Last year, most observers picked Michigan’s men’s basketball team to finish in the middle of the Big Ten. Instead, Juwan Howard led the remnants of John Beilein’s last team, two grad transfers, and frosh center Hunter Dickinson to a Big Ten Championship and nearly made the NCAA Final Four, losing to UCLA in the quarterfinal by two points.
Since then, the team has lost five of its top nine players to graduation or the pros. To plug the gaps, Howard has another grad transfer, point guard DeVanteJones, and six highly regarded freshmen, most notably five-star forwards Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate. In early games, he’s been playing Jones and senior captain Eli Brooks in the back court, Dickinson at center, and Houstan and senior Brandon Johns Jr. at forward. Diabate and soph Terrance Williams round out the ordinary rotation.
No one is undervaluing the Wolverines this year: as the Observer went to press, most polls had Michigan ranked about sixth in the country. That may be an overcorrection. Howard and his staff have proved they can coach, but any team losing so many players will have growing pains, and some were on display in a mid-November buzzer loss to Seton Hall.
Kim Barnes Arico’s women made the NCAA Final 16 last year, a first in the program’s history; the Wolverines also boast their first All-American in center Naz Hillmon. They started 3-0 against tepid competition, but in the process lost starting guard Amy Dilk and their best shooter, Leigha Brown, to injuries. Pending their return, the women’s prospects are problematic. Stay tuned.