2021-22 ITH Season Preview: Michigan Wolverines

  • 10/20/2021 8:35 am in

With the start of college basketball season coming in early November, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next month. Today, our team previews conclude with a look at Michigan.

Previously: Minnesota, Penn State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Iowa, RutgersMichigan StateMarylandOhio State, Illinois, Purdue

In his second season as Michigan’s coach, Juwan Howard made it look easy to win in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines finished 23-5 overall, won the Big Ten regular-season title and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Michigan reached the Elite Eight where it fell just short to UCLA in a 51-49 loss. Four significant pieces from last season departed in the offseason in Franz Wagner, Isaiah Livers, Mike Smith and Chaundee Brown. Despite those losses, Michigan enters Howard’s third season as the favorite to win the league.

Sophomore Hunter Dickinson returns after an exceptional first season in the Big Ten. The 7-footer averaged team-highs of 14.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game and shot 60.7 percent on 2s. Dickinson ranked in the top six in the league in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages and was fifth in the league in block percentage.

He’ll likely be joined in the frontcourt by senior Brandon Johns Jr., who averaged 4.9 points and 2.3 rebounds last season. Johns can make the occasional 3-pointer, finishes well (56.9 percent on 2s) and is a very good free throw shooter at 79.5 percent.

Sophomore Terrence Williams II and five-star freshman Moussa Diabate should both figure into the frontcourt rotation off the bench. The 6-foot-7 Williams played sparingly last season, but the former four-star recruit has reportedly slimmed down over the summer. Diabate was the No. 16 player in the 247Composite for the 2021 class. Diabate can run the floor, block shots and should be a more than adequate backup for Dickinson.

“He’s a freak of nature. He’s six-eleven and has long arms,” Dickinson said of Diabate at Big Ten media day. “Super athletic. He’s a specimen.”

In the backcourt, Michigan is likely to go with Coastal Carolina transfer D’Vante Jones, senior Eli Brooks and freshman Caleb Houstan.

Jones was named the player of the year in the Sun Belt after averaging 19.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game last season. He’ll likely be the point guard as Howard attempts to rely on a newcomer at the position for a second straight season.

Brooks is a reliable guard who defends and can make perimeter shots. He made 39.6 percent of his 3s last season. With Brooks on the floor, Michigan’s offense was 11 points per 100 possessions better, according to HoopLens.

“He’s a really smart basketball player. He’s another coach out there on the floor,” Dickinson said of Brooks at Big Ten media day. “This season is going to be different than last season. Last season we had a ton of experience and a ton of leaders. This year, it’s pretty obvious who our leader is and who we look to for guidance.”

Houstan is the top-ranked incoming freshman in the Big Ten and a potential lottery pick next June. Over the summer, Houston led Canada to the bronze medal at the FIBA U19 World Cup. In that event, the 6-foot-8 Houstan averaged 17 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. He’s an excellent 3-point shooter who moves well without the ball. With Big Ten defenses focused on Dickinson, Houstan should benefit with favorable looks from the perimeter.

Freshmen guards Kobe Bufkin and Frankie Collins will be in the mix for rotation minutes off the bench. Bufkin is a left-hander from Grand Rapids that was ranked No. 45 in the 2021 class. He’s a capable scorer who already knows how to play in the pick-and-roll. Collins could be the program’s point guard of the future, but his perimeter shot needs work. He was also ranked in the top 50 nationally in the 2021 class, one of four recruits in the Michigan class to earn that distinction.

Bottom Line: Michigan had significant roster turnover in the offseason, but Howard was able to use the portal and the nation’s second-best recruiting class to keep the program rolling. Dickinson is a legitimate contender for Big Ten player of the year and Brooks is a battle-tested guard who is a leader on and off the floor. After reaching the Elite Eight last season, Michigan has aspirations of reaching the Final Four. In a college basketball season that appears to be wide open nationally, the Wolverines are certainly capable of another deep run in March.

Quotable: “We have a very competitive group. Every day I drive into work, I’m so excited to get an opportunity to go in there and coach and learn from them. We learn from each other and grow together. As the season progresses, get ready to start soon, it’s all about health. We want our health first. We want to continue to keep striving to be a competitive group.” – Howard at Big Ten media day earlier this month.

Photo credit: UMHoops.com

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