The 2022-’23 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview’ series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2022-’23 season with analysis on each program’s previous season, offseason departures, new additions, strengths, weakness, top player, and top storylines. Each post will also include predictions on each team’s starting lineup, season performance and commentary from a local “insider” who covers said team.
When Michigan basketball transitioned from John Beilein to Juwan Howard, fans were skeptical. Even if they liked Howard as a coaching prospect, it was hard to believe Michigan would maintain its recent success. The program was losing arguably its greatest coach and replacing him with someone who had no experience at the college level. That’s just not a transition you see working out very often.
However, three years in and things are looking good.
Like, really good.
Howard not only hit the ground running, but guided the Wolverines to a solid performance in the shortened 2019-’20 season, a Big Ten regular season title in his second season, and a trip to the Sweet 16 in his third campaign in Ann Arbor. That’s a three year run almost any program would be proud of, let alone something a coach accomplished in his first three years. In short, Howard not only met initial expectations, but drastically exceeded them.
The question is now whether the magic can continue. Michigan returns several key contributors like Hunter Dickinson, but watched experienced contributors like Eli Brooks and DeVante’ Jones leave. It will put some pressure on Howard to find new contributors. While Michigan has enough talent to make it work, it’s going to be challenging.
So, can Michigan get back to the top of the Big Ten? Let’s take a look.
1. 2021-’22 Season Performance
- Record: 19-15 (11-9)
- KenPom Team Rating: #27
- NET Rating: #27
- Postseason Appearance: NCAA Tournament (S16)
Last season was a bizarre one for the Wolverines. That’s because it came in such drastic swings. Michigan entered the season ranked sixth nationally, but stumbled out of the gate to an underwhelming 4-3 record. By mid-January, the team was sitting at a disappointing 7-7 overall and 1-3 in Big Ten play. However, Michigan then recovered with a 6-2 run and a few key wins down the stretch to narrowly make the Big Dance. The Wolverines then capitalized on the NCAA bid, knocking off Colorado State and Tennessee to make the Sweet 16, where they fell to Villanova. It was a bizarre route to get to the Sweet 16, but Michigan eventually got there.
The lack of consistency was easily the defining characteristic for last year’s Michigan squad. It’s how a team that blew out Purdue and San Diego State also lost to Minnesota and UCF. It’s also how Michigan perfectly split its final 14 games heading into Selection Sunday with a 7-7 record. The team spent nearly two months swapping back-and-forth, winning one game and losing the next. And the results often defied reason. For example, Michigan lost to Ohio State at home in February, but followed it up with a win at Iowa a few nights later.
There are differing theories about why Michigan was so inconsistent, but the most reasonable have to do with the team’s youth and inexperience. The Wolverines ranked 296th in KenPom’s experience metric last season and one of its most experienced players (DeVante’ Jones) came in as a transfer who had never played in Ann Arbor. It seemed like it took the team a few months to get its feet under it. However, once it did, Michigan quickly became one of the nation’s most dangerous teams. And that showed in March with the upset win over Tennessee.
Highlights of the season included non-conference wins over San Diego State and UNLV, conference wins over Michigan State, Ohio State, and Purdue, and the postseason victories over Colorado State and Tennessee. Low points included the losses to UCF and Minnesota early in the year and blown opportunities later in the season to Ohio State and Indiana.
Individual statistical leaders were Eli Brooks, Hunter Dickinson, and DeVante’ Jones. Brooks led the team in minutes and steals. Dickinson led the team in points, rebounds, blocks, and total win shares. Jones led the team in assists.
2. Offseason Exits
Michigan got hit pretty hard this spring with offseason departures. The Wolverines saw nine players exit in Eli Brooks, Frankie Collins, Moussa Diabate, Jaron Faulds, Caleb Houstan, Brandon Johns, DeVante’ Jones, Adrien Nunez, and Brandon Wade. Considering the impact some of those players had, that’s an absolutely massive amount of contributions walking out the door.
There are a number of notable departures from the group, but Brooks and Diabate’s departures look particularly significant. They both started the duration of last season and came through a ton of huge moments. Brooks played for the Wolverines for five seasons and was a part of four NCAA Tournament squads and Diabate was arguably the team’s most physically gifted player last season. Diabate was a matchup problem for opponents and delivered massively in a handful of big games, including the vital road win at Iowa that helped get Michigan in the Big Dance last March.
