Welcome to offseason storylines, a look into some of the biggest storylines surrounding the 2020-21 Michigan Wolverines. Today we open the series with a look at Michigan’s frontcourt and the need to develop a small-ball five.
Michigan welcomes top-40 center Hunter Dickinson to Ann Arbor this fall. Dickinson is one of the top incoming freshmen in the Big Ten and the best post-up scorer that the Wolverines have recruited in years. His arrival in conjuncture with Austin Davis’ return portends a definitive shift toward interior offense under Juwan Howard.
In a conference like the Big Ten, where arguably half of the league’s best players in 2019-20 were centers, that shift makes sense. Traditional back-to-the-basket post players are no longer valued in the NBA, but they are a valuable resource in college basketball. There are enough 7-footers for every NBA team to stash one on their roster, but most colleges can’t recruit a 7-foot-1 center with touch around the basket. The ones that can create a talent gap that leads to effective post-up offense, creates an offensive rebounding advantage and forces double teams. Schools like Michigan State, Wisconsin, Purdue and Kansas are just a few that leverage this strategy year after year.
While the shift toward interior offense makes sense, the Wolverines’ 2020-21 roster comes with a reminder that the shift can’t happen too quickly. Building around Hunter Dickinson will be part of Michigan’s 2020-21 plan, most likely the primary plan, but Juwan Howard’s team could be vulnerable if it is the only plan. No one is sure if or when the Wolverines will develop a small-ball game, but doing so will help Howard’s second team reach their ceiling on both ends of the court.