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How Michigan seniors can return in 2021-22 — and who might take them up on that offer

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A quick explainer on how eligibility rules are working this offseason.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-UCLA vs Michigan Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines head into the offseason coming off of a Big Ten regular-season championship and trip to the Elite Eight in Juwan Howard’s second year on the job. A foundation has been set for sustainability in Ann Arbor, but the roster might be as fluid as anything heading into 2021-22.

The Wolverines will bring in six signees that are ranked as the No. 1 recruiting class in the country after graduating five scholarship seniors this season. There are also NBA Draft decisions to be made, headlined by sophomore wing Franz Wagner.

Next season looks like one that could feature a bit of a facelift on the roster, but the door is still very much open for some prominent senior leaders from this group to return.

Eligibility was paused for all NCAA athletes in 2020-21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which means any senior on Michigan’s roster can come back next season if they choose to. Not all players will exercise this option, but it is on the table from the NCAA regardless.

Seniors that return to their current team will not count against the scholarship limit next season. However, they would count against the limit for another school if they were to enter the transfer portal.

“Our senior class was amazing,” Howard said Thursday after accepting the awards for The Associated Press men’s coach of the year. “We’re truly going to miss them. I hope they remember that it was a free year, so if they choose they want to come back, the invitation is open.”

The scholarship seniors from this past season were:

  • Eli Brooks, guard
  • Chaundee Brown, guard
  • Austin Davis, center
  • Isaiah Livers, forward
  • Mike Smith, guard

Howard would welcome any of them back, but it seems most likely that any returns might come from the trio of guards. The most experienced guard left on the roster with those three players moving on would be Zeb Jackson, who barely cracked the lineup as a true freshman despite some flashes of promise. It would also mean throwing a pair of first-year players like Frankie Collins and Kobe Bufkin into key roles early on.

Smith and Brooks filled out the starting backcourt this past year, while Brown came off the bench as the sixth man. Getting any one of those players back would fill a major hole in the starting lineup. Two would be gravy. There have been some whispers that Brooks and Brown may be kicking around the idea of a return, but it is still a bit premature for those decisions to be made.

Livers lost the last few games of his season due to a stress fracture in his foot that will now keep him out at least six months due to surgery. He had aspirations of playing professionally as early as last year and it seems as if his career may end at Michigan on a somber note. That is not to say he is not a candidate to return, it just does not feel as likely as others. The same might be said for Austin Davis, who has a sixth year on the table for him if he wanted to return.

Any additions via the transfer portal this offseason would have to see spots open up via a player like Wagner declaring for the draft or transfers from within the program first. There has been very little talk on that front in the days since the season ended.

There is a lot to sort out, but it is not out of the question at least one of the players who had a senior night sendoff at Crisler Center in March returns to the program. Once everyone within the program has a chance to wash the NCAA bubble stench off of them and relax for a bit, these things will being to materialize as Michigan builds for 2021-22.