Michigan basketball preview: 10 things to know (and a prediction) for 2022-23 season
Juwan Howard seems at home in his latest gig, which makes sense since he’s at his alma mater coaching the sport he loves and played so well in Ann Arbor back in the day.
Three years, 2 NCAA Tournament trips and 1 Elite 8 appearance since Howard took the job, Michigan is good. Like really good. As in national champion good? It’s not far-fetched to think that’s a possibility following a positive offseason.
Michigan returns star Hunter Dickinson and quality bench player Terrance Williams.
But it also will have to replace the production of Eli Brooks and DeVante’ Jones, among others. Much like programs such as Michigan State and Purdue, there are questions of depth that might portend close games and stamina issues.
Given that, is No. 22 Michigan in the hunt to win the B1G for the 2nd time in 3 years? Can Wolverines be legit national contenders? By February, we’ll have a better indication.
For now, here are 10 things to remember about Michigan’s program entering its season-opener on Monday vs. Purdue Fort Wayne.
1. Departures dent national status
Losing Brooks and Jones stings. They finished 2nd and 3rd in points per game behind Dickinson last year. And that’s not the only talent that departed Ann Arbor following a Sweet 16 loss to Villanova.
Frankie Collins, Moussa Diabate, Jaron Faulds, Caleb Houstan, Brandon Johns, Adrien Nunez, Zeb Jackson and Brandon Wade all left one way or anther. Houstan and Diabate are in the NBA. Jackson, Collins and Johns all are playing elsewhere after leaving via the transfer portal.
Handling more minutes could be a concern for players used to coming off the bench. Houston and Jones started more than 30 games last season. Collins served as the Wolverines’ 6th man and averaged roughly 11 minutes. This isn’t to say Michigan doesn’t have the talent, but it could get off to a sluggish start while settling in.
2. A young core?
While the Wolverines lost ample talent, they added multiple high-profile names in their No. 11 recruiting class. Michigan added 5 recruits and 2 transfers. Outside of Youssef Khayat, the 4 remaining players were all graded out by 247Sports’ rankings as 4-star talents.
The top names to remember will be forward Jett Howard and center Tarris Reed. The 7-foot-1 Reed likely replaces Dickinson after the season, but he also could push for minutes due to his ability to block out defenders for rebounds. According to Howard’s scouting report, he offers excellent defensive prowess when playing in the paint.
The transfers, Joey Baker and Jaelin Llewellyn, come with needed experience. Last season at Duke, Baker averaged 4.5 points in 12 minutes off the bench. Llewellyn, albeit facing lesser competition, averaged 15.7 points and shot 38.6% from 3-point range. Baker should serve as the Wolverine’s 6th man while Llewellyn likely gets the first crack at handling the point — though he’s not necessarily a natural fit there.
3. A hot start from Llewellyn?
Llewellyn isn’t looking to be a rotational player. After COVID-19 wiped out the postseason in 2022, the Ivy League elected to cancel play for 2020-21. That meant Llewellyn was off the court for over 18 months before the Tigers returned for the 2021-22 campaign.
History bodes well for Llewellyn to see ample playing time under Howard. In 2020, Howard added Mike Smith from Columbia, who averaged 9 points and 5.3 assists per game. A year later, he added Jones from Coastal Carolina, who averaged 10.3 points, 4.6 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game.
No, Llewellyn won’t be guaranteed a starting role, but Howard likes his guards to have experience. He was considered a leader for the Tigers during his 3 seasons. Will he be viewed the same come Week 1? How about come January when conference play begins?
4. Dickinson for the Naismith?
Dickinson is going to garner national attention because he’s the only returning starter. Then again, he also is one of the more consistent players in the conference.
While Dickinson will have to prove he can be consistent defensively, the offensive numbers should firmly plant him in the conversation for the Naismith Award.
Last season, the 7-foot-1 center led the Wolverines with 18.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Howard is banking on him to be the team’s leader.
