Juwan Howard entering pivotal step in first full offseason at Michigan

Eli Boettger | @boettger_eli | 03/19/20

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Year 1 was a solid first step in the Juwan Howard era in Michigan, and Year 2 could reap even larger rewards under the right offseason moves.

The Wolverines are set to embark on an event-filled summer following this past season’s 19-12 (10-10 Big Ten) campaign. The fun begins with a complex scholarship situation.

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As it currently stands, Michigan is one scholarship over the NCAA limit for the 2020-21 season assuming every commit remains with the Wolverines. Here’s a look at the projected scholarship roster for the fall with stats from this past season:

  • Isaiah Livers, sr. (6-7/230) — 21 games, 21 starts, 31.5 mpg, 12.9 ppg
  • Eli Brooks, sr. (6-1/185) — 30 games, 30 starts, 32.0 mpg, 10.6 ppg
  • Austin Davis, rs-sr. (6-10/250) — 24 games, 0 starts, 10.7 mpg, 4.9 ppg
  • David Dejulius, jr. (6-0/190) — 31 games, 1 start, 20.9 mpg, 7.0 ppg
  • Adrien Nunez, jr. (6-6/210) — 22 games, 4 starts, 7.6 mpg, 2.0 ppg
  • Brandon Johns Jr., jr. (6-8/235) — 30 games, 11 starts, 19.5 mpg, 6.0 ppg
  • Colin Castleton, jr. (6-11/235) — 25 games, 0 starts, 7.9 mpg, 3.1 ppg
  • Cole Bajema, so. (6-7/175) — 9 games, 0 starts, 4.1 mpg, 2.9 ppg
  • Franz Wagner, so. (6-8/205) — 27 games, 27 starts, 30.8 mpg, 11.6 ppg
  • Zeb Jackson, fr. (6-2/190) — 4-star signee (24/7Sports)
  • Jace Howard, fr. (6-8/210) — 3-star commit (24/7Sports)
  • Isaiah Todd, fr. (6-10/206) — 5-star commit (24/7Sports)
  • Terrance Williams, fr. (6-6/215) — 4-star commit (24/7Sports)
  • Hunter Dickinson, fr. (7-2/225) — 4-star commit (24/7Sports)

This situation doesn’t appear as simple as one player leaving and Howard confirming the 13-man roster, though.

To begin, Michigan’s busy recruiting cycle is far from over. According to 24/7Sports, Howard’s staff is the unanimous favorite to land Joshua Christopher, the No. 10 overall recruit out of the 2020 class. The 6-5 shooting guard out of Lakewood, Calif., is “nearing a decision,” per 24/7Sports’ Josh Gershon.

Hypothetically, that would bring Michigan to two scholarships over the NCAA limit, and there are more pieces to the puzzle as well.

Grad transfer Mike Smith has reportedly heard from Michigan, Arizona, Seton Hall and Gonzaga. Smith, who averaged 22.8 points and 4.5 assists per game this past season with Columbia, is a shifty 5-11 point guard who can fill it up and would be a formidable replacement for the outgoing Zavier Simpson. Michigan and Arizona were the first teams to speak with Smith.

In addition to Smith, Michigan has also reached out to Bryce Aiken, a grad transfer by the way of Harvard. Aiken, like Smith, is one of the most sought-after grad transfers on the market this offseason. The six-foot guard is averaging 16.8 points per game while shooting 34.7 percent from deep and 85.3 percent from the line over his injury-interrupted career. Aiken is also being pursued by Maryland, Marquette, Seton Hall, Iowa State, Kansas and Gonzaga.

Greg Brown has also received interest from Michigan, a five-star power forward recruit out of Austin, Texas. This one seems rather unlikely, though, given UM’s frontcourt commitments from Isaiah Todd and Hunter Dickinson. According to 24/7Sports, Texas, Memphis and Kentucky are the frontrunners.

So what does this all mean? Obviously, there will be at least a departure or two from the projected roster above.

Unlike recent years, Michigan doesn’t have a bona fide NBA draft prospect. At No. 100, Isaiah Livers is the only Wolverine on ESPN’s big board who still has remaining college eligibility. He and Franz Wagner could potentially wind up leaving but neither player is likely to be selected.

Assuming this holds true, transfers or decommits would be the resolution.

Among the five incoming freshmen, Zeb Jackson is the only one who has already signed his letter of intent, according to multiple recruiting outlets. Five-star Isaiah Todd, four-stars Hunter Dickinson and Terrance Williams and three-star Jace Howard still remain.

If Christopher does wind up committing, the top-10 recruit would eat up significant backcourt playing time and could incentivize a guard to head elsewhere. A guard group of Christopher, Jackson, Eli Brooks, David Dejulius, Adrian Nunez and Cole Bajema seems way too cluttered, and that’s even before considering off-ball starters Isaiah Livers and Franz Wagner, both of whom averaged more than 30 minutes a game in ’19-20.

Added complications from the coronavirus outbreak should also be factored into the equation. Given pre-draft workout cancellations and postponed events, the 2020 NBA Draft timeline is murky, at best. Additionally, the NCAA has suspended all in-person recruiting until at least April 15.

As is often the case in college basketball, a team that looks ridiculously deep on paper typically sheds a contributor or two. Juwan Howard will do his best to ensure every mouth is fed without damaging what could be a fruitful 2020-21 season.


Eli Boettger is a college basketball writer and founder of HeatCheckCBB.com. He has previously worked for Sporting News, DAZN and USA TODAY SMG.

Boettger’s content has been featured by Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, FiveThirtyEight, Yahoo Sports, Athletic Director University, Washington Post, Illinois Law Review and Notre Dame Law Review, among other publications. Boettger is also a current USBWA member.