The 2021-22 Michigan Wolverines’ men’s basketball team has championship aspirations, and they have a good enough mix of key returning players and talented incoming recruits to be in the national title conversation.
In order to make their postseason dreams come true, the Wolverines have to beat a lot of talented players on their regular season schedule.
Here are the five best players — four of which were named to the preseason All-Big Ten team — the Wolverines will face this season. The date(s) Michigan faces these guys will be next to the player’s name in italics.
Armando Bacot, UNC (Wednesday, Dec. 1., at 9:15 p.m. in Chapel Hill)
Bacot will likely be the top player for the Tar Heels this season, as the forward was named to the preseason-All ACC team after averaging 12.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game 63.1 percent shooting from the field.
Bacot only shot one three-pointer last season, but that should change this year in Hubert Davis’ new look offense.
It appears Bacot put on a bit of muscle in the offseason as well, so it should be interesting to see how Brandon Johns and Hunter Dickinson handle him next month.
Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana (Sunday, Jan 23, either Noon or 3:30 p.m. in Bloomington)
Jackson-Davis likely would have been a first round draft pick earlier this summer, but he chose to stay at Indiana due to Mike Woodson’s charisma and the expectation that he will be main focal point on offense this year.
Jackson-Davis will be a tough cover for Michigan’s forwards in late January. If he can expand his range from deep, he may insert himself into the National Player of the Year conversation.
E.J. Liddell, Ohio State (Saturday, Feb. 12 at 6 p.m. in Ann Arbor and Sunday, March 6 at 12:30 p.m. in Columbus)
Both the matchups with the Buckeyes will be huge for the Wolverines, and Liddell will be the biggest obstacle’s in Michigan’s way for a win.
With Duane Washington now on the Indiana Pacers, Liddell is expected to see a heavier workload this season. In his sophomore year, the forward averaged 16.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.1 blocks per game on 51.8 percent shooting on twos and 33.8 percent from beyond the arc.
Liddell is the biggest reason why OSU has a chance to grab the Big Ten regular season title, as the March 6 game to end the regular season may have massive conference title implications.
Trevion Williams, Purdue (Tuesday, Jan. 11 at 9 p.m. in Ann Arbor and Saturday, Feb. 5 at 2:30 p.m. in West Lafayette)
Williams is expected to be one of the best post players in the country thanks to his physicality and ability to dominate in the paint, and he’s nationally recognized being recently named one of five finalists for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award given to the nation’s top center.
Williams earned this honor after averaging 15.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists last season. The big man is only 33 points shy of 1,000 in his career.
The Boilermakers have a chance to be great with Williams, who ranked in the top five in offensive rebound rate and took 36.7 percent of Purdue’s shots when on the floor, the highest offensive rate in college basketball last season (per KenPom).
The likely recipient of the Big Ten Player of the Year award should be either Dickinson, Williams or the last big man on this list.
Kofi Cockburn, Illinois (Friday, Jan. 14, at 8 p.m. in Champaign and Sunday, Feb, 27 at 2 p.m. in Ann Arbor).
As annoying as Illinois’ fans are, they are reasonable to have high expectations for this season thanks to Cockburn returning.
The big man averaged 17.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game a season ago, and those numbers are expected to go up with a higher usage rate now that Ayo Dosunmu is on the Chicago Bulls.
Cockburn is going to be an NBA player thanks to his two-way talents. If Dickinson, Johns and Moussa Diabate can manage to contain him, they could sweep the Illini and help themselves immensely in the conference standings.