Opinion Roundtable: Expectations For Michigan Basketball In 2020-21
Sophomore Franz Wagner is returning, and most assume that Isaiah Livers will too, giving U-M two very potent returning starters. Throw in veteran guys like Eli Brooks and Austin Davis, third-year guys Brandon Johns Jr. and Adrian Nunez, along with the best recruiting class in the Big Ten, and you've got something pretty special.
Oh, don't forget about the three new Wolverines who arrived in Ann Arbor via the transfer portal. Graduate transfer point guard Mike Smith will play and most expect Wake Forest transfer Chaundee Brown to receive immediately eligibility giving him the ability to see the floor as well. Purdue's Nojel Eastern is a bit more of a wildcard, but who knows — maybe he's deemed eligible when it's all said and done.
All in all, the Wolverines are a very different team heading into 2020-21. So what are reasonable expectations? We discuss...
With Smith guaranteed to play, and Brown looking like a strong possibility, Michigan has a very complete, experienced, talented and versatile team. Juwan Howard would be able to trot out quite a few different lineups and each one could be particularly good at a few different things. If Eastern is immediately eligible, all of that goes up even another notch. He never contributed a ton at Purdue as a scorer, but he's long, versatile and is a very good defender. It would just be one more wrinkle to worry about when game planning for the Wolverines.
As the others will go on to say, I think Michigan would have as good a chance to win the Big Ten as any other team. Yes, Michigan lost excellent, veteran leaders and contributors in Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske, but the team is even more versatile and probably more talented with the new bodies set to to suit up next season. I'd say a better finish in conference and a higher seed in the tournament would be the floor for next year.
If Brown is eligible, and Livers returns, I would put Michigan's top eight rotation or so up against anyone else in the Big Ten except for Iowa -- who I think is a preseason top five team. In fact, I think this is team is every bit as flexible and difficult to match up with than if the two 5-stars we thought Michigan had in the bag had remained in the fold. Those two prep stars are more athletically gifted, but they're also more inexperienced. And what we've seen in college basketball, even in the one-and-done era, is that experience tends to trump talent. Otherwise Duke and Kentucky would win the title every year.
If Livers returns, U-M will benefit from having another scoring option to help carry the load. Livers’ presence along the perimeter will aide in head coach Juwan Howard’s quest to create a balanced offensive product. The addition of Chaundee Brown will mitigate the drop-off of Zavier Simpson leaving the program, and his experience as a floor general will be called into action. If Brown can quickly acclimate himself to the team and learn the offense, Michigan has an opportunity to compete for a Big Ten title. If Brown is slow to adjust, the Wolverines may be in for a down season despite the returning contributors.
I went in-depth on what it would mean for Michigan to get Brown for the 2020-21 season recently and what's certain is that the Wolverines would have one of the best eight-man rotations in the Big Ten. With depth, play-making ability, experience and versatility, Michigan should compete for a conference crown next year and a Sweet 16 berth. In fact, that's what I would hold as the standard: the Maize and Blue should go into the final two weeks of the Big Ten regular season with a chance to win the league title, should be a Top 4 seed in the NCAA tournament and be playing in the second weekend.