The past 365 days for Michigan basketball have been less than ideal.
Michigan went 18-16 overall and 11-9 Big Ten in 2022-23 and missed the NCAA tournament for just the second time in 15 years. The Wolverines were bounced in the second round of the NIT, a 66-65 loss at Vanderbilt. Hunter Dickinson, the program’s leading scorer and rebounder the past three years, transferred to Kansas for his senior season, Jett Howard (Orlando Magic) and Kobe Bufkin (Atlanta Hawks) both became NBA draft lottery picks and graduate wing Joey Baker opted not to return for a final year of eligibility.
The Wolverines added three players via the transfer portal — Olivier Nkamhoua (Tennessee), Nimari Burnett (Alabama), and Tray Jackson (Seton Hall) — and one freshman from Ohio, George Washington III.
However, the season is already off to an unusual start. Coach Juwan Howard had heart surgery last month and has been away from the program since. Associate head coach Phil Martelli has served as the lead in the interim, while assistants Howard Eisley and Saddi Washington have taken a specific focus on offense and defense, respectively.
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There is still no timetable for Howard’s return, as Washington said earlier this month the team is taking care of its business and wants Howard back “when he’s ready.”
With the team’s first exhibition arriving on Friday, Free Press sports writer Tony Garcia breaks down the 2023-24 Wolverines and makes a bold prediction for the season for each Wolverines player:
G Dug McDaniel
Vitals: Sophomore, 5 feet 11, 175 pounds.
The buzz: McDaniel was thrown into the fire as Michigan’s lone point guard last year when his mentor, Jaelin Llewellyn, tore his ACL one month into the season. Though he had his freshman learning moments, it was a largely positive season for U-M’s primary facilitator. McDaniel averaged 8.6 points (and 9.9 once he moved into the starting lineup), 3.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game as he shot 38.4% from the floor and 35.5% on 3-pointers. The Wolverines want to see the field goal percentage tick up, but if McDaniel can maintain his 3-point clip on double the volume — his 2.7 attempts per game need to be closer to five or six this year — it will go a long way toward answering the team’s shooting questions. McDaniel is the team’s floor general and its only true pass-first player until Llewellyn if fully healthy, so as much as McDaniel likes to get to the rim for a floater, he will look to facilitate first.
Bold prediction: McDaniel’s timeshare won’t go up much — Northwestern’s Boo Buie is the only returning Big Ten player who played more minutes per game last season — but his production will. McDaniel averages 12 points, leads the team at 5.3 assists per game and finishes top 10 in the Big Ten in steals and assists per game.
F Tray Jackson − No. 2
Vitals: Graduate, 6-10, 215.
The buzz: A Detroit native, Jackson returns to his home state after a four-year career — first at Missouri, then at Seton Hall — which had bright spots, but never materialized in the way Jackson pictured. As a junior in 2021-22, Jackson averaged a career-high 6.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in just 18 minutes as he shot 39.5% on 3-pointers. After a coaching change, however, the fit wasn’t quite the same; Jackson averaged 6.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 14.6 minutes per game in 2022-23, prompting him to move on. The Wolverines, desperate for a stretch four after struggles at the position last season, appear a perfect fit, despite at least five players whose slot in there. That means there will be many different lineup combinations; but if Jackson can hold up on defense and rebound his share, there’s no doubt he will be in most of them.
Bold prediction: It doesn’t take long before Jackson emerges as Michigan’s best 3-point shooter. After making 49 total 3s over the past two seasons, Jackson betters that with 50 3s on 128 attempts, nearly matching the best 3-point percentage of his career.
G Jaelin Llewellyn
Vitals: Graduate, 6-2, 190.
The buzz: Llewellyn came to Ann Arbor prior to last season as U-M’s third consecutive graduate transfer point guard, but his year ended when he tore his ACL in December against Kentucky in London. Prior to that, Llewellyn was off to a slow start; he averaged 7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists as he shot 30.9% from the floor and 18.5% on 3s. A teammate recently revealed there may have been a reason for it: “He was out with an ankle injury all of October which people don’t know,” Jace Howard said. “Came back off ice, then tore his ACL. … but you can tell he’s starting to get his confidence back.” Llewellyn hasn’t been cleared for contact drills, but he has been active in non-contact portions of practice and hopes for a return by the start of the season — in early November. Still, all signs point to Llewellyn making a return at some point this year.
