This is the Michigan feature in which we address the three most important questions that each team must answer heading into the 2019-20 season.
1. Can Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske repeat their performances with added attention?
Simpson and Teske lead all returnees in points last season with 8.8 and 9.5 points per game, respectively. With the loss of Jordan Poole, Charles Matthews, and Ignas Brazdeikis to the NBA, Michigan’s offense will be undergo a complete overhaul. Juwan Howard’s background in the NBA lends itself to more of an up-tempo style instead of Beilein’s methodical half-court offense. It is foreseeable that Howard continues using the pick-and-roll that Michigan ran so well last year. The Wolverines ranked fifth last season in percentage of plays that utilized the pick-and-roll, according to Synergy.
The good news for Howard is that the two players that were featured consistently in the PnR actions last year return for the 2019-20 season. Simpson is crafty enough to get good shots at the rim and Teske is great at rolling while being able to keep the defense honest with a respectable mid-range shot. Teske placed in the 84th-percentile in the country as a roll man last season. Meanwhile, Simpson will always rely on his vintage hook shot to be able to get shots off in the paint. It will be important for these two to continue their rapport for the Michigan offense to run effectively.
2. Will the international stardom continue in Ann Arbor with Franz Wagner?
Michigan brings in two commits that will fight for minutes on the wing for the Wolverines. Cole Bajema comes in from Washington as a 6-foot-7 wing player that is expected to provide good minutes off the bench. He is actually rated higher, according to 247Sports, than the other member of the class, Franz Wagner. Wagner is the brother of former standout Mo Wagner, who is currently on the Washington Wizards after leading the Wolverines to the National Championship game in 2018.
Franz Wagner comes in with high expectations and is expected to be the lone freshman in the starting lineup for Juwan Howard. Like his older brother, Franz played in Germany prior to coming to the U.S., playing against professionals on the international scene.
Wagner comes in at 6-foot-7 and can do everything asked of him. He can shoot, drive, and defend the opponents’ wing players. Look for Wagner to continue Michigan’s recent trend of starring international players which started in Mo Wagner and continued last year with Ignas Brazdeikis. It should be noted that Wagner was recently injured. We will have to see how he recovers in the weeks to come.
3. Can Juwan Howard actually coach?
This may sound simplistic or straightforward, but Juwan Howard has never been a head coach at the collegiate level. This inexperience will inevitably peak its head during the season. The only question is how often that inexperience will be evident and how big those moments are.
Howard has done a good job filling out his staff bringing in former St. Joe’s head coach Phil Martelli who had been at St. Joe’s since 1995. Martelli won the Naismith Coach of the Year Award in 2004 when he helped the Hawks reach the Elite Eight, led by Jameer Nelson and Delonte West. Juwan Howard also brought in former NBA guard Howard Eisley to help on the staff.
Martelli brings with him over twenty years of head coaching experience which will help Howard in navigating the nuances of running a program. Beyond Eisley’s NBA playing career, he has also been an assistant coach for three NBA teams since 2010. These two additions should be helpful as long as Howard realizes the resources he has at his disposal and takes advantage of them. This could be the difference between winning and losing conference matchups in the Big Ten, where every possession counts.
It figures to be an interesting season in Ann Arbor and we will see how the Wolverines answer the questions above.