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Comparing Juwan Howard and John Beilein’s first four years as Michigan head coach

There seems to be a problem with retaining and developing talent

Michigan v Villanova Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines’ basketball program feels like it is at a breaking point. In the last two years, Juwan Howard has guided the Wolverines to a 37-31 record, and this year’s team missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014-15. Now four seasons into his tenure, many are questioning if this is something Howard can turn around, or if he is going to be on the hot seat heading into the 2024-25 season.

While they came from two completely different starting points, I think it is interesting to compare Howard’s start in Ann Arbor to that of the man who held the role before him, John Beilein.

The two seasons prior to Beilein leaving for the NBA, Michigan won 30 or more games and made the National Championship in 2018. The team Howard inherited was great, but not without its downfalls. Three starters left for the NBA, and they were Michigan’s three leading scorers: Ignas Brazdeikis, Jordan Poole and Charles Matthews.

The team won their first seven games of the 2019-20 season, but then struggled through the middle of Big Ten play. But they were heating up heading into the Big Ten Tournament. That’s when COVID shut down the world, ending the season entirely. Michigan finished 19-12 overall.


That offseason, David DeJulius, Colin Castleton and Cole Bajema all transferred, leaving a big void in the roster. Howard turned to the transfer portal and brought in Mike Smith and Chaundee Brown.

This created a team with a lot of experience and a new 7-foot freshman, Hunter Dickinson. All the pieces seemed to align, as the team won the Big Ten regular season championship. The Wolverines were a No. 1 seed and made the Elite 8 before losing to UCLA. Michigan was two points short of a Final Four appearance in Howard’s second season, and it seemed like prosperous days would be continuing.

In the two seasons following that deep tournament run, Howard has tried to plug players into the roster on a year-by-year basis to fill the holes. Up to this point, he hasn’t recreated that magic he had.


Howard brought in an elite true freshman class, including five-stars Moussa Diabate and Caleb Houstan, and four-stars Frankie Collins and Kobe Bufkin. Point guard DeVante’ Jones transferred in as well.

On paper, you’d think the success from the COVID season would continue. But alas, that just didn’t happen.

Diabate primarily played the 4 and didn’t fit with Dickinson, and Houstan was hot and cold all season. Bufkin didn’t get much run as a true freshman, and Jones wasn’t able to bring as much at the point guard position as Smith did the season prior.

After going 17-14 overall and losing in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan made a surprise run to the Sweet 16. But even with a shocking two wins in the tourney, it felt like the team never gelled and instead of being able to develop guys like Houstan and Diabate, they went right to the NBA Draft.


The early season-ending injury to transfer point guard Jaelin Llewellyn didn’t help as Dug McDaniel was thrust into the starting role. Terrance Williams II’s transition from the bench to starter also didn’t go as planned, and the team suddenly had issues all over. Once again, the unit never fully clicked and the team lost close game after close game. and it eventually cost them a spot in the Big Dance.

Overall, Howard’s record sits at a respectable 79-48. He’s drawn interest from the NBA after winning both the AP and Big Ten Coach of the Year awards, and he could be 3-for-4 in NCAA Tournament appearances. Even this season, Michigan was on the bubble for most of the year and lost plenty of tight games to great opponents. Had two or three of those went differently, we could be looking at this year in a completely different light.

But the same roster issues continue into this offseason. Jett Howard is headed to the NBA, and Bufkin could be as well. The jury is still out on Llewellyn and Joey Baker, so that’s potentially five role players/starters leaving a team that missed the NCAA Tournament.

Things were different in that regard under Beilein; fans always knew who could be coming back. When he took over in 2007, Beilein had Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims as his scorers, and he kept them around through their junior and senior seasons. In the meantime, guys like Zack Novak, Stu Douglass and Darius Morris were able to learn behind them and start the foundational change of the program.

Beilein’s squads were also on the cusp of making the NCAA Tournament, and he grew them into a team you could count on being there. The team made its first appearance in 10 seasons in 2008-09.

A team with a lot of the same players couldn’t get things together the next season. Looking back at some of the results, it’s interesting how close this team was to another postseason berth. They lost eight games by six points or less, including near upsets of top-five teams like Michigan State and Ohio State. Very much like this past season, a couple of those games go differently and the season could have been viewed as a positive.

The biggest difference was the program had younger talent to rely on moving forward. Morris went from a sixth-man to the leading scorer. Novak was still a starter as a junior and Douglass started coming off the bench when the team added Tim Hardaway Jr. Jordan Morgan became a long-term staple in that true freshman class as well, and a year later, Michigan added Trey Burke.

So in the first four seasons, Beilein went 67-67 with two NCAA Tournament appearances and two losing records, but the program was in a much better place because of effective recruiting and developing. Beilein was capable of stacking together a decade of success because he was always forward-thinking about the long-term potential of the roster.

This past season showed Michigan is on a slippery slope. The Wolverines never had the depth capable of winning the conference or beyond. With a bulk of talent being one-and-done players or transfers in their — potentially — final year of eligibility, there are many question marks moving forward. But times were also tough for Beilein early on, so hopefully Howard is able to right the ship like his predecessor.