Collins, Houstan, and Jones are also notable departures. Houston and Jones started more than 30 games last season and Collins was arguably the team’s most important bench contributor toward the end of the season. None of the three were perfect contributors, but they all were important contributors. Collins was a defensive boost off the bench, Houstan was the team’s best perimeter option, and Jones really got rolling late.
All told, that’s a lot walking out the door and that’s not even the end of it, as Johns also contributed off the bench. Michigan is losing four starters and two of its top three bench pieces. Even if you recruit well, it’s hard to see anyone overcoming that in a single offseason. It will give Howard and his staff quite a challenge this year.
3. New Additions
This season, the Wolverines will be adding five recruits and two transfers. The recruits are Gregg Glenn, Jett Howard, Dug McDaniel, Tarris Reed, and Youssef Khayat. Everyone but Khayat is rated as a four-star prospect by 247Sports. McDaniel is listed as a point guard, Howard and Khayat as small forwards, Glenn as a power forward, and Reed as a center. Jackson Selala and Cooper Smith also join the program as walk-ons.
The recruits receiving the most attention are Howard and Reed. They’re both rated as top 50 prospects and expected to be featured heavily this season. Reed plays at a massive 6-foot-10 and figures to be a defensive force in the paint. Howard also projects as a good defensive player and should be dynamic in transition. Reed will play behind Dickinson, but he will see serious time. Expect Khayat and McDaniel also to see time in the rotation.
The transfers are Joey Baker and Jaelin Llewellyn. Baker is from Duke and Llewellyn is from Princeton. Baker arrives after four seasons with the Blue Devils and Llewellyn arrives after a really productive 2021-’22 season where he put up really nice offensive numbers. Baker should compete for a starting job on the wing and Llwellyn is almost assuredly going to be Michigan’s starting point guard next season after Collins and Jones’ departures.
Overall, this is a really impressive group of newcomers. The recruiting class is loaded and both of the transfers are good enough to play early as well. It’s hard to say this replaces everything that walked out the door, but it should at least replace a good hunk of it.
4. Points of Optimism
There’s a lot to like about the Wolverines heading into this season. The roster has talent, it returns a potential All-American in Hunter Dickinson, and boasts a wide variety of sleep prospects. If all of it comes together, there’s a chance Michigan keeps things rolling with Howard.
To start, we have to begin with the roster’s general talent base. Michigan has recruited exceptionally well since Howard arrived on campus and it’s apparent as soon as you start looking at the roster. While losing the gist of the 2021 class (ranked third nationally by 247Sports) this offseason hurts, Michigan still has a variety of top 50 and top 100 prospects on the team, highlighted by players like Dickinson, Kobe Bufkin, and Jett Howard. And, even if they’re young, anybody that follows basketball will tell you what talent can do. And that’s a great place to start for Michigan.
The program also boasts star talent, highlighted by Dickinson. He was one of the best players in the Big Ten last season and should be on the same level again this season. And while it takes a team to succeed in this sport, having a star can’t be underrated. It’s what separates teams in a lot of games down the stretch and Michigan might have the best player in the league next season.
Moreover, Michigan boasts a wide variety of “sleeper” prospects who could emerge this season. Look no further than players like Terrence Williams, Jace Howard, and Bufkin. None are going to get a ton of media attention this offseason, but they’ve all played and contributed in the past. All three also have tremendous upset. In fact, Williams alone could be one of the league’s biggest sleepers as he emerged significantly late in the season. If Michigan can cash in on a few of these guys, the roster could really come together.
There’s still a lot we don’t know about this Wolverine squad, but fans have to be excited about what the roster’s talent and star power could do this season.
5. Points of Concern
Unfortunately, Michigan also faces some significant challenges this season as well. Namely, the team’s substantial departures and the associated difficulties of another transition. Even if the roster has talent and star power, it’s going to take time to get everything rolling and that likely means another tumultuous season.
Obviously, the biggest challenge is replacing Michigan’s substantial offseason departures. The Wolverines not only lost four starters, but two key bench players as well. All told, Michigan lost four of its top six and six of its top eight in total minutes last season. Even in a world where college basketball teams are overhauled every offseason, that’s an incredible amount of contributions walking out the door.
