I want to be very clear about this. I love what Juwan Howard is doing and honestly haven't disagreed with much of what he's done since becoming Michigan's head coach. With that being said, it's fun to guess about U-M's starting lineup for the season opener tomorrow, even though Juwan will likely go in a different direction.
It's obvious that Franz Wagner and Isaiah Livers will start, but the other three spots are somewhat up for grabs. Howard hinted that Columbia graduate transfer Mike Smith will start at the point, but it's definitely not a guarantee. It sounds like Smith, Eli Brooks, Wagner, Livers and Austin Davis will begin the game, but that almost certainly won't be the starting five for the entire season.
No one seems to know exactly what the starting line up will be tomorrow, but this is who I would trot out there based on what we know.
1. Eli Brooks
Brooks has been a starting point guard for Michigan before and he showed last year that he can carry the load at times as a scorer. He also proved invaluable as a defender on the perimeter, in help situations and off the ball. As a senior, he's been through it and won't be rattled by anything that happens. He's good enough at everything that a point guard needs to do and would provide leadership among a pretty new rotation.
Alternate: Mike Smith — based on what Howard said recently, it sounds like Smith will get the start at point and Brooks will start at the 2. However it plays out, Michigan has a couple of experienced, steady and capable players who can run the show.
2. Chaundee Brown
Granted, I haven't really seen Brown play before except for snippets of his days at Wake Forest, but based on what Howard has said, he's perfect in the two spot. He's a knock down shooter, a phenomenal and physical defender on the perimeter and a very smart player who doesn't need the ball a lot to make an impact on the game. He's also a senior who would form an experienced backcourt with either Brooks or Smith making for a trustworthy ball handling duo.
Alternate: Eli Brooks — If Smith ends up starting at point guard like many think, Brooks would likely start at the two for the same reasons outlined above. If that happens, Brown probably comes in off the bench, which is a role he could really excel at because of his ability to settle a team down and score some buckets from all three levels.
3. Franz Wagner
This one is a lock. Wagner could slide between the two, three and four spots, but he's a guaranteed starter and fits best at the three. He should lead the Wolverines in several categories this year including scoring. At a legitimate 6-9, maybe 6-10, Wagner is going to be a problem for defenses all year. He can fill it up from outside, obviously can get a shot off in the mid range but is truly elite at getting to the basket and finishing with both hands. His length also makes him a very good defender, both inside and out. He's in line for a special year.
Alternate: There isn't really an alternate as much as there is a handful of a few players who can play the three spot when different lineups are deployed. Chaundee Brown and Isaiah Livers, along with freshmen Jace Howard and Terrance Williams could all see time at the three.
4. Isaiah Livers
This one is also a lock. There is some fluidity because of how versatile Livers is, but he'll be the guy at the four. Livers can just about play 1-5, which make him extremely valuable on both ends of the floor. If anyone can challenge Wagner for the team lead in scoring, it's Livers. I would guess that they'll both be near the 20 points per game mark this season.
Alternate: Like the three spot, there isn't really much of a debate here. We'll see Livers, Wagner, Brandon Johns and possibly Terrance Williams at the four, but it'll be Livers starting there barring injury or some very game-specific starting line up.
5. Hunter Dickinson
I actually wouldn't be surprised if Austin Davis starts here tomorrow and for the first part of the season, but Dickinson definitely has what it takes to become the guy before the season is over. Dickinson is north of 7-feet, smooth as a left hander and can really shoot it pretty well from the outside. He's obviously a weapon near the basket and he possesses great footwork when it comes to getting to his spots. Obviously because of his height and length, he's a presence on the defensive end of the floor as well. He's not an elite athlete or someone who plays above the rim, but like Jon Teske was, he'll be a force on the interior because of his size, length and overall basketball IQ.
Alternate: I actually think Austin Davis might get the nod tomorrow night but I love him as a backup center. He's literally perfect for the role. He comes in, brings energy, gets buckets, fouls people and plays with an edge. He'll do all the dirty things and can operate efficiently with or without the ball. Both Dickinson and Davis could struggle with fouls, but if the freshman can carve out a role as an everyday starter, Davis will be the best backup center in the conference. We'll also probably see Johns at the five during some small ball, athletic line ups like we did last year.