With Caleb Love coming and Hunter Dickinson going, it'll be a new-look Michigan
For Michigan, the addition of North Carolina transfer Caleb Love makes plenty of sense.
The Wolverines are losing all 3 of last season’s leading scorers, with Kobe Bufkin and Jett Howard entering the NBA Draft and Hunter Dickinson leaping into the transfer portal. That trio combined for nearly two-thirds of Michigan’s scoring.
Love, who led the Tar Heels with 16.7 points per game, helps stem some of that bleeding. Among his career highlights are a 34-point game against Alabama and a 30-point game against UCLA in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
Love is easily the most capable backcourt scorer Juwan Howard has ever recruited to Michigan.
Xavier Simpson is the most recent Michigan guard to record a 30-point game, scoring 32 against Wisconsin in 2020. Simpson was a senior recruited by John Beilein who played on Howard’s first Michigan team.
The more interesting question is why Michigan felt like the right fit for Love.
There are plenty of holes to his game, and Howard doesn’t have a reputation as a guru of guards. A former center himself, Howard’s best players tend to play in the frontcourt — Dickinson, Franz Wagner, Moussa Diabate.
It’s a bit of a strange marriage. But perhaps that’s what both sides need to get the most out of the situation: something different.
Electric (but inefficient) Love
A Twitter commenter recently asked me a valid question: What’s the difference between a scorer and a shooter?
Allow me to present Exhibit A of that phenomenon: Caleb Love.
Love has never been a great shooter. But he does score.
Last season Love jacked up a whopping 244 3-point attempts despite shooting just 29.9% from 3-point range. Eastern Kentucky’s Michael Moreno, another player who took exactly 244 3s, made 38.5% of his attempts.
Love did improve inside the arc last season, making 45.5% of his 2-point attempts after shooting below 40% the previous 2 years. But his biggest strength is his ability to get to the line and get extra points, and that’s where his game fell off in North Carolina’s disappointing season.
After hitting 86.3% of his 152 free-throw attempts as a sophomore, Love made just 76.5% of his 132 free throws in 2023.
But if Michigan can get the best version of Love, they’ll have quite a player. If he shoots 3s and free throws at the same clip that he did as a sophomore combined with his 2-point percentage from last season, he should average around 18 points per game.
And doing something he’s done before is a pretty low bar. If Love improves his game in all facets as a senior, you’re looking at a guy who can be in the neighborhood of 20 points a game.
What will change mean for Michigan?
There is something fitting about Love and Michigan finding each other. An argument can be made that North Carolina and Michigan were the 2 most disappointing teams in the country in 2023, and now Love and the Wolverines are turning to each other to get past that disappointment.
Now that Love is in the fold, it will be interesting to see Howard’s next step in building Michigan’s 2023-24 roster.
Love is already the 3rd transfer signed this offseason, joining former Alabama guard Nimari Burnett and former Seton Hall power forward Tray Jackson. Unlike Love, neither was a regular starter, though both played solid bench minutes.
The Wolverines have a pair of 4-star freshmen arriving in center Papa Kante and — we cannot tell a lie — shooting guard George Washington III.
At the moment, the Michigan starting 5 is likely as follows:
- Point guard: Dug McDaniel or Jaelin Llewellyn* (Llewellyn needs an injury exemption from the NCAA)
- Shooting guard: Caleb Love
- Wing: Nimari Burnett or Jace Howard
- Power forward: Will Tschetter or Tray Jackson
- Center: Tarris Reed or Papa Kante
If that’s the lineup at the start of the season, the Wolverines obviously won’t be running the offense through their big man as they did with Dickinson.
Given the mediocre results of the past 2 regular seasons, that may not be a bad thing. Michigan went a combined 22-18 in the Big Ten doing things that way.
With the nature of the transfer portal, there’s also a chance those aren’t all of the names we’ll be seeing on the floor come early November. Love is a fairly big domino. Others may want to join him. And players currently on Michigan’s roster could find their playing interests better suited elsewhere.
The addition of Love could be a big one for a team looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament. But how Michigan molds the lineup around him will determine how successful that venture turns out.