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2021-22 Season Preview: What to expect from Michigan basketball’s big men

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The 5’s are going to continue to play a big role.

Michigan v LSU Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

With the 2021-22 Michigan men’s basketball team kicking off their season in November, Maize n Brew have been previewing what fans can expect from each position group. This week, we finish up the series with a look at what Michigan fans can expect from the frontcourt.

With the 2021-22 DI men’s college basketball season kicking off in a few short weeks, there’s a lot to be excited about for fans of the Michigan Wolverines.

We’ve already previewed what fans can expect from Michigan point guards and wings, and we will continue to roll out player profiles, with a few players like DeVante’ Jones and Eli Brooks already showcased as guys who are likely to have a big impact on this year’s squad.

Today, we will focus on the Michigan frontcourt, as the 4 and 5 position group may be the strongest for the Wolverines.

Here’s what Michigan fans can expect from their big men this season.

Likely Starter: Hunter Dickinson, Sophomore

Most college basketball writers and fans watching Hunter Dickinson last season knew he was going to be good, but few anticipated he would be this good this fast.

After coming off the bench to start the season, Dickinson turned heads with a few great performances, ultimately earning a starting spot and finishing the season as Michigan’s leading scorer, being named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team and the All-Big Ten First Team while also being honored as the Big Ten Conference Freshman of the Year.

After testing the waters in the NBA Draft process, Dickinson returns to Michigan with even higher expectations for this season, saying at Big Ten Media Days he has a few things he wants to improve. He mentioned he put in a lot of work this offseason to improve his agility.

“This summer was definitely pretty hectic for me. It was a lot of three a days, two a days, four a days. I did a lot of great work this summer and I’m really proud of the work I put in. ... I feel like I’ve done a lot of work over the summer to put me in a position to be able to move a lot better on the floor and stuff like that. ... Just show that you can guard in the pick and roll, on switches especially.”

The scouting report is out on Dickinson, as with a year of college tape available on the sophomore big, teams will likely be sending double teams and forcing him to his right hand in the post. Dickinson made it a point to improve on how he reacts to that defense, and also mentioned fans can expect to see him shoot a few more three-pointers this season, citing NBA teams wanted him to work on that.

Dickinson averaged 14.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game last season, and as he gets used to the increased defensive attention he gets, I expect each of those number to increase slightly. I’d love to see how he not only builds upon his strong freshman season, but also want to see him take a leadership role on a team with National Championship aspirations.

If Dickinson can showcase improved stamina, not panic when the defense doubles and increase his range from deep, he will not only repeat as Michigan’s best player, but he will rightfully be in the National Player of the Year conversation.

Likely starter: Brandon Johns Jr., Senior

Jon Rothstein recently named Johns Jr. as a breakout player in the 2020-21 season, citing him averaging 10 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in the absence of Isaiah Livers in the NCAA Tournament as a nice spring board towards success.

While I’m not sure Johns Jr. will be able to sustain those numbers with Dickinson, Jones and Brooks taking a ton of shots, every team with postseason aspirations needs a guy willing to put his head down and do the dirty work, and the East Lansing native may very well be that.

Johns Jr. said recently on the Defend The Block podcast he hopes to be a tenacious rebounder who is willing to be a role player to help the team succeed.

“I really want to be a really tenacious rebounder out there, and just bring energy ... always bring energy...By the end of the year, I really just want to be able to say that I brought any and everything that I possibly could out on that hardwood floor to help my teammates win, to help my coaches win, and to get that national championship,” he said. “And it’s going to happen. It’s got to happen.”

Michigan fans should hope he can continue upon his decent stretch towards the end of the year and in the tournament. If he can, he is a fixture of the Michigan rotation who may be able to lead the team in scoring a few times. If not, there’s enough talent below him in the depth chart for his minutes to drop to 5-10 a game.

Likely reserve: Terrance Williams, Sophomore

Williams may very well be the biggest reason why it’s hard to project what Johns Jr. will do this season. If the DMV native continue to improve, he could rob Johns Jr. of a lot of minutes at the four.

Williams didn’t get a lot of playing time last year with Dickinson, Johns Jr. and Austin Davis ahead of him on the depth chart, but he looked impressive in the 7.5 minutes per game he did receive.

While he’s only 6-foot-7, Williams proved he can bang in the post and hold his own on defense. He showcased great chemistry with Dickinson, his former AAU teammate. Albeit a small sample size, but based on his vision in the high post and unselfishness on offense, he may be Michigan’s best passer in the frontcourt.

With Davis graduated, Williams will likely be one of the first bigs off the bench. I’d love to see his role continue to expand and see what he can do when he has the chance to play for longer than the 3-4 minute bursts he got last year.

Likely reserve: Moussa Diabate, Freshman

Once Diabate gets up to speed with Big Ten defenses, he has the potential to be Michigan’s best interior defender this season, thanks in part to his quick feet and 7-foot-3 wingspan.

Diabate is still fairly raw offensively, but as I covered this summer, he has the potential to be a great high-low fit with Dickinson thanks to his offensive flexibility and ability to make plays from midrange.

Similar to Dickinson last year, Diabate will benefit from likely not being the focus of most scouting reports. I’m sure the 16th-ranked recruit in the 2021 class is not used to being slept on in the game plans of opposing teams.

With Dickinson likely to be double teamed in the post often, if Diabate can capitalize on midrange opportunities and learn how to cut off his fellow big man, he could have more than a few double-digit scoring performances this season.

Minutes may be scarce thanks to the three men listed above, but if Diabate can capitalize on the minutes he has with stellar defense and knock down open shots, he may earn more minutes as both a 4 and as a backup 5.