Happy Trails: 

This season marks the first time since 2007 that John Beilein is not the head coach of Michigan’s basketball team. Beilein left the program in May to accept an NBA head coaching job with the Cleveland Cavaliers. When Beilein began his career in Ann Arbor, he took over a program that had not made an NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998. Beilein left the Wolverines as a top-10 program in the country and a perennial National Title contender. During his 13-year tenure with Michigan, Beilein amassed 278 wins (the most in program history), two regular season Big Ten Championships, two Big Ten Tournament Championships, nine NCAA Tournament appearances, and two Final Four appearances. Beilein will undoubtedly go down as the greatest head coach in program history.

New Era in Ann Arbor: 

Fab Five member and former Michigan All-American Juwan Howard was hired in May with the hopes of elevating Michigan to the next level. The decision to bring in a “Michigan Man” was met with rave reviews. However, Howard’s lack of coaching experience was a point of concern for critics. Before Michigan, he spent six years as an assistant coach for the Miami Heat under Erik Spoelstra, but had not coached professionally on any level. 

His long career as an NBA player and status as a Wolverine legend is a huge advantage for recruiting top-level talent; in addition to AAU connections. Howard landed Freshman Franz Wagner last summer and beat out bluebloods Kansas and Kentucky for five-star 2020 recruit Isaiah Todd last month. Franz is a star from the German professional league and the brother of former Wolverine standout Mo Wagner, while Todd is the 12th ranked player in the country for the 2020 class.

Through four games, his system that is geared towards the NBA, involves a significant amount of high pick-and-rolls and emphasis on transition scoring. Michigan is also generating much of their offense from the three-point shot this year as well. Although, it is early in the season, Michigan has already improved on offense from a year ago. 

Key Departures: 

Head Coach John Beilein

Assistant Coach Luke Yaklich 

PF- Ignas Brazdeikis (14.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg)

SF- Charles Matthews (12.2, 5 rpg, 1.1 spg) 

SG- Jordan Poole (12.8 ppg) 

One of the quieter losses this offseason was the departure of assistant coach Luke Yaklich to the University of Texas. Hired in 2017 by Beilein to be Michigan’s “defensive coordinator,” Yaklich turned the Wolverines into a lockdown defending team, something they had not been known for previously under Beilein. In his two seasons with Michigan, the Wolverines ranked 8th and 2nd nationally in defensive ppg. The Wolverines also lost their top-three scorers from last year, which is bad news for a team that struggled with offensive efficiency the past few seasons. Big Ten Freshman of the Year Ignas Brazdeikis, Charles Matthews, and Jordan Poole all departed for the NBA. The Wolverines certainly had a huge void in Brazdeikis’ scoring, Matthews’ elite defending and athleticism, and Poole’s shooting efficiency.

Key Returnees: 

PG- Zavier Simpson (8.8 ppg, 6.6 apg, 5.0 rpg)

C-Jon Teske (9.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.0 bpg)

F- Isaiah Livers (7.9 ppg, 42% 3pt)

Seniors Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske returned this season. Simpson is the heart and soul, as the leader and an elite defender with nonpareil court vision. He knows his limitations on offense with the outside shot and uses his craftiness to score inside or get others open. Teske is a big presence on the floor, standing 7’1, his size is a disruptive force inside on both ends of the floor. He has great chemistry with Simpson in the pick-and-roll and has the ability to step out and hit the midrange or three-pointer. Sixth man Isaiah Livers also returned. Livers is an excellent long-range shooter. He shot 42-percent from 3pt last season. Through four games, Livers has been Michigan’s leading scorer, averaging 17.3 ppg. 

Outside of those three, depth is an issue for the Wolverines. The team typically employs an eight-man rotation. Eli Brooks and David DeJulius have both shown positive signs as Brooks has settled into a starting role, while DeJulius has given a spark off the bench as the sixth man. Michigan also anxiously awaits the return of freshman star Franz Wagner from a broken wrist. He is expected to return in the next two weeks. 

Season Outlook: 

The Wolverines have jumped out of the gates strong off to a 4-0 start to the season. Non-conference matchups in November usually do not reveal much, especially against Appalachian State, Elon, and Houston Baptist. Michigan will be battle-ready in the weeks to come with matchups against Louisville and Oregon looming. 

The Big Ten looks formidable once again, headlined by rival and National Title contender, Michigan State. Maryland, Ohio State, and Purdue are among the few top-25 teams that will make up a deep conference. With a completely new head coach and system, Juwan Howard has big shoes to fill, and any advancement in the NCAA tourney should be considered a successful first season.