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Big Ten men’s basketball preview: Michigan Wolverines

Is the team up North the favorite this season in the conference?

Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament - Ohio State v Michigan Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Michigan Wolverines

Head coach: Juwan Howard (third season)
2020-21 record: 23-5 (14-3)
Season finish: NCAA tournament Elite Eight

What comes back

As they have been over the past few years under Howard, the Michigan Wolverines will again compete as one of the top teams in the conference and in the nation in the 2021-22 season.

Everyone’s favorite villain Hunter Dickinson is back as one the top players in the country and will be the leader of the Wolverines along with Swiss Army Knife Eli Brooks. Brandon Johns Jr., Zeb Jackson Terrance Williams, Jace Howard and Austin Nunez also return to Michigan and will look to step up their production with the loss of five productive rotation players.

Michigan is also bringing in one of the top recruiting classes in the country and one of the top overall transfers from the portal. Howard’s team had the second-ranked recruiting class in the country in the 2021 cycle. The class featured two five-star power forwards in Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate, as well as four-star guards Kobe Bufkin and Frankie Collins, four-star small forward Isaiah Barnes, and three-star forward Will Tschetter.

The Wolverines are also bringing in guard DeVante Jones who had previously played at Coastal Carolina. Jones entered the NBA Draft, but ultimately withdrew his name and entered the transfer portal to take his talents to Ann Arbor for his final season.

Jones averaged 19.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game last season and will look to translate those stats to the Big Ten. As one of the top scorers in the Sun Belt last season, he will be a key factor in Howard’s offense this season.

What was lost

As good as Michigan will be this season with the talent that they have returning, the Wolverines still lost a lot from last season. Isaiah Livers and Franz Wagner have moved onto the NBA ranks, and the team also lost Mike Smith, Chaundee Brown and Austin Davis to graduation. This group combined to average 48 points per game for the Wolverines in the 2020-21 season.

All of these guys were productive and played key roles in the Wolverines’ rotation and scheme. It won’t be easy to replace these five contributors, but with the infusion of talent coming into Howard’s squad they should have plenty of options to fill the gaps.

Against Ohio State in the Chris Holtmann era

Since Chris Holtmann took over as the Buckeyes head coach, the two teams are .500 against each other, going 3-and-3 over the past four seasons. However, in the two seasons since Howard took over the Wolverines, the Maize and Blue are just 1-and-3 against the Buckeyes with the two teams having battled in some legendary contests.

Just during the two contests that the teams played last season, the Wolverines won the first 92-87 in one of the best offensive battles that either team had all season. But then, Ohio State beat Michigan in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament in comeback fashion, winning the game by a single point, 68-67.

Season prediction

As stated above, by all accounts, Michigan will be in the top tier of the conference along this season. Dickinson will again be one of the top players in the conference — if not the top player — and Brooks is one of the most valuable players in the conference, because of how good he is at so many things.

The Wolverines went 23-5 last season and made it further than any Big Ten team in the NCAA Tournament, losing to UCLA in the Elite Eight. This season, they will look to build on that momentum with the new talent Howard has brought to town.

Next up in the LGHL basketball preview series: Minnesota Golden Gophers