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Wisconsin men’s basketball season preview: Michigan

The Wolverines are primed for a Final Four run this season after falling a game short last year.

UCLA v Michigan Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Team: Michigan Wolverines
Location: Ann Arbor, Mich.
Conference: Big Ten
Head coach: Juwan Howard (two seasons, 42-17)
2020-2021 record: 23-5 overall, 14-3 B1G

Top returning players: 7-foot-1, C, Hunter Dickinson (14.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 59.8 FG%); 6-foot-1, CG, Eli Brooks (9.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.1 spg); 6-foot-8, F, Brandon Johns, Jr. (4.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 36.8 3P%)

Top newcomers: 6-foot-8, PF, 5-star Caleb Houstan (Montverde (Fla.) Academy) No. 10 player in 2021 class; 6-foot-10, PF, 5-star Moussa Diabate (IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla.) No. 16 player in 2021 class; 6-foot-1, PG, DeVante’ Jones (19.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.9 apg) transfer from Coastal Carolina; 6-foot-4, CG Kobe Bufkin (Grand Rapids Christian High School, Grand Rapids, Mich.) No. 45 player in 2021 class

LSU v Michigan
Eli Brooks deciding to use his bonus year is big for Michigan’s Final Four chances this year.
Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

2020-2021 review: Despite what Illinois fans might have to say, Michigan was a deserving Big Ten regular season champion last season. In Juwan Howard’s second season at the helm in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines were one shot away from making the Final Four and when you look back at the roster it’s easy to see why.

Hunter Dickinson was a revelation as a dominant low post presence in his first year, transfer point guard Mike Smith was everything Michigan could’ve hoped for running the offense and wings Isaiah Livers and Franz Wagner are both now plying their trade in the NBA.

The Wolverines had a dominant defense, ranking No. 4 in KenPom’s efficiency ratings, and their offense wasn’t too far behind, ranking No. 9. Despite losing three of their last five games in the Big Ten, Michigan regrouped and rolled through Texas Southern, LSU and Florida State before becoming another feather in UCLA’s miracle tournament run cap in the Elite 8.

2021-2022 preview: While Michigan’s conference title wasn’t as out of the blue last season as a Northwestern title run, it wasn’t predicted by anyone either. This year is a different story. The Wolverines are a unanimous top-10 team in the nation and one of the two favorites to win the Big Ten according to, well, everybody.

Dickinson is a contender for Big Ten Player of the Year as well as an All-America spot come season’s end. He’ll probably be extra motivated as he was not selected to the preseason AP All-America team, while conference rivals Trayce Jackson-Davis of Indiana and Kofi Cockburn of Illinois were.

City Of Palms Classic
Caleb Houstan is an instant impact freshman that many think will be the top newcomer in the conference.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The incoming freshman class is rated as the second best in the whole nation and the crown jewel is Caleb Houstan. He starred at the FIBA U19 World Cup over the summer, averaging 17.0 ppg to lead Canada to a bronze medal.

Moussa Diabate will backup Dickinson and already has advanced rebounding and rim protecting skills.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 15 Coastal Carolina at Wofford
Devante’ Jones will be leading the charge for the Wolverines this season.
Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Weirdly looking like afterthoughts are top-50 guards Kobe Bufkin and Frankie Collins, who will likely get a chance to sit back and develop before being thrust into a larger role next year.

They also have 4-star wing Isaiah Barnes and high 3-star big man Will Tschetter in the class. An embarrassment of riches some might say.

Devante’ Jones, the transfer from Coastal Carolina, is the reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year and, at 23 years old, will bring a veteran presence to the court. If he fits in seamlessly with Brooks and Dickinson, I’d have a hard time picking against Michigan to win the conference and make the Final Four.

Honestly...thank God the Badgers only play them once this year.

Games vs. Wisconsin: Sunday, Feb. 20, Madison, Wis., Kohl Center, CBS, 12:00 p.m. CT