The Michigan Wolverines men’s basketball season kicks off on Wednesday afternoon with a matinee showing at Crisler Center against Bowling Green. Ahead of the second year under head coach Juwan Howard, a panel of MnB staff members weighed in on what they expect to see this season.
Von Lozon: “My expectation is to see continued development from Franz Wagner. It seems like how he plays will go a long way with how the overall team performs this season. With the coaching staff bringing in vets like Chaundee Brown and Mike Smith, as well as highly regarded freshmen like Zeb Jackson and Hunter Dickinson, the team has a chance to come together to prove some people wrong. I think it’s reasonable to say this team could be a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament and provide some highly competitive games against the better teams in the conference.”
Daniel Dash: “The fact remains that Year 2 of the Juwan Howard era is still a bridge season, especially after his first year at the helm was cut short. But even in one year as a head coach, Howard got a taste of everything — he took Michigan all the way up to No. 4 in the AP Poll, experienced struggles with Isaiah Livers out, suspended his senior captain, dealt with the season getting canceled, and established himself as an elite recruiter.
“While Franz Wagner and Isaiah Livers lead the way for the Wolverines this season, keep an eye on how Howard uses his freshmen. As his first recruiting class, they represent a major step toward his own program. Hunter Dickinson could be a Big Ten starter from day one, while Terrance Williams and Zeb Jackson are safe bets to play a role off the bench.
“Over the first few weeks of the season, it’ll be interesting to see how Michigan’s offense evolves without Zavier Simpson. Last season’s ball-screen heavy system won’t suit this roster nearly as well — Eli Brooks has shown he’s better off the ball, Mike Smith is a proven scoring guard and Zeb Jackson is still yet to play a minute of college basketball. As a result, the Wolverines could opt to run the offense through the wings — Livers and Wagner — and try to get out in transition as much as possible.
“All told, Michigan has the pieces necessary to succeed. But in a conference with seven teams ranked in the top 25, there’s little room for error. The Wolverines have the luxury of a relatively easy stretch to begin Big Ten play, but the going gets a lot tougher down the stretch. That’s when we’ll learn the most about this team. I’d expect Michigan to finish somewhere in the 5th-8th range of the Big Ten standings. That’ll be enough to earn an NCAA Tournament bid and leave fans salivating as they wait for the arrival of next year’s top-ranked recruiting class.”
Chris Castellani: “The expectation is for them to be better than last season. I want to see better shooters, better athletes and more NBA potential. The Big Ten is going to be a gauntlet, and I expect this team to be part of that gauntlet. Anything below 16-17 wins would be a disappointment.”
Stephen Osentoski: “Michigan’s a wildcard this year. With a couple intriguing transfers, some question marks at both PG and C, Michigan could finish just about anywhere in the Big Ten this year and I wouldn’t be surprised. I do expect Franz Wagner to be All-Conference this year, and think Hunter Dickenson is going to be the real deal down low.
“My prediction is that they’re a bit more of a streaky team, but still finish Top 5 overall in the conference and secure a middle seed (5 or 6) in the NCAA Tournament, which I would consider a solid season for the Wolverines.”
Anthony Broome: “This is a deeper team than last year with some really promising young pieces. I like the mix of youth and experience and think that the transfers will fit in nicely and make a splash in Juwan Howard’s second year. I felt that at the end of last season that was a group that had a chance to make the second weekend of the tournament. Unfortunately, everyone’s March was called off due to COVID. Second-weekend expectations feel appropriate again and I think that Franz Wagner is a legitimate contender for Big Ten Player of the Year. I’ll go with 18-7 as the record they finish with this season and a serious push for a conference title.”