In 2020-2021, the Michigan Wolverines made it all the way to the Elite Eight before falling to an upstart UCLA team, nearly echoing the finish of Head Coach Juwan Howard’s three-year career.
Now, the Wolverines are gearing up for another run at the title in 2021-2022, and will once again be led by a mix of talented veterans and mercurial freshman talents, as newcomers Frankie Collins, Caleb Houstan, Moussa Diabaté, Kobe Bufkin, Isaiah Barnes and Will Tschetter are expected to enter the fold.
Who’s coming back, and who may still head to the next level?
Who will take the starting jobs vacated by Franz Wagner, Isaiah Livers and Mike Smith?
Here are the early projections for the 2021-2022 Wolverines: a team with Big Ten and national title potential should the young guys pan out and learn their roles in time for the toughest games of the season.
Point Guard- DeVante Jones’
A transfer from Coastal Carolina, the 6-foot-1 Jones is said to be bringing a “dog” mentality to the Wolverines’ backcourt, reminding many of the proclamation former coach John Beilein made upon the arrival of Xavier (later known as Zavier) Simpson.
Jones is not backing down from the competition, and chose the Wolverines because of their stacked roster.
“It felt like home already and I hadn’t been to Ann Arbor yet. Talking to Howard Eisley and all the coaches, just telling me what my role was and how I’d be a big factor.
“After all that, it just felt like home. Michigan was the right fit for me,” he said to 247Sports.com.
Jones averaged 19.3 points, 7.2 assists and nearly 3 steals on 48.2% shooting last season for the Chanticleers, and has an edge on talented backcourt challengers Zeb Jackson and Collins.
He has a mentality and build similar to current UM staffer and former point guard (and small school transfer) Jaaron Simmons, and could benefit from his tutelage going forward.
SG- Eli Brooks
Brooks surprised many by coming back for what will be his fifth season.
It’s an extremely rare thing for a talented player to stay five years in today’s day and age, let alone to play for the same team and program for that long, but that is exactly what the Spring Grove, PA native is planning on this upcoming season.
Brooks will likely never be a star but he has improved in all areas, providing quickness, toughness, great leadership, smarts and hustle at either guard position.
His 42.6% shooting percentage last year was a career high.
If he can improve that by two or more percentage points, he could make the leap to an All-Conference caliber performer despite his relative lack of size at the two guard position.
When Michigan needs more size and athleticism, Jackson, Bufkin and Collins could factor in.
The question is who will emerge from that crowded field to score extra minutes.
[RELATED: Michigan 5-Star Recruits Caleb Houstan, Moussa Diabaté Showcase Their Skills in ESPN Televised Tournament]
SF- Caleb Houstan
A freshman and high school teammate of Jalen Duren, a recruiting target of Juwan Howard who may very well be the best high school player we’ve seen since Zion Williamson, Houstan could be the perfect inside-outside threat to take Michigan’s offense to the next level and replace Isaiah Livers.
The 6-foot-8 freshman has a maturity and smoothness to his game that is beyond his years, with an effortless three-point stroke that could make him a matchup nightmare and a candidate to knock down clutch shots in big games, as he has throughout his high school career.
With Michigan’s lack of experienced depth at this position, Houstan is the immediate front-runner for the job, although Terrance Williams, Barnes, and Bufkin could factor in.
PF- Brandon Johns, Jr.
A breakout performance in the NCAA Tournament has the former East Lansing, MI star poised to take over the power forward position in 2021-2022.
Johns, Jr. has all the tools to be a top flight player in the Big Ten, but the main question is whether or not he can sustain the type of focus and physicality necessary to excel.
The 6-foot-8, 240 pound Johns Jr. shot over 52% from the field last season and was efficient at the free throw line as well.
But can he sustain it over the long haul?
Waiting in the wings is Moussa Diabaté, a 19-year-old prodigy hailing from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida by way of Paris, France.
— Tipton Edits (@TiptonEdits) November 9, 2020
Diabaté could be the team’s breakout star in 2021-2022 thanks to his off-the-charts athleticism for a big man. If Johns isn’t on top of his game, he could lose his starting spot by the time the Big Ten season rolls around —if not sooner.
Tschetter also could grab some minutes as a role player and versatile stretch forward on the second unit.
C- Hunter Dickinson
After testing the NBA Draft waters and not being invited to the combine, Dickinson should return to man the center position for another run at the Big Ten and National titles — although a lot could change between now and July 29’s NBA Draft.
Dickinson was near perfect for a freshman last season, although he was shut down for brief periods by the likes of Illinois’s Kofi Cockburn and other centers of a similar stature.
The key for Dickinson will be to continue to play within himself while balancing his professional goals, which include improving the range on his jump shot along with his quickness and footwork on defense.
Ultimately, it’s hard to see the 7-foot-1 Alexandria, Virginia product missing a beat in 2021-2022, although he could find himself resting a little more than usual with Michigan’s incredible big man depth looming large.
It’s just one of the reasons why the Wolverines will be loaded again under Coach Howard and why Crisler Arena could be rocking like fans haven’t seen since the Fab Five days this upcoming season.
Get your tickets now while you still can.