The Michigan Wolverines capped off the second season of the Juwan Howard era with a regular season Big Ten Championship and trip to the Elite Eight, which is more than most could have asked for at this stage of the program’s development. The sting of how the season ended will take some time to subside and rest is well-earned, but now the Wolverines work on getting back in a position to compete for national championships.
It is natural to look ahead to next year to try and project what type of success the season may hold. There is a lot to figure out before November hits even before factoring in the wild west that is the transfer portal.
Michigan’s 13 scholarships are currently accounted for heading into next season, but roster attrition is the name of the game and any projections right now can be taken with a grain of salt. However, we will attempt to reset the picture and see what they have to work with heading into the offseason.
Backcourt — Zeb Jackson, sophomore, Kobe Bufkin, freshman, Frankie Collins, freshman
It is hard to get a feel for what Michigan’s backcourt could look like next season and coming to conclusions may be premature. Mike Smith and Eli Brooks are outgoing seniors, but could technically opt back in for an extra year.
We will operate under the current projected roster, which leaves Jackson in the mix with Bufkin and Frankie Collins, a pair of true freshmen. Jackson and Bufkin are both athletic, scoring combo guards that could be best suited to play off the ball. Collins will have an opportunity to play a lot early on. There is not a lot of depth here outside of the three of them. Adding another veteran ball-handler might not be the worst idea, whether Smith or Brooks return or Howard dips back into the transfer portal.
Small forward — Caleb Houstan, freshman
Franz Wagner has three seasons of eligibility remaining and could turn down the NBA Draft despite some projecting him as a lottery pick. He would be locked into the starting five if that happened. We will assume he cashes in on his first-round potential for this exercise.
Houstan, a five-star signee and the nation’s No. 8 overall player, has a skill-set that mirrors Isaiah Livers in a lot of ways and is a projected lottery pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. He is a high IQ player for his age and he has all of the traits to be a star. He is likely going to play a prominent role the second he steps on campus.
Power forward — Brandon Johns, senior
Johns’ situation is an interesting one. He played the best basketball of his career as Livers’ replacement in the starting lineup. It started to feel like he and Michigan unlocked the potential that has always been there as a former top-100 recruit. And yet his outlook moving forward seems anything but set.
Johns has earned an extended look from the staff, but there are also players like Houstan, Terrance Williams, Moussa Diabate and Will Tschetter there to fight for minutes. Johns gets and deserves the nod here, but this will be a plot thread to watch in the lead-up to next season.
Center — Hunter Dickinson, sophomore
Dickinson is not showing up in many NBA mock drafts despite an All-American season that sort of came out of nowhere. Such is the life of a throwback center.
Dickinson earned his spot in the starting lineup and never relinquished it to Austin Davis after his injury. There were times where it looked like he hit a bit of a freshman wall, but it was incredible to watch him develop into arguably Michigan’s most important player. Another offseason to develop and work with Jon Sanderson on the physical side could make him even more of a nightmare going into next season.
This looks like another group that has the ability to go 8-9 players deep on a given night. Wagner would add to that if he decides to return, but it does seem more likely than not that he goes pro. It is hard to get a true read on the situation before knowing who is staying or leaving and if Howard will elect to hit the transfer portal again. Any potential seniors that return are things we can tackle and discuss at a later date.
Guard depth, or at least proven depth, sticks out as the biggest question right now. I like what Michigan has with Bufkin, Houstan and Isaiah Barnes as the freshmen coming in. Johns, Williams, Dickinson, and Diabate are all capable of playing the five and everyone but Dickinson should have the ability to slide to the four. Tschetter could be a nice stretch four in time, but it might take some seasoning for him.
Jace Howard and Adrien Nunez are two players we have not mentioned yet given they spent this past season at the end of the bench. It does not seem like a hot take to suggest that is where things will pick up for them when Michigan reconvenes to prep during the offseason.
We have to be careful to not take for granted how difficult it is to make the second weekend of the tournament, let alone push for a Final Four. A strong foundation has been set and there will be a nice mixture of experience and youth on the roster next year. That is as good a place to start from that they could ask for. The potential is there and it is just a matter of how it all comes together.