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2021-22 Season Preview: What to expect from Michigan wings

Here is what you can expect to see from Eli Brooks and a couple true freshman.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-UCLA vs Michigan Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2021-22 Michigan men’s basketball team kicking off their season in November, Maize n Brew will be previewing what fans can expect from each position group in the coming weeks, with the wing position being a central focus this week.

The Michigan Wolverines’ men’s basketball team will feature a good mix of experience and young talent at the wing position this year, as the ever-so-steady Eli Brooks returns for another season.

Brooks will likely be starting alongside top-ranked freshman Caleb Houstan, with fellow freshmen Kobe Bufkin, Will Tschetter and Isaiah Barnes fighting for minutes as the season goes along.

This is the position that may make or break the Wolverines in the 2021-22 season. Everyone is expecting to see steady production from Hunter Dickinson at the 5 and DeVante’ Jones at the 1, but if Michigan can get some standout performances from its wings, it only elevates the potential of a squad with National Championship aspirations.

Here’s an overview of what Michigan fans can expect from the wing position this upcoming season.

Starter: Eli Brooks, Fifth-year Senior

Michigan’s starting back court will likely feature two fifth-year seniors in Jones and Brooks, as Brooks was the only senior from the 2020-21 squad to take advantage of the NCAA’s one-time eligibility waiver (due to COVID-19) and play another year in college.

Brooks is a lot like having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as a snack after school; neither are flashy, but both are reliable and can pick you up when you’re feeling down.

Sandwich similes aside, Brooks is a great two-way player who can consistently hit the deep ball while being able to defend either guard spot for Michigan. He averaged 9.5 points and 3.1 rebounds last season on 42.6 percent shooting from the field while making nearly 40 percent of his threes. He also had just as many turnovers as steals last season (29).

I could see Brooks averaging double-digit points this season, as there will be games in the Big Ten slate where he will be relied upon to get Michigan a bucket when the shot clock is running low. It shouldn’t shock fans if Brooks leads the team in scoring more than a few times, with Dickinson likely to be the main focal point of most opposing game plans.

Brooks and Jones gives Michigan one of the better defensive back courts in the Big Ten. If the duo can garner a lot of steals and make the game a track meet, it will only make the path the success a lot clearer for the Wolverines.

One cool stat to watch out for with Brooks — as Andy Katz pointed out earlier this week — with Brooks playing a fifth season, he will have a chance to break David Lighty’s record of 157 games played, which he set in his time with the Ohio State Buckeyes from 2006-11. Brooks has appeared in 125 games for the Wolverines.

Likely Starter: Caleb Houstan, Freshman

It’s hard to recount the last time a freshman came to Michigan with such high expectations, as some experts are predicting him to be a top 10 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft this summer.

Houstan, ranked as the No. 10 overall prospect in his class by the 247Sports composite, may take a little bit of time to get used to the speed of college basketball. Despite the hype surrounding him, he’s not in a role where he needs to be relied upon to be a leading scorer, which may help out his development in the long run.

Houstan’s play for Team Canada at the U19 World Cup in Latvia this summer gave fans a glimpse of what to expect from the freshman. He’s a multi-level scorer who can use his length to make plays on defense and his high basketball I.Q. to get open on cuts and anticipate opposing passes.

It should be interesting to see how Houstan fits into the Michigan offense as the year goes along. I’d project him starting out mostly as a catch-and-shoot option to start the season while he earns more and more shots as the year progresses.

We’ll preview Houstan more in-depth next week as part of our preseason coverage, but there’s a lot to like about this young man, who has the ceiling to be Michigan’s best player at some point in his Wolverine tenure.

Likely reserve: Kobe Bufkin, Freshman

While Houstan and big man Moussa Diabate are rightfully getting most of the preseason hype as part of this decorated freshman class, I feel like Bufkin has kind of flown under the radar.

While there’s no denying the talent of the guard who was ranked second in his class in the state of Michigan, Bufkin is unlikely to start this season, with Jones and Brooks likely to start the year ahead of him on the depth chart. He could be a reliable sixth man who can dictate the pace of the game for the second unit.

In a recent interview on the Defend the Block podcast, Bufkin said the freshman class has jelled well and he is going to rely on his ability to see the floor to earn minutes this year

“We’ve jelled well. We connect on all cylinders on and off the court...Working on passing is something a lot of basketball players take for granted. All basketball players have some sort of knack for the game, and mine is just my vision.”

I would expect Bufkin to be one of the first guys off the bench for the Wolverines, fighting for minutes with Zeb Jackson and Frankie Collins in the second unit.

Since I have lived in West Michigan my whole life, the hype around the Grand Rapids native has been building for about half a decade now. He plays the game like a veteran chess player, seeing openings and passes before most players do.

His leaping ability alone will help him make more than a few highlight plays for the Wolverines this season. He jumps like he’s got fresh springs in his knees.

If Bufkin stays at Michigan past this season, he could be one of the 2022-23 squad’s leading scorers. With his reliable shooting and court vision, Michigan fans are going to fall in love with him sooner rather than later.

Other potential options at wing

-I broke down what Michigan fans can expect from both Isaiah Barnes and Will Tschetter earlier this year, as both guys can be long-term contributors for the Wolverines. I don’t expect either of them to play more than 10 minutes a game this year with how loaded the rotation is. They are both redshirt candidates, but can develop to become reliable pieces for the Wolverines.

-If the injury bug bites the Wolverines hard this season, Adrien Nunez could see a similar role that Andrew Dakich saw in the 2015-16 season. Nunez has a large following on social media and will be a huge beneficiary of NIL opportunities for the Wolverines. Earlier this week, he was announced to help promote Roman Main Event tournament that Michigan will fly to Las Vegas for come mid-November.