Hickey: With Caleb Love no longer in the mix, Michigan's offseason is a disaster
Juwan Howard has only coached Michigan for 4 years, but you get the sense that we may already be closer to the end of his tenure than the beginning.
Nothing about Michigan’s offseason projects any reason to be confident about the immediate future. And come this time next year, the siren call of the NBA will likely sound quite appealing to Howard compared to another offseason of rebuilding.
Michigan’s roster had potential to be among the Big Ten’s weakest next season even with North Carolina transfer Caleb Love in the mix as the team’s primary scorer. Now that Love is no longer enrolling at Michigan, that fate looks sealed.
Minnesota is still at the bottom of the barrel, and Penn State’s transition to a completely new system under coach Mike Rhoades comes with many unknowns.
But outside of those 2 teams, Michigan may not be better than anyone. Even Nebraska has more reason for optimism.
Everything that could go wrong for Michigan in 2023, has.
Actually, the bad breaks began when it was still 2022. Point guard Jaelin Llewellyn was lost for the season in December, and an already thin team was ill-prepared to thrive without him.
After underwhelming all season, the Wolverines finally played their way onto the bubble in late February. But back-to-back overtime losses to close the regular season shut the door on that, and a no-show against Rutgers in the Big Ten Tournament sealed Michigan’s fate.
Somehow the offseason has proven even rougher than that ending.
Jett Howard and Kobe Bufkin declared for the NBA Draft. Hunter Dickinson transferred to Kansas. And now the only thing providing a glimmer of hope — Love’s arrival from North Carolina — has been snuffed out.
Dug McDaniel, who struggled with turnovers as a freshman point guard unexpectedly thrust into the starting lineup, is Michigan’s returning leading scorer. He averaged 8.6 points per game.
Where do the Wolverines go from here?
It’ll have to start with a transfer portal backup plan.
The best of who’s left
The transfer portal is closed. If a player didn’t enter his name before May 11, he won’t be eligible to play next season. (Since Love never actually signed, he’s still in the portal rather than re-entering.)
The Wolverines need to find themselves a volume scorer among the remaining undecided players. And another big man wouldn’t hurt after Dickinson’s departure. Seton Hall transfer Tray Jackson is likely to start, but another body would be welcomed.
So which players in the portal best fit Michigan’s needs?
RayJ Dennis, Toledo
Michigan is already actively recruiting Dennis. Given that admissions are reportedly the reason Love won’t be a Wolverine, Howard and Michigan’s staff have obviously been working ahead on this contingency.
Dennis is the reigning MAC Player of the Year, leading the league in scoring with 19.6 points per game. The Oswego, Ill., native is also being heavily courted by the Fighting Illini. This would be good payback for Terrence Shannon, at least.
D’Marco Dunn, North Carolina
Maybe a different Tar Heel guard will actually get in to Michigan?
Dunn, however, is a project who averaged 2.7 points and 10.2 minutes per game last season. He’s a former 4-star recruit, but his playing time shows how shallow the transfer portal pool is at this stage.
Tyrin Lawrence, Vanderbilt
Admissions wouldn’t figure to be an issue for Lawrence coming from Vanderbilt. And his 13.1 points per game look pretty valuable at the moment.
Trouble for Michigan is NIL money is apparently a factor in Lawrence’s recruitment. And given NIL’s role in losing Dickinson, that doesn’t bode well.
Can confirm Texas Tech is the latest team to gain some traction in the Tyrin Lawrence sweepstakes. Achoki Moikobu brings the Sunrise Christian connection and Tech’s NIL situation is strong enough to make a competitive offer.
Auburn, Memphis and Vandy still in it.
— Trilly Donovan (@trillydonovan) May 16, 2023
Kruz Perrott-Hunt, South Dakota
It’s a big, big leap from the Summit League to the Big Ten. Perrott-Hunt is more likely to provide instant offense off the bench than start in that scenario. But the New Zealand native averaged 14.3 points per game while hitting 42.3% of his 3s last season, so it might not hurt having him around.
Grant Nelson, North Dakota State
Nelson is a 6-10 player with a smooth shooting touch, which is why he’s still in the NBA Draft process. He may well end up staying in the draft. Or perhaps the North Dakota native will return home for another season. He isn’t talking to other schools until making up his mind about the draft.
But if Nelson elects another year of college ball, the Wolverines would be foolish not to pursue his 17.9 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.
Olivier Nkamhoua, Tennessee
Nkamhoua’s career high is 27 points — achieved against Texas in January and Duke in the NCAA Tournament. That’s called stepping up to the moment. Which is why Nkamhoua’s name is also still in the NBA Draft pool.
The Wolverines made recruiting Nkamhoua a priority when it was clear Dickinson wasn’t returning. If he doesn’t stay in the draft, there’s reason for optimism. And that’s a rare feeling indeed in this Michigan offseason.
Michigan’s potentially pivotal season
Jace Howard is not a star, or even a starter.
But he is Juwan Howard’s son, and that’s a compelling enough reason for pops to see the upcoming season through for his senior year.
But after that?
Much like his football counterpart Jim Harbaugh, Juwan Howard’s name frequently arises when NBA vacancies open.
Harbaugh, who has turned Michigan back into a football power, has so far been better off staying in Ann Arbor. That’s no longer looking like the best long-term course of action for Howard.
If Michigan misses the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season — and with the current roster, that’s exactly what will happen — Howard may no longer find the juice worth the squeeze. Even an NBA assistant job might have more appeal than a reprise of this offseason. Especially if it opens another opportunity for him to coach Jett.
There’s still a little bit of talent left in the transfer portal, but the Wolverines will need to vacuum much of it up in order to be competitive next year.
Otherwise, it’s reasonable to think we’re approaching Juwan Howard’s swan song at his alma mater.