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Takeaways, roster thoughts from Hunter Dickinson’s return to Michigan

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Michigan has a case for preseason No. 1 next year.

UCLA vs Michigan Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Hunter Dickinson is returning to the Michigan Wolverines for the 2021-22 season, which cements them as a legitimate national title contender ahead of Juwan Howard’s third season as head coach.

There you go! Article complete. Thanks for coming out.

Just kidding. Of course, the above is an abridged version of his decision to withdraw from the 2021 NBA Draft and focus on his return to Ann Arbor. Tuesday’s news is not a surprise, but still garnered a collective sigh of relief from those with a rooting interest in the program.

Dickinson was an All-American player as a true freshman and will turn 21 this fall, which is why it made sense for him to test the NBA Draft waters. The process allows for you to go through workouts and meet with teams to collect feedback. Any player with pro aspirations is wise to declare. However, Dickinson never showed up in a majority of mock drafts and was not invited to the combine. The writing may have always been on the wall about his stock.

Much of the feedback from NBA scouts likely dealt with the need to expand his game as opposed to just being a bully in the post. Dickinson has to improve the use of his right hand and increase his offense from further away from the basket. Unlocking that aspect of his game will go a long way in heightening his draft stock.

We have already seen a bit of a transformation in his physique since the season ended and the work there will continue leading up to the season. The Wolverines might be too talented and too deep for him to be a true centerpiece next year. But he is going to have every opportunity to prove he is the straw that stirs the drink.

Will Dickinson ever be a first-round prospect? Given the positionless, super-athletic nature of today’s NBA, probably not. He has a chance to prove himself as a draftable player with another big season in Ann Arbor, which is all but certain to be his last given his age and pro aspirations.

Holy crap, this team will be deep

If one were to put together a depth chart of sorts for next year, it probably looks something like this:

Lead guard: DeVante’ Jones, Frankie Collins, Zeb Jackson

Shooting guard: Eli Brooks, Kobe Bufkin, Jackson, Isaiah Barnes, Adrien Nunez

Small forward: Caleb Houstan, Terrance Williams, Barnes, Jace Howard

Power forward: Brandon Johns Jr., Moussa Diabate, Williams, Will Tschetter

Center: Hunter Dickinson, Diabate, Johns

Michigan is going to be able to throw a roster out there every night that can go nine players deep. Anything more they get out of that is gravy. There are legitimate scenarios in play where a freshman trio of Collins, Bufkin and Diabate could be better than their upperclassman counterparts by the end of the season.

That sort of depth makes Michigan arguably the deepest team in college basketball with the ability to mix and match combinations that not many programs have. This is the luxury of bringing in a six-man class that ranks No. 1 in the country.

There are questions here that mostly revolve around how ready the freshmen — and by extension, a transfer in Jones — are ready to compete and play at a high level. It might not be perfect or seamless, but Howard has a lot in his arsenal to tinker with.

Points of concern

Two things strike me as concerning now that we know who makes up the roster for 2021-22. The biggest is probably point guard, which is similar to the Mike Smith situation last offseason. He came in with questions about how he would fare against bigger competition and wound up answering them. Jones played in the Sun Belt at Coastal Carolina, so that will continue to be a question mark until games are played.

Collins is uber-athletic, but things are always tough for freshmen point guards and there are questions about his jump shot. It is not as simple as just plugging him in if Jones does not grab ahold of the starting role. Michigan will have to depend on a freshman somewhere if Jones does not fill the void left by Smith. That comes in the form of Collins stepping in or Brooks and Kobe Bufkin being able to handle the ball.

I’m also not crazy about Michigan’s frontcourt depth, especially if someone goes down to injury. Diabate is a five-star prospect but still raw, while Johns has sometimes disappeared in his time in Ann Arbor. Diabate should be a much more versatile backup big man than Austin Davis was, but you knew what you were going to get out of Big Country.

There is enough time in the lead-up to the season and a lot of basketball to be played before the 2022 NCAA Tournament. Would it be ideal to have all of these questions answered before the season opener? Sure, but that also is not realistic.

Michigan has everything it needs to compete for a national title next season on paper. The season will be about the pursuit of another Big Ten championship and then making a deep run through March Madness. There are both short and long-term questions with the roster, but Dickinson’s decision to return puts them in the conversation to hang more banners in Crisler Center.