Hunter Dickinson's return makes Michigan Big Ten favorite -- if not more
Michael Jordan did it via fax — a simple message that would have a massive impact on the league in which he played.
Technology has improved considerably since Jordan hung up his baseball cleats and returned to the Chicago Bulls. Twitter was the ideal medium for Michigan center Hunter Dickinson to deliver a similar message to the rest of the Big Ten.
A statement from Hunter Dickinson:
— Michigan Men's Basketball (@umichbball) April 24, 2022
No, Dickinson isn’t Jordan, though he does have a Jumpman logo on his sleeve.
But in the context of Big Ten basketball, there will be no higher impact returnee next season. Dickinson is Michigan’s leader in scoring, rebounding and field-goal percentage. He’s a 2-time all-Big Ten pick.
Combined with Michigan’s other pieces, Dickinson’s return makes the Wolverines the odds-on favorite to win the B1G.
And maybe Michigan will make a push to win something even bigger than that.
For most of the 2021-22 season, Michigan stood out as the most underachieving team in college basketball.
The Wolverines entered the season with the 2nd-best odds to win a national championship behind favorite Gonzaga. For bettors, that was not money well spent.
Oddsmakers may have been right about Michigan’s talent level, but the Wolverines lacked cohesiveness.
They dropped their conference home opener to a dreadful Minnesota team that would prove to be the Big Ten’s worst. Around the time Michigan’s football team was preparing for the Orange Bowl, the basketball team was mired in a 3-game losing streak to Central Florida, Rutgers and Illinois.
Then came the infamous Feb. 20 loss at Wisconsin.
Wisconsin students chanted “N-I-T!” in the final minutes of a 77-63 loss that dropped the Wolverines to 14-11. Juwan Howard took a swipe at Badgers assistant Joe Krabbenhoft and all hell broke loose.
Howard was suspended for the remainder of the regular season. The NIT chants looked pretty prescient. And the 2022 Wolverines were poised to be remembered as a grave disappointment.
But the veteran presence of interim coach Phil Martelli calmed the storm. The Wolverines, in fits and spurts, resembled the team everyone expected to see all season.
Michigan finally delivered on that promise in the NCAA Tournament. After eking in as an 11-seed, the Wolverines knocked off No. 6 Colorado State and No. 3 Tennessee to reach a 5th-straight Sweet 16.
If Dickinson came back, the Wolverines had the look of a team that could play that way from November-March next season. And now they will get that opportunity.
What Dickinson brings
There’s a chance Dickinson won’t even be the top returning big in the Big Ten next year. Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis, who is testing the NBA Draft waters while still maintaining eligibility, could come back to take that crown.
But it’s what Dickinson adds in conjunction with Michigan’s other pieces on the floor that make this a coup for the Wolverines. Michigan may have had enough talent to win the league without Dickinson. Now it’s a prohibitive favorite.
Dickinson showed he can be counted on when it matters most. In his final 6 games last season, he averaged 22 points and 11.3 rebounds. Dickinson and developing power forward Moussa Diabate could well be the Big Ten’s premier frontcourt next season.
Dickinson can stand to become a more physical defender. But he is certainly well aware that his NBA future hinges on improving that aspect of his game. Most all of his offseason work figures to be on defense, and Howard is a pretty good resource for teaching a big man those tricks.
Michigan’s question marks
With the frontcourt settled, the only questions for Michigan will be in the backcourt. But even one of those was answered in the affirmative during the NCAA Tournament.
Frankie Collins proved himself capable of replacing senior DeVante Jones next season. With Jones scratched from the First Round game against Colorado State due to a concussion, Collins stepped in with 14 points.
The one riddle Michigan must solve if it will be a Final Four-caliber team is how to replace No. 2 scorer Eli Brooks.
That answer is likely on hand in the form of Caleb Houstan, who frequently flashed his scoring potential but could never sustain it in a rollercoaster freshman season. Houstan is the top-rated Michigan signee of the past 20 years, and having Dickinson back as the top dog should help alleviate the pressure of living up to that status.
As Michigan proved last season, expectations are not always met. But with Dickinson back, it seems probable that we’ll discover those expectations were just off by a year.