An early look at Michigan basketball for 2020-21 season
With the curtains closing on Michigan’s 2019-20 season, it’s never too early to start looking ahead.
Who will stay? Who will go? Who will be coming in?
Those questions will eventually be cleared up in the coming months. But until then, here’s a look at what’s next for each scholarship player on the Michigan basketball roster.
► Zavier Simpson, senior guard: The Wolverines took on Simpson’s personality as he steered the program during one of its most successful stretches. He was asked to do more than ever before this season and responded by averaging 12.9 points and 7.9 assists, both career bests. He also finished third in the nation with 236 assists and left his mark by setting several program records. His shortcomings sometimes overshadowed his strengths; his inconsistent jumper and 3-point shooting will be a detriment to his NBA chances in a league that values spacing. Still, that doesn’t mean Simpson won’t be able to go on and have a successful professional career elsewhere.
► Jon Teske, senior center: Under coach Juwan Howard, Teske took on a more prominent offensive role that required him to play more on the block instead of out on the perimeter. Playing more with his back to the basket was an adjustment and showed in his shooting numbers, which dipped across the board compared to his junior year. His defense also took a step back as he was asked to guard more in one-on-one situations instead of doing what he did well last year, like hedge ball screens and alter shots as a help defender. While he didn’t help his NBA draft stock for a league that’s full of stretch bigs, he played a vital role — along with Simpson — in bridging the gap and making Michigan’s coaching transition seem seamless.
► Austin Davis, redshirt junior center: Howard’s work with Michigan’s big men was most noticeable with Davis, who showed significant improvement on both ends and ramped up his on-court production. After failing to crack the rotation the last two seasons, Davis blossomed into a key reserve who finished around the rim at a high rate and was even playing better than Teske in stretches. Davis’ emergence led to him getting his fifth year granted and he will give the Wolverines an experienced option to fill Teske’s void at the five.
► Isaiah Livers, junior forward: Nobody symbolized Michigan’s up-and-down season more than Livers. His strong start was derailed by a left groin injury — his first of three lower-body injures on the year. Livers also injured his hip and groin area as well as his right ankle. The ailments cost him 10 games, but he still finished as team’s top 3-point shooter (40.2%) and tied as leading scorer (12.9 points per game). There’s no doubt he has NBA potential with his size, versatility and shooting touch, and he would benefit to go through the pre-draft workout process — if or when that takes place.
► Eli Brooks, junior guard: Brooks was a consistently solid defender, but his offense often would come and go with a string of quiet games followed by an outburst. For example, he combined for 15 points over a three-game stretch before pouring in 25 points in one outing. The uneven scoring came with Brooks being scouted more and having to find counters against defenses for the first time. With Simpson graduating and a wave of talent coming in, Brooks’ ability to play either guard spot will aid his case to remain in the starting lineup.
► David DeJulius, sophomore guard: DeJulius showed he can heat up in a hurry and change the complexion of a game with his shooting. But the next step for him is to prove he can consistently facilitate, create for others and read defensive coverages. DeJulius had a couple of extended opportunities to run the offense — at Northwestern when Simpson was in early foul trouble and at Nebraska when Simpson was suspended — and it yielded mixed results. Even though he appears groomed to be the team’s next starting point guard, it’s a job that won’t simply be handed to him.
► Brandon Johns Jr., sophomore forward: After playing as a backup five and battling confidence issues as a freshman, Johns moved to his more natural position at the four and rewired his mind. It paid off as he often provided energized minutes regardless of whether he was starting in Livers’ place or coming off the bench. He found a sweet spot with corner 3-pointers and showed he could step into a larger role when needed. If Livers returns, Johns will likely be in line to serve as the team’s sixth man.
► Colin Castleton, sophomore center: Castleton started out as Teske’s backup but fell in the pecking order as the season wore on. During Big Ten play, there were times Castleton seemed to have trouble finishing through contact and dealing with the physicality in the paint. He also had good and bad stints at the four when Michigan deployed a two-big lineup. Castleton has the tools to be a key piece but improving his stamina and strength will be key this offseason.
► Adrien Nunez, sophomore wing: Nunez had an opportunity to prove himself at the start of the season, but he couldn’t take advantage of it. He scored 21 over first four games when Franz Wagner was out with a fractured right wrist. Once Wagner returned, Nunez scored just 23 the rest of season. Nunez’s greatest asset is his 3-point shooting, but he shot 25.6% (11-for-43) from beyond the arc, which was 1% better than Teske (16-for-65). With his shots not dropping and his defense often lacking, Nunez saw his role diminish. He could have a hard time finding minutes next season and could weigh his options.
► Franz Wagner, freshman wing: Wagner received no shortage of praise before the season. While it took time for the German to find his footing and outside shooting touch after fracturing his wrist, he lived up to the expectations when he was playing as well as anyone in the Big Ten down the stretch. Like Livers, Wagner could explore the pre-draft process to gather valuable feedback. He has All-Big Ten potential next year if he continues to shoot like he did late in the season.
► Cole Bajema, freshman guard: It can be difficult for little-used freshmen to come in at the end of games and knock down shots, but Bajema made it look easy. He scored in seven of his nine appearances and has a smooth stroke from deep. Despite those encouraging signs, Bajema rarely saw the floor until the outcome was decided. He will need to improve his body and defense over the summer because he will have his work cut out to crack the rotation next year.
► Isaiah Todd, Hunter Dickinson, Zeb Jackson, Terrance Williams and Jace Howard, incoming freshmen: How large a role the newcomers play will depend on who signs and how the roster shapes up for next season. Of the five, Todd, a forward, and Dickinson, a center, likely will step in and see playing time right off the bat. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to see them both in the starting lineup when the 2020-21 season tips off. Jackson, Williams and Howard, on the other hand, could be left fighting for scraps of minutes if all the team’s key perimeter players come back.