Bold prediction: Llewellyn returns to the rotation for a couple of minutes nearly a year to the day after his ACL team, this time for a road trip to Oregon. While he’s never produces at his expected level, his return brings necessary reinforcements to an offense that sputters in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Llewellyn scores 11 points including a big three in a win at the Palestra in Philadelphia against Penn State and averages 15 minutes a game.
G Nimari Burnett
Vitals: Graduate, 6-4, 200.
The buzz: Juwan Howard & Co. recruited Burnett out of high school, but he chose Texas Tech. He hit the portal, they wanted him again and he chose Alabama. In Burnett’s second portal entrance, Howard landed the former McDonald’s All-American. The former top-50 recruit steps into a team, for the first time, on which he will be the starting shooting guard and a much-needed piece on both ends. U-M needs him to shoot better than he did with the Crimson Tide — 32.1% (27-for-84) of his 3-pointers — but doesn’t want him to change almost anything on defense. He’s one of the better on- and off-ball defenders and will frequently be tasked with the opponent’s best player this season.
Bold prediction: The third time is, in fact, the charm for Burnett. Burnett emerges as the best defender in the backcourt and becomes a first look offensively for McDaniel. Burnett’s shooting numbers aren’t great, but he’s a positive force in the locker room and averages a career-high 11.3 points per game, which includes a career-high 24 in an upset win at Maryland in January.
F Terrance Williams II
Vitals: Senior, 6-7, 225.
The buzz: Perhaps nobody on the roster needs a new start as much as Terrance Williams II. He came into last season with high expectations following a 2021-22 in which he averaged 4.7 points and 2.5 rebounds in 15.1 minutes while providing energy off the bench. But he took a step back last season when more was needed: Williams played nearly 26.6 minutes per game and while he averaged a career-high 6.1 points and was second on the team with 5.8 rebounds per game, all of his shooting numbers dropped — 38.5% from the floor and 25% on 3-pointers, down seven and 13.5 points, respectively, from 2021-22. In 2023-24, however, instead of being an undersized four there’s a chance he plays as an oversized three.
Bold prediction: An almost bounce-back season for Williams brings shooting numbers not quite at his best, but closer. It’s tough for the senior to find a rhythm as he bounces between the three and four spots, but he ultimately ends up more on the wing. Williams averages a career-best seven points and six rebounds, serving as the team’s No. 2 rebounder for a second consecutive season.
F Olivier Nkamhoua
Vitals: Graduate, 6-9, 235.
The buzz: The crown jewel of the offseason, nobody brings more immediate oomph to the Wolverines’ lineup than the Tennessee transfer. The Helsinki, Finland, native is the only player on the roster to have averaged double-digit points for a full season at the Power Five level — he did so last year when he put up 10.8 points per game for the Volunteers — and will be leaned on as a guiding force for U-M this season. Nkamhoua is long, athletic and can score in a variety of ways — see March’s 27-point performance vs. Duke to lead the Vols to the Sweet 16 — in both the midrange and at the rim. He’s not replacing Hunter Dickinson in position or style, but expect U-M to play through Nkamhoua in the post in a somewhat similar fashion, as Nkamhoua is equally comfortable with his back to the basket as a post-up scorer or an inside-out passer. The senior also provides exceptional length, a benefit on both ends, and projects to be a plus defender at the four, where the Wolverines hope to make their biggest leap this season.
Bold prediction: The Wolverines will look to him for leadership as he will have opportunity and volume he has never had before. Nkamhoua averages a career-high 15.7 points per game to go with 5.7 rebounds and is named second-team All-Big Ten.
F Youssef Khayat
Vitals: Sophomore, 6-9, 215.
The buzz: There was hope the late add from Lebanon could provide some depth at the two and three positions, but his last-minute arrival and some midseason injuries meant Khayat never caught on. He averaged 6.6 minutes while appearing in just nine games. He scored a career-high six points on a pair of 3-pointers vs. Minnesota in early December, but didn’t score another point until he hit a 3 against Vanderbilt in the NIT. Khayat is up 20 pounds from his freshman weight and is the best sleeper candidate at a position of need.
Bold prediction: Khayat works his way into a legitimate rotational piece before the calendar turns. It starts with multiple double-digit scoring games in nonconference play, and he ultimately averages 15 minutes per game as a shooting spark off the bench and depth on the wing.
