UPDATE: This story originally ran back on Jan. 30, 2020. It has been updated in a few spots to reflect the current state of the roster.
The Michigan Wolverines men’s basketball team has struggled on the court since a fun week in the Bahamas back in November, but will continue to scrap and play hard to try and get into the NCAA Tournament this season. Some fans have screamed to the mountaintops that they are not very good, while others simply realize that this is a foundational year under a new coaching staff.
Fans get annoyed with the “wait until next year” routine that often gets thrown around with the football program, but it has never felt more exciting to be a follower of Michigan hoops than with the crop of recruits that Juwan Howard is set to bring in his first full recruiting class on the job.
Next season’s team has the look of a group that will mix experience and youth and be about as deep a group as we have seen in quite some time around these parts. Here’s a quick rundown of what they are working with and a few pieces that may still be on the way.
Also, yes. Michigan is currently one over the scholarship limit with another player or two on the way. We will not speculate who will be gone, so we simply will list how the pecking order looks.
(Note: * = means there has to be attrition for there to be room for them)
Guards: Eli Brooks (Sr.), David DeJulius (Jr.), Zeb Jackson (Fr.), potentially Josh Christopher (Fr.)*
Brooks, DeJulius and Jackson all have combo guard abilities and can handle the point or play off the ball. You should definitely be paying attention to how these two finish the season because they will be incredibly key cogs next year. I’m not sure how Jackson fits in just yet. On most nights, we’ve seen Howard roll with as many as a 9 or 10 guys playing. They’ve got at least 10 guys they can play next year without adding a single recruit the rest of the way.
Christopher is obviously the wild card of this group, but the buzz does seem to point to him being a part of this class. If he does, Michigan has a guy that could potentially be the one that is able to go out and get a bucket for you when you need one.
Forwards: Isaiah Livers (Sr.), Adrien Nunez (Jr.), Franz Wagner (So.), Cole Bajema (So.), Isaiah Todd (Fr.), Terrance Williams (Fr.), Jace Howard (Fr.), potentially Greg Brown (Fr.)*
Welcome to positionless basketball, where there appears to be a logjam at forward but not really because guys can do so many different things (you’ll see why in a bit). Todd’s situation is a bit scary because we are not quite sure if he’s going to sign or not and instead elect to go pro, but that may be where the pursuit of Greg Brown comes in handy. For those wondering where room may come from, there’s always the possibility of a transfer and there is a timeline that exists in the multiverse where Livers decides to go pro. Just something to think about.
Bigs: Austin Davis (RS Sr.) Brandon Johns Jr. (Jr.), Colin Castleton (Jr.), Hunter Dickinson (Fr.)
Dickinson could potentially be the starter here, but Johns has a case as well. Dickinson already has the look of a college big and is a much better version of what Michigan wanted Jon Teske to be this season.
Austin Davis returning makes things a little complicated here. He should provide them with some quality leadership and minutes next season, but it remains to be seen what it means for the scholarship situation and everyone else.
Here is what your projected lineup may look like with the guys that are for sure in the class as of today. For the fun of this exercise, let’s say that Todd signs. Remember that most of these guys can cross over at multiple positions.
PG — David DeJulius/Eli Brooks/Zeb Jackson (any of these guys can play the two)
SG — Franz Wagner/Cole Bajema (both of these guys could play the two or the three, we know Wagner can play the four, as well)
SF — Isaiah Todd/Adrien Nunez/Jace Howard (Todd can slide down and play the four, Nunez can play the two)
PF — Isaiah Livers/Brandon Johns/Terrance Williams (Livers and Williams can play the three, Johns can slide to five)
C — Hunter Dickinson/Austin Davis/Colin Castleton (Castleton has played some four)
And with Christopher (who seems like he may actually pull the trigger on Michigan) in the mix?
PG — DeJulius/Brooks/Jackson
SG — Christopher/Bajema
SF — Wagner/Todd/Nunez/Howard
PF — Livers/Johns/Williams
C — Dickinson/Davis/Castleton
Regardless of what happens with the current team’s postseason chances (editor’s note: no March Madness for anyone. We’re sad), there are guys on the roster now who are going to be big pieces next year having been part of the foundation that Howard is building in year one.
This season, they looked for players who are going to be part of the solution moving forward while still delivering on the standard the program built over the last decade-plus in getting to the NCAA Tournament and potentially making noise.
There is likely going to be some attrition, especially if they are able to land guys like Christopher and Brown. But it also creates a situation where this could be as deep and as talented as any Michigan team we have seen since, well, Howard’s playing days.
So be careful to get too frustrated at what you may see here down the stretch with the on-court performance. Losses are likely to occur because this team lacks talent and playmaking ability. But you should be rooting hard — damn hard — for the guys that you might be down on at the moment. Every individual that will still be here in 2020-21 and beyond that plays well down the stretch this season raises the ceiling of next year’s team.
And that’s a heck of a lot to get fired up about even in a campaign that has trended downward a bit.