After the heroic run by the baseball team ended last month, Michigan fans rightly have their eyes set to the upcoming football season, where expectations are seemingly higher than ever. No matter the successes found in other sports, this school will always be centered around football, and there are no complaints about that here.
Basketball made a push into the spotlight over the past decade, but that was orchestrated by John Beilein who has left the university. Gone too are Jordan Poole, Ignas Brazdeikis, and Charles Matthews, three starters from last year’s Sweet 16 squad. The outlook seemed rough for incoming head coach Juwan Howard until last week’s commitment by Franz Wagner.
Though the season is still a few months away, the addition of the younger Wagner solidifies the 2019-20 roster, giving the perfect opportunity to project out the depth chart for the upcoming season.
PG: Zavier Simpson/David DeJulius
SG: Eli Brooks/Adrien Nunez
SF: Franz Wagner/Cole Bajema
PF: Isaiah Livers/Brandon Johns
C: Jon Teske/Colin Castleton
A few caveats are necessary. No one has a great idea of what Howard’s rotation will look like, but most of the players listed above should be playing at multiple spots. Additionally, in today’s world, positions can be fairly fluid anyway. Nonetheless, for the purpose of this exercise, it makes sense to bucket players at what should be their primary role.
Zavier Simpson is one of the few returning starters and is the anchor of the offense. He is not much of a shooter, but his 36 percent assist rate is elite and helped earn him second team All-Big Ten honors last season. He also brings a high level of defense to the position and is the unquestioned leader of the team.
Behind him are a couple options, but David DeJulius would be a decent choice off the bench. He notched over 10 minutes just once in 2019, but he showed ability to get to the rim and take care of the ball. Hopefully his 1-for-15 effort from deep is simply the product of a small sample size.
Shooting Guard/Small Forward
These are admittedly the most challenging positions to project, so grouping them together helps cover some of the uncertainty. Franz Wagner is basically a lock to start at one of the spots; his game may fit more naturally at the 3, but Michigan could use him more at the 2 out of need.
Eli Brooks struggled last year and could also be used as a point guard, but with no other clear starter, it would not be a surprise to see him in the starting lineup, at least early in the season. Cole Bajema could take over after getting some experience, but penciling in two freshman to start right away seems fairly unlikely, especially with a new coaching staff in place. Adrien Nunez did very little last season, but he could see a little playing time, depending on how much Howard wants to use his bench.
The strength of this Michigan roster is with Simpson and the bigs. Isaiah Livers can play the 3 — which would allow Wagner to move over to shooting guard at times — but he likely sees more time at the power forward spot. He turned into the Wolverines’ best three-point shooter at 42.6 percent, and his role will only increase during his junior year.
Brandon Johns showed signs of potential at times last season, but he also endured typical freshman struggles. Part of this could be due to playing as a center, when he really should be used more as a 4. He could play at the same time as Livers to maximize the number of shooting options.
In less than a year and a half, Jon Teske has jumped from relative unknown to roster foundation. Other than his weird penchant for shooting threes, his offensive production is very efficient, thanks to his ability to clean up down low and to essentially never turn the ball over (6.3 percent turnover rate). His defense is immense as well, and he and Simpson will be key pieces for the new regime.
Year two should prove promising for Colin Castleton, who looked good in limited time in 2019. He is still young and maybe a little skinny, but he projects to be a serviceable center once Teske is gone. In the meantime, he is a solid option at backup and should grow under the tutelage of Howard.