The Michigan Wolverines have at least one big man set in stone for the 2020-21 season as Juwan Howard announced this week that Austin Davis would be returning for a fifth year.
Davis had a much larger role to start the 2018-19 season before losing a lot of minutes to then-freshman Colin Castleton. In the new Howard era, Davis slowly re-earned his spot on the roster and has thrived in several different rotations as Castleton has had a sophomore slump of a season.
There are a couple of pros and cons to this decision by Howard and his staff, so let’s start with the positives. First and foremost, Davis will be a veteran leader on the team. Senior players at any position in college basketball are extremely valuable particularly in today’s day and age of one-and-done’s.
“Big Country” will be one of just three remaining players (assuming Isaiah Livers and Eli Brooks stay put) that were involved in the Wolverines’ championship run in 2017-18. That kind of experience simply cannot be replicated on any collegiate roster.
Davis has also shown his reliability in the latter parts of this season. When Jon Teske is in need of a break, Davis has been able to step in and fill the role admirably. What I like the most about Davis is his drive and hustle. He certainly isn’t the most athletic or fastest guy out there, but he does the dirty work on the boards and is so fundamentally sound when he has the ball in the post.
With Howard as his coach he has learned several new post moves and displayed several variations of up-and-unders to add a couple of buckets in the paint. He has also improved defensively, so much in fact that Howard prefers Davis when Teske has struggled on the defensive end (which has happened so many times this season). The coaching staff also isn’t afraid to put both Teske and Davis in the lineup when other teams try to play the Wolverines big (a la the Iowa Hawkeyes). The leadership and fight that he has shown just might help him find a starting role in the lineup early next season.
While he is going to a role player at worst in 2020-21, this move certainly came as a surprise to many. Michigan currently has 14 players on a maximum of 13 scholarship spots on the roster for next year. Possible additions of Josh Christoper and Greg Brown (each 5-star, top-10 players in the country for the 2020 class) would catapult that number to 16 spots and three-too-many players on the roster. Promising Davis a spot seems premature with that kind of talent still on the fence about Michigan.
The big man position is also now very crowded for the Wolverines in the coming years. Davis, Castleton, Brandon Johns Jr., Isaiah Todd, and Hunter Dickinson will all be fighting for time at the four and five positions. It seems there may be too many eggs in that basket for Michigan going forward.
Nevertheless, the experience and hard-working mindset that Davis will bring for next season is going to be valuable to the Michigan basketball program. Yet, part of me wonders if the decision being made this early is going to end up costing the program in the long run. Howard and the Wolverines will have to figure it out, but it might not be the worst problem to have.