The replacements also aren’t sure things. While the transfers look exciting, one is a perennial bench player and the other has never played at the Big Ten level. Similarly, the recruiting class is immensely talented, but this isn’t the group last year loaded with elite five-star plug and play prospects. This year’s group is probably going to take more time to get their feet under them. It all makes for a lot of uncertainty.
Additionally, transitions are always troublesome and Michigan is going through its second major overhaul in as many years. That’s not easy to do. There are going to be hiccups. Perhaps some bench players from last year’s group can fill the voids, but Michigan is probably going to rely extensively on freshmen and transfers yet again to fill out the lineup. And that’s going to make things really challenging, especially early on.
6. Top Player
Michigan enters this season without much debate regarding this category. After putting together two All-Big Ten campaigns, Dickinson returns and is widely expected to be the team’s best player. Dickinson has a unique combination of size and ball handling skills. Add in an improving perimeter game and it’s easy to see why fans are so excited about what he can offer this season.
It’s unlikely anyone will challenge Dickinson in this category this season, but there are a few potential darkhorse candidates. They have to come from the newcomers in Jett Howard and Llewelyn. They are both expected to compete for starting spots and have plenty of potential. Howard is probably the more exciting of the two long-term, the question is simply how ready he will be for this season.
7. 2022-’23 Schedule Breakdown
- 11/4 - Ferris State (Ex.)
- 11/7 - Purdue Fort Wayne
- 11/11 - Eastern Michigan
- 11/16 - Pittsburgh (New York, NY)
- 11/17 - Arizona State/VCU (New York, NY)
- 11/20 - Ohio
- 11/23 - Jackson State
- 11/29 - Virginia
- 12/4 - Kentucky (London, UK)
- 12/8 - at Minnesota
- 12/17 - Lipscomb
- 12/21 - North Carolina (Charlotte, NC)
- 12/30 - Central Michigan
- 1/1 - Maryland
- 1/4 - Penn State
- 1/7 - at Michigan State
- 1/12 - at Iowa
- 1/15 - Northwestern
- 1/19 - at Maryland
- 1/22 - Minnesota
- 1/26 - Purdue
- 1/29 - at Penn State
- 2/2 - at Northwestern
- 2/5 - Ohio State
- 2/8 - Nebraska
- 2/11 - Indiana
- 2/14 - at Wisconsin
- 2/18 - Michigan State
- 2/23 - at Rutgers
- 2/26 - Wisconsin
- 3/2 - at Illinois
- 3/5 - at Indiana
Michigan is expected to have one of the tougher slates in the Big Ten this season. The Wolverines not only get the usual challenges associated with conference play, but the team also has a handful of high profile non-conference games, highlighted by matchups against three top 10 preseason KenPom teams.
Non-conference play is highlighted by marquee matchups against Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia. All three opponents are ranked in the top 10 on KenPom to start the season and are considered serious contenders for March. Additionally, Michigan also gets a tricky trip out to New York City, where it will face off against Pittsburgh and either Arizona State or VCU. While the matchups look significantly easier than those against the three teams noted above, both could be tricky, especially so early in the season.
Of course, conference play will be its typical challenge, though Michigan seems to have gotten a relatively favorable draw. The Wolverines got double-plays against Indiana, Michigan State, and Wisconsin, but avoided them with Illinois, Ohio State, and Purdue. The games against the Buckeyes and Boilers also come in Ann Arbor. If Michigan can hold serve at home, it has a chance to put together a nice resume.
Perhaps the most intriguing portion of the slate will come in late January, when Michigan gets the following slate, with KenPom odds noted alongside each game:
- 1/26 - Purdue (62%)
- 1/29 - at Penn State (47%)
- 2/2 - at Northwestern (57%)
- 2/5 - Ohio State (65%)
That’s four vital games that all fall into that coin flip territory. The Wolverines will likely end up favored in all four games by tip, but those could easily sway both ways. Underperform slightly and Michigan could end up 1-3 or 2-2 in those games. Overperform and the team could go 4-0 and drastically help its NCAA hopes.
