In the last decade, the standard for the Michigan Wolverines’ men’s basketball program has risen to competing for Big Ten Championships and deep NCAA Tournament runs. This year will prove to be no different, as Michigan is one of the favorites to take it all in New Orleans come April.
Head coach Juwan Howard, in his third year with the program, looks to continue the positive trajectory by bringing home more banners to Crisler. Will the Wolverines repeat as Big Ten champs? Do they have what it takes to make another deep run in the NCAA Tournament this year? Let’s catalogue what we know about the team so far.
Howard has led the Wolverines to one NCAA Tournament bid so far, as his first possible appearance was cut short due to the pandemic. In that first appearance, the Wolverines advanced to the Elite Eight, before falling to the UCLA Bruins and a single basket short of the Final Four. While the tournament run didn’t end with confetti raining down around them, it was still successful and Michigan extended its streak of reaching the Sweet Sixteen to four years. Howard was awarded AP Coach of the Year for the Wolverine’s stellar season. This season, he and the Wolverines certainly have the firepower to make a repeat appearance in the Sweet Sixteen, with a trip to New Orleans certainly in the cards.
Howard’s love for Michigan was evident during his introductory press conference. His time with the Fab Five produced back-to-back appearances in the National Championship, but both turned up short. Twenty-five years later, he still has what it takes to lead the Wolverines to the promised land.
Though Michigan lost two studs in Franz Wagner and Isaiah Livers to the draft, the return of sophomore center Hunter Dickinson, who is on the preseason watchlist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year award, was the first piece to fall into place. After an impressive freshman season of 14.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, he should help command the helm of this year’s team.
Part of what makes this team championship-caliber are it’s talented upperclassmen and grad transfers. Howard has been brilliant recruiting transfers, and this offseason was no different. He was able to convince the Sun Belt Player of the Year DeVante’ Jones to join the roster. Jones’ seniority, accompanied with the return of Eli Brooks, is the perfect guiding force for a talented freshmen class coming in.
Brooks, known to his counterparts on the team as “The Professor,” was a part of Michigan’s 2018 National Championship appearance. His seniority and experiences should help Michigan in its hopes of a title this upcoming season.
Complimenting the experienced upperclassmen is the top recruiting class in the Big Ten and the No. 2 class overall. With game-ready talent, they provide Michigan with skilled depth players at each position. The Wolverines bring in two five-star players in forward/center Moussa Diabate and wing Caleb Houstan, and Houstan is currently on the preseason watchlist for the Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year.
If the Wolverines want to be the best, they need to beat the best. Luckily for them, they will be tested frequently in Big Ten play, which has more teams in the preseason top 25 than any other conference. Last season, the Big Ten sent the most teams to the NCAA Tournament (9). Preseason predictions have Michigan as the favorite to win the Big Ten title, with Purdue and Illinois posing as the biggest challengers.
With last season’s Coach of the Year and four total players on preseason watch lists, this Michigan team is going to be vying for championships this season. At this point, repeating as Big Ten regular season champions seems well within this team’s reach, as does winning the Big Ten Tournament. Confidently predicting the Wolverine’s success in the NCAA Tournament is difficult due to the tournament’s upset-heavy nature. How the team performs in the tournament is up in the air, but continuing the streak of making the Sweet Sixteen is something the Wolverines should accomplish. The limit does not exist for this season, and it should be banner-worthy.