Juwan Howard and his 2022-23 Michigan Wolverines have underachieved.
Picked to finish third in the Big Ten preseason rankings, the “Maize and Blue” stumbled to 17-14 overall record and 11-9 in the conference, finishing eighth, and having their March Madness résumé in question. To fail to qualify for the NCAA Tourney would surely be a Blue Blood blunder. In Sunday’s season finale 75-73 loss to the Indiana Hoosiers — a must-win game — the Wolverines reverted back to the lack of execution that has plagued them all season. Failing to create easy opportunities for one another offensively.
At the forefront of these struggles is Howard, who’s now 1-12 in one-score games as the Wolverines head coach. That’s a direct sign of his inability to win close games.
While Howard is 78-46 overall through four seasons, the former Fab Five star is two years removed from being named AP Coach of the Year and leading the Wolverines to the Big Ten regular season title. But in the world of big-time college basketball, and especially when you recruit like Michigan, down years are frowned upon.
Wolverines Have Struggled Despite Having Two NBA Prospects
Ranked as high as No. 22 in the preseason rankings, the Wolverines were not only expected to compete for a Big Ten championship, but also be a major player in the NCAA Tournament. Right now, making The Big Dance is a dream unless Howard can muster up a couple of wins in the Big Ten Tournament with NBA prospects in center Hunter Dickinson and Howard’s son Jett Howard leading the way.
While those two players have held up their end of the deal individually, they haven’t always made their teammates better. Dickinson, a junior, is a force on the interior who averages over 18 points, nine rebounds and just about two assists per game.
His sidekick, Howard is a true freshman wing who averages nearly 15 points, three rebounds and three assists per game. Both can really score it, but on a team devoid of playmakers, the combined five assists don’t work.
Can Michigan Win Big Ten Tourney?
They’ll need more in that area if they’re to knock off Rutgers in the opening round of this week’s Big Ten Tourney, the Scarlet Knights are also fighting for their postseason lives. A win there would put them in a win-and-in scenario against No. 1 seed and Big Ten regular season champion Purdue. It’s highly plausible they can win those games and the tourney in its entirety. But they’ll need their two best players to shine. Both are considered future NBA guys, with the 6-foot-7 Howard even being mentioned as a lottery pick.
In the end, Michigan’s fate falls on Howard, who at times has made odd in-game adjustments and questionable substitutions. His usage of timeouts and some bad offensive sets have not helped keep critics at bay, and even some calling for his job, following Sunday’s ending in Bloomington.
Even with all that, it’s still no reason to believe he isn’t the right man for the job in Ann Arbor.
Howard Is Not On The Hot Seat: Can Michigan make NCAA?
Despite his team’s surprising struggles this season, Howard’s job is safe. Former Wolverines head coach John Beilein went 67-67 in his first four seasons stalking the sidelines at Crisler Arena, without a Big Ten championship or Sweet Sixteen appearance. Howard has one of each, and an Elite Eight appearance.
The beauty of it all is there’s still time for Howard to right the ship and punch Michigan’s ticket to the NCAA Tourney. If they do get there, the Wolverines have what it takes to make the sting of an underachieving regular season disappear.