When I stepped onto campus for my freshman year, I could sum up my knowledge of Michigan basketball in one sentence: “Jordan Poole hit that shot against Houston in March Madness.” I quickly realized that this was nowhere near enough to pass in a conversation about the team, and went about trying to learn enough to get by. I read a lot (and I mean a lot) of articles about the team. Eventually, though, I found myself wishing there was just a Crash Course video explaining everything I needed to know about the team for me.  

Two years later, I’ve decided to become the solution to my own problem. Consider me the Hank Green of Michigan basketball. Let’s begin.

Basic terms

“In the paint”: the rectangle underneath the basket boxed in by the free-throw lines. It’s creatively called “the paint” because it’s outlined (and sometimes also filled in) with paint. Teams tend to put their biggest guys here. On offense, the goal of the player in the paint is either a) pass to someone who has an open shot, or b) muscle his way through the opponent’s defense and score (“going to work down low” — this is where size can be an important factor). On defense, the goal is to stop the other team from doing either of those things (again, size is helpful there). 

Big Ten conference play is notoriously won and lost in the paint, and Michigan coach Juwan Howard, a former big man, can be aggressive in planning attacks in the post. It was a consistent staple of Michigan’s offense last year, and is likely to remain central this year. Incoming freshman center Hunter Dickinson (see below) will be a key player in both attacking and defending in the paint.

Ball screen: a blocking move set up by a team so that the player who has the ball can get off a shot or a pass. Michigan relies on these on offense.

“From the field”: shooting from anywhere that isn’t a free throw. This includes both two- and three-pointers. Howard encourages his guys to take open looks from the field if they have them, so if those shots start falling, Michigan’s offense could be dangerous. Isaiah Livers and Franz Wagner (see below) will be key here.


Juwan Howard: Head coach of Michigan basketball, now in his second year. He was part of a really good Michigan recruiting class in 1991 called the Fab Five, played on some really good Michigan basketball teams in the ‘90s, had a successful NBA career, was an assistant coach in the NBA for a few years and then came back to Ann Arbor to coach the Wolverines. Howard led Michigan to a solid 19-12 record in his first season last year.

Phil Martelli: Associate head coach. Really, really knowledgeable about the game of basketball. Martelli is the one standing next to Juwan at the games. Before coming to Michigan, he was the head coach at St. Joseph’s, and he brings 43 years of coaching experience to the table. With Michigan being Howard’s first head-coaching role, Martelli’s wealth of knowledge of the game and the position are key to understanding Michigan basketball.

Isaiah Livers: The last remaining starter from Michigan’s 2018 Final Four run, and a very dynamic scorer. Injured on-and-off for most of last year, Livers was a huge boost for the Wolverines when he was healthy. He’s now back in Ann Arbor for his senior season, and a projected second-round pick in the NBA draft. Livers will be a key piece of Michigan’s offense this year, and an experienced voice in the locker room.

Franz Wagner: A sophomore wing with a really pretty — and very dangerous — shot. His brother, Moritz, was also on the 2018 Final Four team. He was a key scorer for Michigan last year, and likely will be again.

Eli Brooks: A senior guard, Brooks really came into his own at the end of last season. When his shot is falling, he has the ability to headline Michigan’s offense, but his defense and passing can’t be overlooked — he learned a lot from Zavier Simpson there (see below). Really versatile player — it’ll be interesting to see how he fits into this year’s team. 

Hunter Dickinson: Freshman big man and projected starter at center. Dickinson is really talented, and could make an impact right away. Developing big men has quickly become Howard’s calling card, so Dickinson is expected to grow even more during his time at Michigan.

John Beilein: Head coach of Michigan basketball before Howard; left to take a job as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Beilein took Michigan to nine March Madness tournaments and two Final Fours (2013 and 2018). He’s the winningest basketball coach in school history and also led Michigan to two conference titles and two Big Ten Tournament victories.

Zavier Simpson: Graduated in the spring, and basically directed how the team played from the court during his time as the Wolverines’ starting point guard — that’s him firing off that screen pass in the second video. He was also a key piece of Michigan’s offensive attack in the paint (see video below). He leaves a big hole, and filling it is one of the toughest questions this team faces right now. 

Jon Teske: Also graduated in the spring – he’s the really tall one who scored in the post in the first video. Teske was the personification of “going to work down low” and the heart and soul of Michigan’s post defense. He’ll also be tough to replace; Dickinson’s performance will be key.

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You now have basic knowledge of Michigan basketball. And you’re in luck: I’ve also made a Quizlet for this article. It’s linked here. Now go forth and sound like you know what you’re talking about.


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