Last season was a pleasantly surprising one for Michigan. Picked to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten, Juwan Howard’s Wolverines won the regular season conference championship and secured a top seed in the NCAA tournament before ultimately coming a basket short of a Final Four berth.
Thanks in large part to a precocious freshman and a pair of transfers students, Michigan finished the season with a 23-5 record and a trip to the Elite Eight. But with increased success comes increased expectations, and with increased expectations comes increased disappointment. So when Michigan came up just short in the regional final against UCLA, its season ended in heartbreak. But while it may have been a disappointing end it was a successful season – and one that set the bar high for 2021-22.
And that 2021-2022 team? Much like last season, it will be a blend of old and new.
Returning to anchor the team are freshman All-American Hunter Dickinson and “Super Senior” Eli Brooks. Dickinson was the Wolverines’ leading scorer and rebounder as a freshman, and after flirting with declaring for the NBA draft, he returns to Michigan for his sophomore season. He’ll be joined by Brooks, whose all-around play and leadership will be critical if Michigan hopes to duplicate the level of success it had last season. Not to be forgotten, senior Brandon Johns also returns. Johns played well when he filled in for the injured Isaiah Livers down the stretch last season, and looks to build on that in what should be a more defined role this year.
Adding to this core, Howard and Michigan welcome the top-rated recruiting class in the country. And as might be expected with such a class, a pair of freshmen are expected to play significant roles this season. One of those freshmen is Moussa Diabate. Diabate is an ultra-athletic big man (6’11” 210 lbs) who will most likely split time between the power forward and center positions. And while Diabate will help offensively, it’s his defense that has Michigan’s coaches really excited. The other freshman expected to contribute right away is 6’8” sharpshooter Caleb Houstan. Houstan helped lead Team Canada medal in the 2021 FIBA Under 19 World Cup over the summer (Houstan was Canada’s leading scorer) and is expected to step right in at Michigan. Houstan’s outside touch will be critical with opposing defenses likely keying on Dickinson inside.
But while there will be some new young blood in Ann Arbor, there will also be some new not-so-young-blood. Michigan hit the jackpot in transfers last season, with Mike Smith and Chaundee Brown playing as well as they did. Howard thinks he’s got another such player this year in point guard DeVante’ Jones. Jones was a three-year starter at Coastal Carolina, where he led the Chanticleers in scoring the last two seasons. Michigan has a lot of firepower, but didn’t have a point guard that was ready to run the team. Howard and Michigan think they found that player in Jones. Like Smith before him, Jones is expected to become less of a scorer and more of a floor general at Michigan.
With this blend of new and old, Michigan is primed for another strong season. Along with Illinois and Purdue, the Wolverines are one of the conference favorites this season. If Dickinson and Brooks can pick up where they left off, if the top end of Michigan’s freshmen class is as good as advertised, if Jones can replicate Smith’s success at point, and if Howard can get the old and new blend together as well as it did last season, the Wolverines should again be in the running for a conference championship and a deep NCAA tournament run. That’s a lot of “ifs”, but however it plays out, it looks to be an exciting and enjoyable season in Ann Arbor.