When the Michigan basketball team’s roster was in flux last season, Juwan Howard and his staff hit the transfer portal in search of instant-impact additions.
The Wolverines’ staff hit a pair of home runs, landing former Wake Forest wing Chaundee Brown and Columbia graduate transfer Mike Smith. Twenty-three regular season wins, one Big Ten regular season title and an Elite Eight appearance later, Brown and Smith are both off to the 2021 NBA Draft.
Now, with Michigan looking to reload, there’s a chance Howard and his staff turn to the portal once again. Associate head coach Phil Martelli admitted that much last week. The Wolverines are currently at the scholarship limit for next season, but Franz Wagner’s impending NBA Draft decision could free one up. The NCAA Division I Council is expected to pass a one-time immediate eligibility transfer waiver later this month, meaning anyone Howard fishes out of the portal this offseason is likely going to be suiting up for Michigan in October.
Assuming Isaiah Livers turns pro, the only other two seniors awaiting stay-or-go decisions are Eli Brooks and Austin Davis. Neither would count toward the scholarship limit if they return, as they would be accommodated by the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility awarded due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With Wagner widely anticipated to declare for the NBA Draft, here’s who the Wolverines could pursue in the portal:
Tier I: Marcus Carr, Walker Kessler
Consider this the long shot tier. Regardless of Brooks’ decision, Michigan is going to need another ball-dominant guard on next season’s roster. Frankie Collins will need time to work through his freshman learning curve, while Zeb Jackson played only a minimal role this past season.
Enter Minnesota transfer Marcus Carr — arguably the top guard on the market right now. He’s still deciding whether he wants to remain in the NBA Draft or transfer at the NCAA level, but if he opts for the latter, Michigan is an enticing fit. Carr averaged 19.4 points and 4.9 assists as a junior on a talent-deprived, poorly-coached Gophers roster this past season. The Wolverines offer the chance to stay in the Big Ten while surrounding himself with NBA talent in Hunter Dickinson, Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate — all while remaining within a five-hour drive of his hometown Toronto.
The Wolverines play a screen-heavy, NBA-style offense that could suit Carr well for a year before beginning his pro career. Throw in the fact that Michigan has done well with Canadian players in recent years (Nik Stauskas, Iggy Brazdeikis, and soon, Houstan), and the Wolverines seem like they could emerge as a viable contender for Carr.
Kessler, on the other hand, is a player Howard recruited hard out of high school. As a five-star 2020 recruit, he ultimately opted for North Carolina, where he spent one season prior to entering the portal. Kessler averaged 4.4 points and 3.2 rebounds across just 8.8 minutes per game, often showing flashes of potential. His transfer came as one of the more surprising of the offseason, and as a true ‘5,’ Michigan doesn’t necessarily check the boxes of a natural fit. It seems unlikely that the most promising young big man in the transfer portal would take a backup role behind Dickinson, but Howard’s frontcourt coaching could be the main draw. Kessler officially visited Ann Arbor in 2019, so he’s familiar with the campus and basketball facilities. It seems like an unlikely fit on the surface, but the Wolverines should recruit Kessler until he turns them down.
Tier II: Jacob Young, Jalen Pickett, Joel Soriano
If Carr turns Michigan down, Howard may not even have to leave the Big Ten to find the next best option. Rutgers transfer Jacob Young, who averaged 14.1 points and 3.4 assists as a fifth-year senior this past season, makes a lot of sense as a potential fit. Young would add a 6-foot-2 ball-dominant veteran presence to the Wolverines’ 2021-22 roster, which would help bridge the Mike Smith and Frankie Collins eras. He finished second in the conference in steals (1.8) and ranked top 10 in field goal percentage (47.3%) last season, but the Texas native turned the ball over three times per game and averaged 2.1 turnovers the previous year.
Another guard that could be a natural fit in Ann Arbor is Siena transfer Jalen Pickett. The 6-foot-4 two-way star averaged 12.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists as a junior in 2020-21, but an injury limited him to just 14 games. He entered the season as the unanimous MAAC Preseason Player of the Year after scoring the most points in Siena history over the first two years of a career. He has his eyes on the next level, as he declared for the 2019 NBA Draft, so Howard’s NBA pedigree could be a major draw. Similar to Mike Smith’s up-transfer from Columbia, Pickett would be walking into a situation where he can transform his game to suit the dramatic increase in surrounding talent at Michigan.
Pivoting back to the frontcourt, Fordham transfer Joel Soriano could be an attractive option if the Wolverines’ staff is looking toward the future. The 6-foot-11 sophomore averaged 10.4 points and 9.2 rebounds for the Rams, and he’s widely expected to draw high-major interest. Rob Cassidy of Rivals reported last week that Michigan will be a team to watch for Soriano, alongside Pitt and West Virginia. St. John’s and Oklahoma State have also reportedly shown interest. It’s difficult to see Soriano fitting into next year’s frontcourt, as Dickinson, Diabate, Brandon Johns Jr. and Terrance Williams all project to earn rotational minutes, while there remains a chance Davis will be back for a sixth season. But looking ahead to 2022-23, there’s a legitimate chance Williams is the only one left in Ann Arbor out of that bunch. Soriano, having spent a year in the program at that point, would be a great frontcourt plug-and-play option.
Tier III: Adam Miller, Micah Peavy
Illinois transfer Adam Miller is a borderline Tier II candidate, but he ultimately may not be what Michigan is looking for this offseason. Miller surprisingly entered the portal following one season in Champaign, where he averaged 8.3 points on 39% shooting. The former five-star recruit played predominantly off the ball, as star Ayo Dosunmu spent much of the season with the rock in his hands. The Wolverines recruited Miller — Jace Howard’s former AAU teammate at Mac Irvin Fire — hard out of high school, and Howard’s Chicago connections have already paid dividends in other recruitments. But with freshmen Kobe Bufkin and Isaiah Barnes coming in and Brooks potentially coming back for a fifth year, adding a guard who plays off the ball doesn’t make much sense for Michigan’s 2021-22 roster.
Like Soriano, Texas Tech transfer Micah Peavy would be a developmental addition made with an eye toward 2022-23. A former top-50 shooting guard recruit offered by the Wolverines in the 2020 cycle, Peavy started 25 of his 29 games with the Red Raiders, but he averaged just 5.7 points as a freshman. He presents a backcourt size mismatch at 6-foot-7, but he didn’t make a 3-pointer during the 2020-21 season and shot a dismal 47.4% at the free throw line. He would add a nice boost to Michigan’s 2022-23 roster if he develops a reliable jump shot, but until then, he would create spacing troubles in Howard’s screen-heavy offense.