After an offseason that has felt like an eternity for college basketball fans, the 2021-22 Michigan Wolverines’ men’s basketball kick off their season this week with an exhibition game against Wayne State before their first regular season game against Buffalo on Wednesday, Nov. 10.
After winning the Big Ten regular season title and making it to the Elite Eight last season, Michigan has a lot of production to replace. But the return of Hunter Dickinson and Eli Brooks combined with all the young talent coming in should keep the Wolverines near the top of the conference.
Here are three bold predictions heading into the season
Kobe Bufkin will lead the team in scoring a few times
As my colleague Kyle Yost covered a few weeks back, Kobe Bufkin is a talented recruit who can make it rain from deep.
As the season goes along, I could see Bufkin becoming a reliable sixth man for this team, and he should be in consideration to make the All-Freshman team.
Once he picks up the speed of Big Ten play, there could be a few games he uses his reliable three-point stroke and quick first step to make defenders pay and pour in the points.
There will be a few games this year Bufkin gets hot and hits more than a few threes off the bench. We shouldn’t be too surprised if the Grand Rapids native leads the Wolverines in scoring a few times this year.
Brandon Johns Jr. will eventually lose his starting spot
Brandon Johns Jr. will be a key part of this team. As I covered in his player profile, he’s a great rebounder who is okay with doing all the dirty work and being a glue guy on this squad.
Despite the flashes Johns Jr. showed in last year’s NCAA Tournament, his tenure with the Wolverines has been less than consistent, as there were about a dozen games last year where he scored less than five points.
Johns Jr. has never really been a big time scorer, and doesn’t necessarily need to be relied upon to be a top bucket getter this season. But combine his inconsistent scoring with young guys Moussa Diabate coming for his starting spot, and I wouldn’t be shocked if we eventually see him come off the bench.
His big game experience will help him start early on in the year, but as Michigan gives the young guys more time, I wouldn’t be shocked if Bufkin, Diabate or even Terrance Williams and his improved three-point shot come for the senior’s starting spot.
Juwan Howard will repeat as Big Ten Coach of the Year, be in National Coach of the Year conversation
This one is probably my least bold on the list, as Howard won Coach of the Year last year after leading the Wolverines to a great season.
We don’t see a whole lot of coaches go back-to-back and win the award in consecutive years. Since the start of the century, only Bo Ryan (2001-02/2002-03), Thad Matta (2005-06/2006-07) and Matt Painter (2009-10/2010-11) have won the award in back-to-back years.
Unless there is a surprise team that wins the Big Ten regular season title, the award is either Howard’s or Painter’s to lose. If Michigan repeats as Big Ten champs this season, Howard should become the first back-to-back award winner in 10 years.
And from a national perspective, guys like Jay Wright and Mark Few will be the likely favorites, but if the Wolverines remain nationally relevant all year, wins a few big games in primetime, and stay toward the top of the Big Ten standings, Howard has a solid case to be in the conversation.