There have been a lot of recent roster additions and subtractions for the Michigan men’s basketball team, and a week into June, the playing rotation is starting to take shape.
We still have about five months until the Wolverines take the court, and a lot can happen between now and then. While options in the transfer portal are dwindling, the Wolverines still have two open scholarship spots to provide players in the portal, high school recruits, or international recruits.
With that said, I thought it would be fun to try and predict what Michigan’s starting lineup would be for the first game. I can’t wait to be hilariously wrong.
I broke this up into groups, with two players I think are guarantees to start, two probable starters and a fifth spot that, at the moment, seems up for grabs.
The guarantees: Dug McDaniel at PG, Olivier Nkamhoua at PF
I think the fanbase would be pretty shocked if McDaniel isn’t starting to kick off his sophomore year. With Hunter Dickinson, Jett Howard and Kobe Bufkin all leaving, McDaniel averaged more points per game (8.6) than any other returnee. His freshman season was far from perfect but I think he showed enough potential in conference play to warrant getting that starting spot back.
We often see young guards make a leap their sophomore season (see: Kobe Bufkin); I want McDaniel to be starting if and when that leap happens. Jaelin Llewellyn is coming back and should be ready once the season starts, but I think McDaniel showed enough to keep the starting spot while Llewellyn mans the second unit as one of the first guys off the bench.
The only other obvious candidate to start in my opinion is Nkamhoua. Looking at Michigan’s options at the 4, he’s clearly the best one on paper. He’s a good finisher around the rim, he’s a decent passer, and I think he should be able to help the Wolverines improve defensively, much like how Moussa Diabate did at the 4 in his lone season at Michigan.
Barring a transfer we’re not expecting, I’m predicting McDaniel and Nkamhoua to not only start, but to be Michigan’s leading scorers in 2023-24.
Probable starters: Tarris Reed Jr. at C, Nimari Burnett at SG/SF
Reed seems to be a likely candidate to start next season. You can’t expect him to be as dominant as Dickinson was, but he showed he can be an excellent rebounder and perform well in the pick-and-roll. He also isn’t afraid to get physical and can guard a wide range of opponents, slowing down both Kris Murray and Trayce Jackson-Davis at times last season, allowing Michigan to switch more on defense and get creative with lineups and matchups.
I think he fits incredibly well next to Nkamhoua, who can play the 5 when Reed is on the bench. He recently said he is staying on campus this summer to focus on getting more athletic, and for his and Michigan’s sake, I hope he practices his free throws so he can stay on the floor late in games.
With how the current roster shakes out, I’d think Burnett is also a likely candidate to start. He hasn’t been officially announced by the school like Nkamhoua or Tray Jackson, but he showed some encouraging flashes at Alabama and is clearly a talented player.
Burnett may get moved to the bench if Michigan adds another guard, but right now he seems likely to start, largely based on a lack of proven 2’s and 3’s on Michigan’s roster.
The fifth spot: Youssef Khayat (SF), Jace Howard (SF), Tray Jackson (SF/PF), George Washington III (SG) player to be named later.
This is really the hardest spot to project. With Jett Howard and Joey Baker departing this offseason, Michigan doesn’t have a true small forward on the roster who has logged meaningful minutes.
Ultimately, if Michigan doesn’t add anyone else in the portal, this spot seems up for grabs to whoever impresses coaches in practices this summer and fall. A few guys that wouldn’t shock me for the fifth starting spot:
- Youssef Khayat didn’t play a lot last season, and looked pretty shaky on both ends when he did play. But with a year of practice under his belt, I would think he’d earn more playing time at the 3.
- Jace Howard will be a senior with the team and remains one of Michigan’s better defenders.
- Tray Jackson seems more like a 4 or small-ball 5, but if Michigan wanted to go really big, they could play him at the 3 next to Nkamhoua and Reed. I don’t see this as likely, but I’d want to see that trio share the court at some point.
- George Washington III, the lone 2023 commit, is a solid, multi-level scorer. Scoring is a main need for Michigan after all the roster turnover, so if he impresses in these coming months, perhaps he starts at the 2 and Burnett starts at the 3.
- Of course, all this changes if Michigan lands another player or two in the portal. A wing like former Creighton forward Arthur Kaluma could take that last starting spot. Michigan should be prioritizing scoring guards and wings who can knock down threes for the two remaining open scholarships.
What do you think will be Michigan’s starting lineup next season? Let us know down in the comments.