Another promising football campaign has caused the start of the Michigan Wolverines basketball season to fly a bit under the radar this fall. This should be surprising for a team that has reached FIVE straight Sweet Sixteens (still crazy to think about that), but a very up-and-down 2021-22 season and a bunch of roster turnover has created a fair share of question marks for Juwan Howard ahead of the new campaign.
November features seven contests for the Wolverines, highlighted by the Legends Classic in Brooklyn against Pittsburgh and one of Arizona or VCU and the Big Ten/ACC Challenge against No. 18 Virginia. Before getting to those games is the season opener on Monday against the Purdue Fort Wayne (no longer IPFW) Mastodons, a Grade A nickname and a...mid-tier basketball team.
Michigan gets a couple warmups before heading out to Brooklyn, but with how inexperienced this team is, every minute is valuable. Purdue Fort Wayne is not the biggest threat, but like with the football team, dominating lower level competition is still of value, especially with bigger challenges lying ahead.
Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons (0-0) vs. No. 22 Michigan Wolverines (0-0)
Date & Time: Monday, Nov. 7, 6:30 p.m.
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
Next man up
There are six Wolverines expected to be consistent contributors this season, with a few more likely to see some minutes as well. Starting from most familiar to least, Hunter Dickinson returns with All-American aspirations in sight. There is plenty of time to talk about what his return brings to the team, but anyone reading this post is already very well acquainted with the dominant big man.
Two players stepping into bigger roles this season, Kobe Bufkin and Terrance Williams, will likely get a ton of minutes at shooting guard and power forward, respectively. Bufkin had a tough freshman year but showed some glimpses of potential, and there is a lot banking on his development. Meanwhile, Williams showed he can be a capable starter, posting a 117 ORtg (per Torvik) as a sophomore. He may never be a superstar, but he fits with Dickinson and raises the floor on this lineup.
The other half of the six are all new to the roster. Jett Howard is a top-50 recruit with high-level high school experience and a relationship to the coaching staff. It is not nepotism that brings him to the lineup, though; his sharpshooting and athleticism are needed on the wing, and his recruiting ranking — and exhibition performance — shows he can make an impact right away.
A pair of transfers will also be a factor this season. Jaelin Llewellyn is the third-straight point guard to be brought into the team and seems to be a great fit for this offense. The Princeton transfer can facilitate the ball and shoot it as well, and he should pair nicely with Dickinson. The other transfer, Joey Baker, is a former Duke four-star who might not start but should add plenty of scoring from behind the arc, which hopefully offsets any defensive challenges.
Mastodons are cool
Purdue Fort Wayne finished tied for first in the Horizon League last season but wound up falling in the conference tournament semifinals. The Mastodons were actually scheduled to play the Wolverines but had to cancel due to Covid and did not really face any other High Majors outside of a 29-point loss to Minnesota. They did earn a CBI bid, but lost in the first round to top-seeded Drake.
Following a strong season, the Mastodons are again expected to fight for the conference crowd. The roster is very experienced, with senior Jarred Godfrey the player to watch. The fifth-year guard was an All-Horizon League first team selection thanks to 15.2 PPG and 3.8 APG last season and is a candidate to repeat those honors.
Purdue Fort Wayne ranks 155th per Kenpom and 147th per Torvik with the offense slotting in a little ahead of the defense, though both units sit between 100 and 200 nationally. The hope is Michigan does not let its inexperience make this one get uncomfortable and instead gets the new-look roster plenty of opportunities to gel together. If not, Eastern Michigan makes the short trip over on Friday.