×

Head coach Juwan Howard high on experienced Michigan Wolverines men's basketball team in his 2nd year

Michigan forward Isaiah Livers, right, dribbles against Maryland during the first half on March 8 in College Park, Md. (AP file photo)

By NOAH TRISTER

AP Sports Writer

ANN ARBOR — Juwan Howard has an experienced roster for his second season as Michigan’s coach.

There may still be an adjustment period.

The Wolverines enter the 2020-21 season with plenty of talented upperclassmen. Included in that group are a couple transfers who could make a significant impact, but the question is how quickly the team can mesh.

“I would say the strength of our team is we have experience on all levels at all positions,” Howard said. “It’s great to have that experience on a team — yes, even though some of them are new guys, some haven’t played together.”

The Wolverines were 19-12 when last season was halted because of the coronavirus pandemic. It would have obviously been easier to evaluate Howard’s first season at the helm if Michigan had been able to play through the postseason, but the focus now is on 2020-21.

Michigan lost seniors Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske, but forward Isaiah Livers and guard Eli Brooks are back this season as seniors, and forward Austin Davis returns as a grad student for his fourth year of eligibility.

The Wolverines also brought in guard Mike Smith, a grad transfer from Columbia, and guard Chaundee Brown, a senior who transferred from Wake Forest. Brown was granted immediate eligibility this season.

Guard Franz Wagner, who averaged 11.6 points per game as a freshman last season, is back. Both he and Livers passed on the NBA draft to return to Michigan.

RECRUITING BOOST

The Wolverines had solid enough results on the court last season, but what’s really driven some of the optimism about Howard’s tenure is recruiting. Michigan currently has the No. 1-ranked recruiting class in the country for 2021, according to 247Sports. The 2020 class arriving this season is ranked 15th in the nation and No. 1 in the Big Ten.

“I don’t get into the ratings of No. 1 classes and stuff like that,” Howard said. “I let whoever does that decide. I just go after guys that I feel that fit our culture.”

Hunter Dickinson, a 7-foot-1 center, is part of this season’s freshman class, along with guard Zeb Jackson and forward Terrance Williams. Jace Howard, Juwan’s son, is also a freshman for the Wolverines.

LEADER LIVERS

Livers averaged 12.9 points per game last season and shot 40% from 3-point range. He played only 21 games because of injury problems.

“Everyone listens to him and respects him, because he’s a guy, he comes from a pure place with a big heart, and his talent level is exceptional,” Howard said. “The only thing with him was, he just had a little bad luck with injuries.”

DEFENSIVE QUESTIONS

In 2017-2018 and 2018-2019, Michigan ranked in the top three in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com. Last season, the Wolverines dropped to 28th, and Michigan now has to replace a defensive standout in Simpson.