Expect some early hiccups for the Wolverines, but some momentum as the season continues. The hope for fans needs to be preventing too many early slips. If so, Michigan should have a shot to make some noise in the Big Ten standings.
8. Projected Starting Lineup
- PG: Jaelin Llewellyn (Sr.) - 90%
- SG: Kobe Bufkin (So.) - 55%
- SF: Joey Baker (Sr.) - 60%
- PF: Terrence Williams (Jr.) - 90%
- C: Hunter Dickinson (Jr.) - 95%
(Percentage likelihood of starting at season tip-off.)
The Wolverines enter this season with a relatively predictable starting lineup, despite the massive turnover in the roster during the offseason. Three of the spots seem locked down and another one seems pretty settled as well. It wouldn’t be shocking to some changes on the wing as the season continues, but things appear pretty stable.
In the backcourt, Llewellyn is a lock to start at the point. Not only because he was so productive at Princeton last season, but also because Michigan is relatively thin here after the departures of Jones, Collins, and Brooks. Those three played essentially every minute at the position last year and are now gone, which leaves Llewellyn to fill the void. Alongside him, Bufkin should be the frontrunner for the two spot. He was the team’s primary bench option there last season and should be a year older and bigger than he was last season. The backups here should be Dug McDaniel and Isaiah Barnes. Both are unproven, but arrived on campus with decent recruiting pedigrees.
On the wing, Wolverine fans should expect some uncertainty. There are a lot of new faces and little that’s proven. Terrance Williams seems like a lock for the four spot, but there’s little telling who will end up alongside him as the season continues and who the primary reserve options should be. Duke transfer Baker seems like the safest bet, but Jace Howard returns after a decent season as a reserve and the program adds three highly regarded recruits here as well in Glenn, Jett Howard, and Khayat. Expect to see a lot of rotation as the staff feels out what they have here.
The good news is things are clearly settled upfront. Dickinson will play the vast majority of the minutes at the five and Reed will be his reserve. Dickinson is a proven contributor and All-American contender and Reed arrives with an impressive recruiting profile behind him. This is generally about all you could ask for from a given position, i.e., a proven starter and a high profile young backup.
Overall, that’s not a bad lineup heading into the season. Michigan has a senior point guard, a variety of talented options at the two and three spots, a junior forward who’s contributed before at the four, and an All-American candidate at the five. There are some areas where Michigan will have to figure things out, but that’s not exactly a bad spot to be heading into a new season.
9. Realistic Team Goals
Perhaps no fanbase in the Big Ten has been more spoiled than Wolverine fans over the last decade. After years of ineptitude, John Beilein arrived and pushed Michigan into national relevance. The program has since won multiple Big Ten titles, multiple Big Ten Tournaments, and made seven trips to the Sweet 16 since 2013. It’s the kind of stretch fans dream of.
Unfortunately, that success also bleeds into expectations moving forward. And that seems to be happening here with the Wolverines. While Michigan enters this season with serious reasons for hope, this isn’t the same roster fans might be used to. This is a “new look” team with few roster similarities to those previous Michigan squads that succeeded in March. There are going to be hiccups more often than fans are accustomed to seeing and the Wolverines very well may end up on the bubble again. The roster is good enough to finish near the top of the Big Ten, but that won’t mean as much in what projects to be a down year for the league. In short, patience will be required.
10. Overall Season Outlook
While last season was a tumultuous one for the Wolverines, both on the court and off (or at least on the side of it), Michigan ended up posting yet another successful campaign. Michigan had to sweat it out on Selection Sunday, but made a run in March to extend its Sweet 16 streak and keep things rolling in Ann Arbor. It was a remarkable effort to save what some thought might become a lost season.
However, Howard and his staff will now have to turn back to the drawing board. The roster suffered massive attrition in the offseason and the Wolverines will now enter this fall with much uncertainty. Four starters and two key reserves are gone, including key players like Brooks, Jones, and Diabate. It will put plenty of pressure on the few returners and newcomers to hit the ground running.
The good news is that the roster remains talented. Dickinson should (again) be a force down low and Michigan adds plenty of talent elsewhere as well, including two transfers with decent potential. Assuming some of the newcomers are ready to play, Michigan should be poised for another NCAA trip and some solid success.