Michigan Wolverines basketball is considered a top-10 team heading into the 2021-22 season, but its standing just took a minor hit in ESPN.com’s latest update to its ‘way-too-early’ college basketball rankings.
The reason? Memphis, which hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2014 and has been underwhelming since head coach Penny Hardaway arrived in 2018, jumped from unranked all the way up to No. 7 after five-star Emoni Bates, who reclassified at the last minute into the 2021 class, signed with the program.
The Wolverines now sit at No. 8, after previously being ranked at No. 7.
Still, the Maize and Blue, the second-highest ranked Big Ten team behind Purdue (No. 6), are expected to contend for the national title. And that starts with defense, ESPN.com writer Jeff Borzello said, an end of the floor in which the Wolverines may actually be improved from last season. Bart Torvik‘s T-Rank projects Michigan to finish second nationally in defensive efficiency, after concluding the 2020-21 season fifth.
“The best defense in the Big Ten last season shouldn’t see much of a drop-off this season, despite Michigan losing four of its top six players,” Borzello wrote. “In fact, the Wolverines are bringing in at least two high-level individual defenders in Coastal Carolina transfer DeVante’ Jones and five-star freshman Moussa Diabate. Jones averaged nearly three steals per game last season, and then he boosted his defensive reputation at the G League Elite Camp in June due to his length and ability to jump passing lanes. Diabate was one of the best rebounders in the 2021 class, and he is a good rim protector due to his size, length and physicality.
“Combine the return of [fifth-year senior guard] Eli Brooks (a very good perimeter defender), [second-year freshman center] Hunter Dickinson (who can wall up with his 7-foot-1 size) and [junior] Brandon Johns Jr. (who played a key role in the NCAA tournament run) and [head coach] Juwan Howard should once again have one of the better defenses in the country.”
Michigan has 48 points per game to replace, after the graduations of forward Isaiah Livers, guards Mike Smith and Chaundee Brown, and center Austin Davis, and wing Franz Wagner‘s early entrance into the 2021 NBA Draft.
That said, Borzello expects five-star freshman guard/forward Caleb Houstan, who impressed while playing for Team Canada in the U19 FIBA World Cup this summer, and others to fill the void.
“Projected top-five pick Caleb Houstan will make more of an impact with his skilled offensive game, but his 6-foot-8 size should be an asset,” he wrote.
Michigan will open its season Nov. 10 against Buffalo, the first of 11 non-conference games.
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