As hard as it is to believe, college basketball tips off in just a few weeks from now, with the "Champions Classic" getting things rolling on November 9th at Madison Square Garden.
And to get you ready for the season, Aaron Torres Online will be giving you 30 previews in the coming 30 days to get you ready for the start of the year, all written by college basketball nut and recruiting guru Jacob Polacheck.
We are smack dab in the midst of these previews, with thoughts on Indiana, USC, LSU, Maryland Saint Bonaventure, Colorado State, Florida State, Virginia Alabama and UConn. Plus, last week, we got an exclusive sit down with Bruce Pearl to preview the Auburn Tigers.
Today, it's time to take a look at Michigan. The Wolverines are coming off a Big Ten regular season title and Elite Eight appearance as a a No. 1 seed.
The crazy part? Juwan Howard and Co. are just getting started.
How it went down in 2020-21
In Michigan’s second year under head coach Juwan Howard, the Wolverines were one of the nation’s best teams, led by a solid group of veterans that featured eventual lottery pick Franz Wagner, Isaiah Livers, Eli Brooks, Chaundee Brown, as well as one of the best freshmen in college hoops, Hunter Dickinson.
You can’t overstate the success Michigan had on both sides of the ball last season. Per KenPom, the Wolverines ranked No. 9 in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 4 in adjusted defensive efficiency. This success translated to the wins and loss column, as Michigan went 23-5 while going 14-3 in the Big Ten and winning the Big 10 regular season title.
Dickinson, a freshman center out of Virginia, was a major breakout star for Michigan, averaging a team-high 14.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game, starting in 23 of 28 games. Sophomore wing Franz Wagner boosted his draft stock tremendously, averaging 12.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game before being drafted to the Orlando Magic No. 8 overall in the 2021 NBA Draft.
Michigan entered the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 1 seed, easily defeating Maryland in the quarterfinals. However, disaster soon struck when senior forward Isaiah Livers suffered a stress injury to his right foot during the game, sidelining him for the rest of the season. The Wolverines would lose in the semifinals to Ohio State.
Without Livers, who averaged 13.1 points and 6.0 rebounds per game on the season, Michigan entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed, defeating No. 16 seed Texas Southern in the first round before a hard-fought battle against LSU in the second. Despite a combined 57 points from LSU guards Cam Thomas and Javonte Smart, Michigan, led by Eli Brooks’ 21 points slid past the Tigers 86-78, setting up a matchup with No. 4 seed Florida State.
Florida State didn’t give the Wolverines much trouble, as Michigan won 76-58, setting up an Elite 8 matchup with UCLA. In an incredibly low-scoring game, Michigan’s 2020-21 season narrowly came to an end, losing 49-51.
Despite the upset loss, it’s hard to call last season anything but a success for Michigan, especially in only the second year for head coach Juwan Howard.
What You Need to Know About 2021-2022
Key Returnees: Hunter Dickinson, Eli Brooks, Brandon Johns, Terrance Williams
Key Losses: Franz Wagner, Isaiah Livers, Mike Smith, Chaundee Brown, Austin Davis
Key Transfers: DeVante Jones
Key Recruits: Caleb Houstan, Moussa Diabate, Kobe Bufkin, Frankie Collins, Isaiah Barnes
The greatest offseason news the Wolverines received in 2021 was with several players on the fence electing to return. Dickinson could have been a second round pick, but elected to return to Michigan after his electric freshman season. Brooks also decided to use his Covid waiver for one more season of college hoops as well, to play alongside Johns and Williams, who served as role players last year.
Of course, the returnees will play a big role on this year’s roster, but Caleb Houstan is a bona-fide five-star recruit out of the powerhouse Montverde Academy in Florida. Moussa Diabate is a five-star forward that could fill some of the void left by Wagner and Livers. Four-Star forward Isaiah Barnes and three-star forward Will Tschetter will make for key pieces on Michigan, but the two guards of Kobe Bufkin and Frankie Collins give this class incredible depth.
Then there’s Devante Jones. Among the newcomers, Jones has probably the greatest chance for an immediate impact after averaging 19.3 points and 7.2 rebounds at Coastal Carolina last season. Jones will look to add some juice to this Michigan roster after his 2020-21 Sun Belt Player of the Year campaign.
This year’s Michigan roster has a great combination of depth and starpower, keeping expectations high even after losing three starters from a season ago.
Of course, playing in the Big Ten, Michigan has a very tough conference slate, but don’t overlook the team’s non-conference schedule.
First there are three buy games in Ann Arbor, before the first big test of the season, as Michigan will face Seton Hall at home Nov. 16 for the Gavitt Tipoff Game before a matchup. From there they head to Las Vegas for the Roman Legends Classic, where they will face UNLV first, before a matchup with either Wichita State and Arizona.
Both the Shockers and Wildcats should be contention for an NCAA Tournament berth.
And yet from there, it only gets more challenging, as Michigan will face perhaps its two toughest non-conference opponents in North Carolina (Dec. 1) and San Diego State (Dec. 4). The San Diego State game will bring long-time Michigan assistant and current San Diego State head coach Brian Dutcher back to Ann Arbor, where he was the man who actually recruited Juwan Howard to Michigan decades ago. The Big Ten opener (Minnesota) is next, before Michigan wraps the non-con slate with three games that look like wins on paper.
The real fun starts on Jan. 4, starting Big Ten play against a Rutgers team that features All-Big Ten Preseason selection Ron Harper Jr. before a matchup with cross-state rival Michigan State on Jan. 8. While the Spartans may not be a Top-25 team heading into the year, incoming freshman Max Christie should raise some eyebrows, giving the Wolverines a crucial game before two of its biggest matchups of the season.
The week of Jan. 10 is a huge one for Michigan, facing perhaps its two toughest challengers for the Big Ten title in Purdue (Jan. 11) and Illinois (Jan. 14). In what could be considered the most important stretch of games on the season, Michigan will move on to face another solid squad in Maryland on Jan. 18 before facing Trayce Jackson-Davis and Indiana on Jan. 23. Contests against Northwestern (Jan. 26) and Michigan State (Jan. 29) wrap up January and the schedule doesn’t get any easier from there.
After facing Nebraska on Feb. 1, Michigan will travel to Purdue (Feb. 5) and Penn State (Feb. 8) before returning home for a very highly-anticipated Feb. 12 matchup with Ohio State. While Iowa isn’t expected to be as dominant as last season, Michigan’s Feb. 17 contest with the Hawkeyes should be an important one before moving on to face Wisconsin (Feb. 20), Rutgers (Feb. 23) and then Illinois (Feb. 27).
The Wolverines close out the season with a couple tough contests against Iowa (March 3) and then on the road at Ohio State (March 6) before the Big Ten Tournament from March 9-13 in Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
With Illinois, Purdue and Indiana all bringing back important pieces from last season, the Big Ten will once again be one of the nation’s toughest conferences, but Michigan should be in firm contention again.
What to Expect in 2021-2022
Even after earning a No. 1 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament, this year’s Michigan team has the potential to be Juwan Howard’s best squad yet.
Dickinson is a legitimate Big Ten Player of the Year candidate, while Caleb Houstan could challenge for Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Each could be first round picks by the end of the season, with Houstan projected to go in the lottery in most mock drafts. Brooks, Johns and Williams bring back even more experience, while Jones has shown he can come up big on the college stage.
The newcomers in the freshman class, most notably Houstan and Diabate could be the difference between this team being a fringe Top-10-15 team to a national title contender. `
For more college hoops coverage, make sure to follow Jacob Polacheck on Twitter @JacobPolacheck
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