I’ve completed a Q&A exchange with Clayton Safie from thewolverine.com. Check their site for my answers and see below for Clayton’s:
1.) I know the ranking and the reputation; are the fans as high on this team as it seems they should be? Are the legitimate national title contenders?
Clayton: Fans are extremely high on this team, and there has been a ton of excitement surrounding the program throughout the entire offseason. This is a legitimate national title contender, but there are still a lot of questions heading into the season. Seven out of the 14 scholarship players are new faces, and the Wolverines lost several key pieces from their Big Ten title / Elite Eight team a year ago. It’ll be interesting to see how everything comes together. Fifth-year senior point guard DeVante’ Jones, a Coastal Carolina transfer, admitted there will be growing pains early on in the year. That doesn’t mean they won’t wind up being very, very good, but there are no guarantees, as head coach Juwan Howard has said.
2.) Who are the big freshmen/newcomers to look for?
Clayton: Jones is absolutely one to watch. The reigning Sun Belt Player of the year the starter at the point guard spot and will set the tone offensively. He’s fast and plays well in transition, can score or pass off the ball screen and plays tough with the ball. Freshman wing Caleb Houstan, a five-star recruit, will start at the three. Known as an elite shooter, Houstan has big shoes to fill as he replaces top-10 pick Franz Wagner, but he’ll bring a different kind of flavor to the team. His offense is ahead of his defense at this point. On the flip side, 6-11 freshman forward Moussa Diabate, another five-star, will be a force on the defensive end, while his offense is still coming along. The Paris, France, native’s 7-3 wingspan and his quickness and ability to switch defensively will frustrate a lot of opponents.
3.) Who have they lost and how will that impact them? Will their be differences in size of lineup, depth of rotation, pace of play, etc?
Clayton: As I just mentioned, Franz Wagner is a massive loss, especially on the defensive end. So is losing fellow wing Isaiah Livers, an elite shooter and the ultimate team player. The Wolverines also saw point guard Mike Smith, shooting guard Chaundee Brown and forward Austin Davis graduate and move on. There are big holes to fill, but there’s a lot of talent that is stepping into those roles.
4.) John Beilein is originally a ‘Buffalo Guy’ and hoops fans have always followed his career. Given the success of Howard taking over, does it seem like a long time ago that he left?
Clayton: May 13, 2019 — the day John Beilein stunned the basketball world and left Ann Arbor for the Cleveland Cavaliers — feels like it was yesterday. It’s hard to believe Juwan Howard is in his third year as the Wolverines’ head coach. And despite being met with much skepticism when he was hired, Howard has done nothing but continue what Beilein started, while adding his own flair. Howard is better on the recruiting trail, is just as demanding (if not more) than Beilein, but has a great relationship with his players and is an X’s and O’s savant. He bucked the trend of NBA coaches coming to college and failing. He still has a lot to prove, but so far, so good.
5.) Game prediction; what / who makes ‘the difference’ in the game?
Clayton: Buffalo will try to push the pace — and Michigan likes to run when it can — but the Wolverines will control tempo. Hunter Dickinson will be a load to handle inside, and the Wolverines will do a good job at defending in transition. Kenpom’s line of 18 points is a bit high, but we still like Michigan by double digits.
Michigan 83, Buffalo 71
Thanks to Clayton for the info!