After struggling through a 19–15 season, Juwan Howard’s U-M men’s basketball team pulled it together in the NCAA tournament, making it to the Sweet Sixteen in the playoffs. But after losing four starters—two to graduation and two to the NBA—they barely won their opening game against EMU in November.

The Eagles, led by quick point guard Noah Farrakhan, were often able to break down the Michigan defense. And, yes, the Wolverines were nearly the victims of the strange journey of Emoni Bates (Ypsi native, on the cover of Sports Illustrated at age fifteen), back at Eastern after a wasted year in Memphis and a suspension after a handgun was found in a car he was driving. He scored thirty points, but Michigan center Hunter Dickinson put up thirty-one, and Michigan scraped by, 88–83. 

Along with Dickinson and underappreciated junior Terrance Williams, Howard has returnees who barely played last year, and new additions, including Jaelin Llewellyn, an Ivy League point guard from the grad transfer portal. Jett Howard, the coach’s youngest son, will also start and see a lot of minutes. But it is hard to see how last year’s good offense (ranked #21 nationally) can overcome a mediocre defense (ranked #74).  

 The Big Ten seems down this year on the men’s side and is weakest at the position where Michigan is strongest; it is hard to see many teams defending Dickinson very effectively. But the Wolverines’ fortunes reside on the other side of the ball: whether U-M’s estimable coaching staff can put together a coherent defending team. If they succeed, they could eventually have a pretty good year, and again wander into the NCAA tournament. 

The Michigan women had their best year in 2021–22, finishing 25–7 and reaching the quarterfinals of the NCAAs. Coach Kim Barnes Arico has had the program on an upswing and even with losing the program’s best all-time player, Naz Hillmon, that trend should continue. 

While Hillmon’s graduation and move to the pros leaves a void—the coach calls this the “Post-Naz Era”—Michigan returns talented wing Leigha Brown, a probable All Big Ten player, and star guard Laila Phelia. Frontcourt players Emily Kiser and Cameron Williams should be competitive or better in the Big Ten. Michigan has several other experienced players, and the depth in the program is profound. 

The upswing can best be seen by Barnes Arico’s ability to nab Oregon State sophomore Greta Kampschroeder from the transfer portal. Kampschroeder is the first McDonald’s All-American to ever play at Michigan. While in the early going, her shooting has been pedestrian, her floor play (eight assists and one turnover) is as advertised. Next year, Barnes Arico brings an unheard-of three top-seventy-five players into the program.

Early results have been stunning, with Michigan winning its first two games by an average of fifty-four points, albeit against lower-level competition. But while the Big Ten looks weak on the men’s side this year, the women’s side is loaded, and Iowa, with superstar Caitlin Clark, seems a lock to win the conference. After that, though, the Michigan women can compete with anyone—and should get another chance at an NCAA run.