Coming out of a crazy off-season in sports, the Michigan Wolverines have faced their normal expectation of being a contender in the Big Ten. The Wolverines season ended abruptly along with the rest of college basketball last year, and there’s no doubt that it left a sour taste in their mouths. With Juwan Howard entering his second year as head coach and plenty of talent on the roster, they should be able to live up to snuff. Michigan has climbed all the way to the top ten in college basketball, and as their schedule increases in difficulty, Michigan will show what kind of a team they are.
First off, the Wolverines returned three of five starters including senior guard Eli Brooks, sophomore forward Franz Wagner, and senior forward Isaiah Livers. Livers was expected to be the first scoring option, and Franz Wagner looked destined for a breakout year after making the all-Big Ten freshman team last season. Neither has quite exceeded expectations, but they’re great to have as interchangeable second and third scoring options. Brandon Johns Jr. and Austin Davis return off the bench as well, each with starting potential.
The Wolverines brought in the best recruiting class in the Big Ten, headlined by four star center Hunter Dickinson, who is already looking like one of college basketball’s best big men. He is their leading scorer to this point in the season, and it appears Juwan Howard would be smart to play through him the rest of the season. Although Michigan swung and missed on two five stars that they nearly landed in Isaiah Todd and Josh Christopher, Howard and his staff were able to recover remarkably well. Four star recruits Zeb Jackson and Terrance Williams should both also give quality minutes off the bench as the season wears on. It was an overall great showing for Juwan Howard to be competing for top recruits so soon, given he only has one year under his belt at Michigan.
Ann Arbor has also welcomed two key transfers in senior guard Mike Smith and senior forward Chaundee Brown. After losing a pair of transfers themselves in David Dejulius and Colin Castleton, this has been a huge boost to their depth. Brown and Smith have both shown out so far, and have made obvious scoring sacrifices for the betterment of the team. Smith has looked good filling the big shoes of graduated guard Zavier Simpson, and Brown has excelled in the sixth man role for the Wolverines.
On paper, Michigan looks like they should be able to hang with anyone in the Big Ten. Big Ten play has come sooner rather than later in this COVID-shortened season, and Michigan will have the opportunity to prove just how high their ceiling is. Juwan Howard has a team on his hands with the potential to be a player for the national championship. But it is known that Big Ten schedules are not forgiving, and in this year especially nothing is guaranteed. With a back loaded schedule full of high caliber teams such as the Illinois Fighting Illini, Iowa Hawkeyes, Wisconsin Badgers, and Michigan State Spartans, they will be up against a gauntlet. The Wolverines will be fighting hard each night, and only time will tell whether Juwan Howard will keep the program trending up.