Beilein announced he was leaving for the NBA.
The No. 1 thing everyone said Howard was going to be capable of is recruiting, and he is going to have the opportunity to prove that right off the bat.
Wilson signed his letter of intent, but requested the university revoke it because of Beilein’s absence. Since then, Wilson has visited Kansas and will also visit North Carolina.
Wilson on this roster would be a difference maker. He would be a clear-cut starter at the small forward or shooting guard position and would fill the need for a scorer right away. He is one of the best shooters in this class, he’s athletic and he is an ideal size that would make him capable of playing a role on a collegiate roster this season.
Wilson was already committed once, and even tweeted this out after Michigan announced they were hiring Howard:
— jwill (@thejalenwilson) May 22, 2019
According to Sam Webb of The Michigan Insider, Howard has plans to meet with Wilson. Howard must execute to prove he is the recruiter his peers and supporters make him out to be. Retaining Wilson would be a slam dunk.
2. Make the NCAA Tournament
The simple fact is despite losing three starters to the NBA Draft, this team is deep enough to go dancing by the end of the season. Reason being, Zavier Simpson and his leadership. I fully believe Simpson is going to be a huge help to Howard in his first year of coaching. Last season, Beilein alluded to the fact that Simpson’s basketball IQ was off the charts. There were times when Beilein would draw a play up in practice and midway through, Simpson would stop him and tell him he knew a better way to execute the play, and Beilein admitted that Simpson would be right. If Howard truly does consult his players like he said he would in his introductory press conference, Simpson will be a great asset for him.
Howard will also have two other veteran players to rely on: Jon Teske and Isaiah Livers. Livers was a starter his freshman year and was one of the best sixth men in the Big Ten last season. Both are versatile defenders and have the capability to do some work on the offensive end as well. Teske showed flashes of excellence from behind the arc last season and Livers led the team in 3-point percentage. These two will help lay the foundation of the program next year.
Howard is also inheriting the top 12 ranked 2018 class where four of the five members are still on the Michigan roster. Brandon Johns, David DeJulius, Colin Castleton and Adrien Nunez each will have their opportunity to impress their new coach and show they deserve more minutes.
DeJulius and Johns could both be candidates to fill out the starting lineup. Meanwhile, Castleton showed a lot at the end of last season and even earned some respect from fellow classmate Ignas Brazdeikis when Iggy headed to the draft:
I’m calling it right now, gonna be the most improved player in the BIG 10 this year. Happy birthday brother 〽️ @Castleton_ https://t.co/qHs4GhkGzY— Ignas Brazdeikis (@_iggy_braz) May 25, 2019
The story here is there is talent on this roster. Howard is not taking over the same program that Beilein did back in 2007. The 2019 team should be talented enough to make the NCAA Tournament. Anything less would be a severe disappointment.
3. Beat Michigan State once
The two times Michigan and Michigan State clash in a season have turned into the biggest games on the schedule.
Last year was obviously a disappointment as the Wolverines fell to the Spartans three times — twice in the regular season and once in the Big Ten Championship game.
Some may argue the Spartans have only gotten better since last season. The Big Ten Player of the Year, Cassius Winston, has decided to stay in East Lansing, and they have a young core of very talented players that he will lead. On top of that, they earned the commitment of one of the most talented transfer players on the market, Joey Hauser. The Spartans could come into the season as the No. 1 team in the country.
With all the hype surrounding the other team in the state of Michigan and the intense rivalry that grew under the reigns of Beilein, Howard must win one of their two match ups this season. It would be a great punch in the mouth to that program and a fan base that severely doubts the hiring of Howard.
An early win for Howard and Michigan would add a great spark to his career and surely help the team’s chances of making the Big Dance in March of 2020.
What say you? Let us know your expectations for Howard in the comment section below.