WHO WILL SCORE?: Michigan basketball has some big questions to answer this season.
F Jace Howard
Vitals: Senior, 6-7, 225.
The buzz: Oddly, the Wolverines list Howard as a guard even though he has only played forward for the Wolverines. When he’s on the court this season, that’s again the expectation. Of course, the buzzword around Ann Arbor is “versatility” as Martelli has said every player (with the exception of McDaniel) will play multiple positions — so there could be times Howard is on the wing. But he’ll have to work his way through a crowded frontcourt against Nkamhoua, Jackson, Williams and returning big man Will Tschetter. Even last year, when U-M was desperate for production at the four spot and had less depth, Howard averaged just 7.8 minutes a game over his 30 appearances. He also didn’t provide much production, averaging 1.2 points and 0.9 rebounds per game.
Bold prediction: Howard is a good athlete who hasn’t shown he has Big Ten chops on a nightly basis. But he’s a locker room leader, and his most important role this year be will not only to serve in that capacity, but to operate as something of a liaison to his father, Juwan. Doctors have given strict orders for the head coach to rest and Jace has said that’s been the main focus, but both are competitors and are sure to have talked shop.
F/C Tarris Reed Jr.
Vitals: Sophomore, 6-10, 265.
The buzz: While Khayat may be the sleeper to take a step, nobody on the roster appears as poised for a leap, both in role and readiness, as Tarris Reed Jr. Last year, the freshman was stuck behind Dickinson, but still proved to be a better defender and worked his way onto the court — both as Dickinson’s understudy and in the team’s two-big lineup. Reed averaged 3.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in just 12.6 minutes per game; just getting 28 minutes a game at the same pace would bring averages of 8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. That seems about right, though he’ll need to stay out of foul trouble to have enough time to put up those numbers.
Bold prediction: Reed gets the first double-double of his career on opening night (Nov. 7 vs. UNC Asheville), which sets the tone for a standout campaign. He has some nights when he plays just 12 minutes due to foul trouble, but others where he scores 11 points and grabs 16 rebounds. Reed leads the team in rebounds and blocks and makes the Big Ten’s All-Defense first team.
G George Washington III
Vitals: Freshman, 6-2, 170.
The buzz: The lone freshman in the class of 2023, George Washington III has been known for one thing during his practices with Michigan: Scoring. Washington averaged 24.1 points, 4 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.2 steals as he shot better than 47% on 3-pointers en route to his honor as Gatorade Ohio Boys’ Basketball Player of the Year. Washington profiles as a combo guard, but with McDaniel as the lead point guard and Llewellyn working his way back into the fold, expect Washington to predominantly work off-ball behind Burnett. If he can score, he’ll play, but even the elite shooters take time to adjust to the next level.
Bold prediction: Michigan needs shooters and Washington is exactly that, but there are only so many minutes available. Washington is used a bit early on, and though his role decreases in Big Ten play, he steps up with key backcourt minutes in February and sets himself up as a breakout sophomore.
F Will Tschetter
Vitals: Redshirt sophomore, 6-8, 240.
The buzz: Will Tschetter brought energy off the bench early in the season; this made him an early fan favorite, but the Minnesotan never took the next step. Tschetter had nice moments — such as when he scored seven points in 18 minutes in a win over Michigan State — but was largely pedestrian as he averaged 2.3 points and 1.4 rebounds in 10.8 minutes per game. He shot 49% from the floor but just 25% (5-for-20) on 3s and 58.8% on free throws. Tschetter should play as a small-ball five, but that will be sparingly; he’ll need to earn more time at the crowded power forward spot.
Bold prediction: It’s a similar role for Tschetter early; he plays 8-12 minutes a game, shoots at a better clip but doesn’t make a sizable impact. That is, until the Battle 4 Atlantis when more minutes become available because of adversity elsewhere. Tschetter has a 12-point game in the Bahamas, which leads to a larger role moving into Big Ten play. There’s promise, but not much improvement, as Tschetter averages 4.1 points and 2.7 rebounds.
G Ian Burns: Junior, 6-6, 205.
F Harrison Hochberg: Freshman, 6-7, 225.
F Jackson Selvala: Graduate, 6-7, 230.
G Cooper Smith: Junior, 6-1, 180.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Everything you need to know about Michigan basketball’s 23-24 roster