Michigan hasn’t quite picked up momentum this season, playing two single-digit games against teams ranked outside of KenPom’s top 150 and suffering a stunning 25-point loss to Arizona State. But the Wolverines will have a chance to take a step forward in the next few games, starting with a showdown with a tough Virginia team on Tuesday.
“Michigan is certainly interesting in this game with Virginia,” ESPN’s Dick Vitale said during Oklahoma’s win over Ole Miss at the ESPN Events Invitational. “Virginia has really improved. And Michigan is always a threat to have on the floor Hunter Dickinson and now Juwan Howard’s son can really stroke the ball.”
“Really improved” is probably shorthand for the Cavaliers, who were one of the top five or so teams in the nation earlier this season. Looking at stats site BartTorvik and factoring in preseason expectations, Virginia ranks 11th with several teams ahead of the Cavaliers to hit their efficiency numbers against easier schedules. After bringing back all five starters from last year’s team, Virginia has had back-to-back wins over top-ranked Baylor and Illinois teams.
Despite returning All-America nominee Hunter Dickinson, Michigan faced more of a construction job this offseason. Appetizers Kobe Bufkin and Terrance Williams are both returning players, though they step into significantly larger roles after joining forces to launch just one game a year ago.
That leaves two newcomers: Princeton transfer guard Jaelin Llewellyn and Howard’s son Jett Howard. Howard was ranked No. 15 small forward and No. 45 overall in the 247Sports rankings, and he is currently second on the team to Dickinson with 15.2 points per game. His outdoor shots seem priceless; He makes 43.9% of his distance attempts while making nearly seven 3-point shots per game.
Michigan also needs to develop its bench, which includes three more four-star prospects at point guard Dug McDanielcenter Tarris Reed and further Gregory Glennalong with another impact transfer in Joey Baker. Baker leads Michigan in 3-point field goal percentage after coming from Duke, and as that bench unit continues to improve, Michigan will improve too.
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Last year’s Michigan team entered Pick Sunday with a 17-14 record before running to the Sweet 16. And this year’s team could be more successful during the regular season. Of course, teams will be judged on what they do in March, and that’s where Tuesday’s game against Virginia comes in. The Cavaliers are considered a team of choice even in Ann Arbor, and while a win in Michigan would come as a surprise given Virginia’s toughness, it provides a small benchmark to see where Michigan stands.