Hunter Dickinson stands out to anyone who has watched the Michigan Wolverines play this season. The 7-foot-1 true freshman has been the anchor of a team that looks like it has a chance to compete for a national championship.
Michigan has found just about every way to win games this season. Some nights it is due to solid defense. Others might be outside shooting. More than a few times, it has been Dickinson’s play in the most. The third might be the most critical, as Dickinson has proven to be a major reason why the program is in the position that it is.
Dickinson — who is averaging 15 points and 7.8 rebounds on the season — was a dominant force to open up the year, converting on a large majority of his shots and being a double-double machine. It became obvious very quickly that the true freshman was going to cause major problems for opponents in the Big Ten if they were unable to adjust.
So, teams began to double-team Dickinson nearly every time he received the ball in the post. What opponents underestimated was the big man’s ability to pass the ball to an open shooter, and Michigan’s overall threat from behind the arc.
The only slip-up of the season was when everything came crumbling down in the loss at Minnesota. Dickinson’s nine points and five rebounds essentially made him a non-factor in the game. The Wolverines shot 6-of-22 from three and allowed 75 points. That was a high for them in conference play to that point. Everything that could have gone wrong did, especially with Eli Brooks out of the line. This was the first of three straight games for Dickinson where he did not surpass 10 points. To make matters worse, he also tallied 12 turnovers in that time frame. It looked like he had maybe hit a bit of a freshman wall.
The three-week shutdown in the athletic department was far from ideal but perhaps came at the right time for freshman phenom. He matched his season-high in rebounds with 15 in the comeback win over Wisconsin and added 11 points and five blocks. Dickinson then dropped 22 points and nine boards on the road against No. 4 Ohio State in one of his best showings of the season.
He has gone above and beyond what was expected of him throughout the season and deserves every accolade that has come his way. He just earned his seventh Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor on Monday, tying a Michigan record set by Trey Burke. With games against Iowa’s Luka Garza and Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn still lying ahead, a few more strong performances against some of the nation’s best would help him make history.
His play already puts him in the conversation with some of the great Michigan freshman to come before him, which includes his head coach Juwan Howard. That legacy will only continue if the Wolverines continue their success into the postseason. There are plenty of other freshmen out there who are competing for the nation’s top newcomer in 2020-21, but he stacks up favorable.
The favorite to win the Freshman of the Year award is Cade Cunningham from Oklahoma State. He is carrying the team on his back every night, scoring 18.7 points per game on an absurd 44.3 percent clip from the floor and 43.7 percent from deep. There was a reason he was the No. 1 recruit in his class and he has all the makings to be the next star in the NBA.
Cunningham’s chances may hinge on if the Cowboys get left out of the NCAA Tournament. Oklahoma State has five top-25 wins, but their next four games are all against top-ten opponents (No. 7 Oklahoma twice, No. 2 Baylor, and No. 10 West Virginia). They will need to win several games here or in the Big 12 Tournament to find their way into the postseason. Cunningham’s chances to take home the hardware might be lesser if they miss out, projected No. 1 overall pick or not.
A few other names to watch out for are Evan Mobley of USC, LSU’s Cameron Thomas and Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs. Mobley, also a center, has better numbers than Dickinson (17.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game). He’s been running hot with 20 or more points in three of his last four games. He might be just behind Cunningham for the nation’s top freshman as of today.
Thomas and the LSU Tigers are another fringe NCAA Tournament team, but the freshman guard is fourth in the country in scoring, averaging 22.8 points per game.
Suggs will have a word in this debate, as well. He plays on the No. 1 team in the country and might be the best all-around player on this list. He is averaging 14.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game on the year while shooting 51.2 percent. Defensively he is also very impressive averaging two steals per game. The issue is the lesser competition in the WCC conference that could drive down his odds.
Dickinson should find himself in the Top-5 here and possibly even further up the list in the last few weeks of the season with strong play. Thursday night will be a major test for Dickinson as he will have his hands full with Garza, arguably the nation’s top player. He will need to perform at his highest level to date over the next few weeks to find his way to the top of a really impressive list of freshman players this season.