Say what you want about Juwan Howard, but he sure knows how to pick up talented guards in the transfer portal. He acquired a commitment from the most talented transfer in his tenure, as Caleb Love will be playing in Ann Arbor next season.
Maize n Brew spoke with Brandon Anderson, a staff writer and editor at SB Nation’s Tar Heel Blog, to discuss what Michigan fans can expect from Love next season.
Kellen Voss: Caleb Love led UNC in scoring this past season and was the second-leading scorer the previous season. What makes him such a dominant scorer?
Brandon Anderson: Love’s scoring has always thrived when he is attacking the basket, and I think at times he was able to do that this past season. He’s such a fearless player that he just attacks, attacks, attacks, and it’s truly his biggest strength and his biggest flaw all at the same time. It has probably been noticed he isn’t a highly efficient three-point shooter, but it’s not necessarily he is a bad shooter, he is just questionable with his shot selection sometimes. At his best, when he is looking for a good pass, attacking the rim, and shooting from deep in that exact order, he’s extremely hard to stop.
KV: I’m sure most Michigan fans know Love’s name from his run in March Madness, helping UNC to the NCAA title game, including a 30-point game against UCLA and a 28-point game against Duke. What are some of your favorite/most memorable moments from that run?
BA: Being Michigan fans with that other team in Ohio, I’m sure you know what my answer is going to be. Caleb Love’s performance against Duke was one I will never forget. He went 11-of-20 from the field in that one, and it just felt like he was the hungriest I’ve ever seen him. That was honestly most of his career playing Duke, and it’s unfortunate he wasn’t as effective against them this season. I spoke about fearlessness when answering the previous question, and I feel like him not being afraid of big moments is easily one of the best things about him. UNC vs. Duke in the Final Four was likely the biggest non-championship game in school history, and he gave his all that night.
KV: You recently wrote a great piece about Love’s complicated UNC legacy. Why did fans get so frustrated with his play at times?
BA: I feel like the frustration among Carolina fans mainly stemmed from Love being asked to do things he probably shouldn’t have done, but also because when he was asked to do said things, he did them unapologetically and it didn’t always create the best results. To be more specific, I’ve long believed having Love and R.J. Davis on the floor at the same time wasn’t a very good idea. It always felt like both Roy Williams and Hubert Davis refused to say “Alright, RJ you are going to be our point guard, and Caleb I want you at the two spot.” Both players for all intents and purposes were point guards for the Tar Heels, so there was a lot of stepping on each other’s toes all the time.
What made fans more frustrated with Love in this regard is when things got bad, he tried to be the hero in moments when it really shouldn’t have went that way. I lost count of how many times I saw him go to iso, bring the ball up the court and shot an unreasonable amount of three-pointers in a number of games this past season. What I will always say in his defense, however, is the players around him never helped him not feel like he had to do that. During the 2021–22 season, Davis and Brady Manek were excellent at helping spread the floor, so opposing defenses weren’t able to clog the lanes. This year was a completely different story with Manek being gone and Davis hurting his hand in the middle of the season, so Love ended up forcing up questionable shots a lot thanks to everyone paying so much attention to Armando Bacot in the post.
It’s such a bad situation for any player, because while I think some criticism was fair, there was some that wasn’t fair at the same time. If Juwan Howard puts the right pieces around him, I think he will make a lot of fans wish they showed him more grace during his final season at Carolina.
KV: I’ve seen Love’s name pop up on a few NBA sites in scouting reports. Do you think he could thrive in the NBA and if so, what’s a good pro comparison for him?
BA: I think Love’s ceiling is high enough for him to be a good NBA player, and I do think his game caters more to the pros. I know I’m beating a dead horse, but spacing is truly his best friend and I think his game would thrive at the next level. As far as a good comparison goes, it’s hard to say if I’m being honest. I’ve seen him get compared to Monta Ellis, which is probably a fair comparison.
KV: Michigan is in need of scoring and star talent, especially with Dickinson transferring and Bufkin and Howard entering the draft. Is it reasonable for Michigan fans to expect Love to lead the team in scoring and potentially be “the guy” late in games?
BA: I definitely think fans can expect that, but I also think he is at his best with the right supporting cast. I think it’s really important for Michigan to surround him with other shooters, and even if they aren’t having good games, I think the threat of them being able to knock down shots from the perimeter will help Love when it comes to crunch time. There was a number of games where Love just catches fire in the second half, and I really think it’s something that’s become part of his DNA. He will have no trouble at all taking over games when Howard needs him to.
KV: Thanks for doing this. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you would like to add?
BA: One thing that doesn’t get discussed enough is just how good of a person Caleb Love. Whether he’s having a good or bad night on the court, he’s always represented the university with class, and I think he genuinely loved his time at Carolina. One of my favorite things he did after Roy Williams retired is he would look for him in the stands and give him a high five running out of the tunnel, and it was just one of those little moments that really told you who he was as a person.
He is very passionate, hard-working, and a great teammate despite the bizarre storylines that popped up during the 2022-23 season. I’m excited to see him succeed with the Wolverines, and I’m even more excited to see if he destroys Ohio State the way he destroyed Duke while he was in Chapel Hill.