There’s no denying that Dickinson is one of the top big men in the conference. Can he be viewed as one of the top names nationally?
5. Starter concerns?
As mentioned, Dickinson is the lone starter returning. Players such as Williams and Kobe Bufkin should get more minutes, that doesn’t always translate to more points.
Williams averaged 15 minutes last season. Can he handle 25-30? What about prospects like Bufkin and Jace Howard? Both finished with less than 11 minutes coming off the bench. Can that production improve with another year in Juwan Howard’s system?
Even with a quality offseason in terms of recruiting and the transfer portal, that doesn’t mean it’ll translate to the court. Chemistry always is a factor.
6. An easy start
The Wolverines have a favorable schedule to begin the year, which should help the acclimation process for the new guys.
Games against Purdue Fort Wayne, Eastern Michigan, Pittsburgh, Ohio and Jackson State all should be matchups that benefit Howard in determining the starting lineup. Against Virginia and Kentucky (to be played across the pond in London), that’s where the Wolverines will be able to tell where they sit in the national picture.
There’s no such thing as a guaranteed win, but the Wolverines have much more favorable matchups to begin the year compared to a school like Michigan State. Seriously, 4 straight top-25 matchups after the season-opener?
7. The must-wins
Starting on Jan. 26, a 4-game stretch could determine the trajectory of Michigan’s season.
Purdue lost premier talent like Jaden Ivey to the pros, making its backcourt limited. Penn State has been questionable for years on the hardwood. Is Ohio State ready to make the jump back into contention status? And Northwestern? Well, it’s a bottom-dwelling program and has been for quite some time.
Wins over all 4 currently unranked teams likely put the Wolverines in the B1G title hunt with Indiana and Illinois.
A loss in that stretch might leave Michigan looking like a middle-tier B1G team. Two losses in that span, and the Wolverines might suddenly look like an NCAA bubble team.
8. Who is the No. 2?
Dickinson is going to be the face of the program. Who is his sidekick? His go-to man on the outer rim?
The No. 2 role is wide-open at this point. Llewellyn likely will garner the most attention due to his success in the Ivy League, but will it translate to a conference such as the B1G? Expectations are high for Williams to move into a starting role, but will his field goal rate of 45.5% improve? Could one of the younger guys step up?
Time will tell, but if Llewellyn and Williams can live up to the hype, the Wolverines will be on pace to make the Tournament once more. If say Howard or Reed elevates his play early, Michigan could be the team to beat in the B1G.
9. Just like Dad
By now, you likely have seen the name “Howard” appear more than once in this article. Yes, they’re all related.
Jace, a junior, followed in his dad to Ann Arbor and should be a contributor on the wing this year. Jett, a freshman who averaged 9.9 points per game during his senior season at IMG Academy, is Jace’s little brother but possibly the better player.
10. Realistic goals
Michigan fans are expecting B1G titles. They’re expecting potential national title talk to occur. Most of all, they’re expecting the Wolverines to improve instead of regress regardless of how much talent left in the offseason.
And that’s the thing. If the newbies can adapt to Howard’s play-calling and aggressive demeanor, the results will show. If not, perhaps this is a rebuilding year.
Will there be hiccups? Sure, every young roster has them. Still, if fans remain patient, perhaps Howard gets this team where he wants it entering the final month of action.
Last year, the Wolverines underachieved by their standards. Because of it, they had to overcome a low seed to reach the Sweet 16.
Maturity will dictate the outcome of this roster. Dickinson is going to be a force in the paint, but which player steps up as his wingman? Which 1st-year talent or transfer proves to be a difference-maker off the bench? Which role players are improving each week to where they earn more minutes and strengthen Michigan’s depth?
The Wolverines will get an upset or 2. They’ll also be upset at least once during the regular season. Ultimately, they’re slightly better than being a middle-of-the-road program, but they’re not at the same level as Indiana or Illinois. Still, expect a higher NCAA seed than a No. 11 slot this season.
Final record: 20-10 (13-7 B1G)