After a flurry of roster moves over the past few weeks, Michigan has accounted for all but one of its scholarships for next season.
Programs typically like to use all 13, though not always. Last season, partly due to a coaching transition, the Wolverines ended up with two open scholarships.
Michigan’s options to fill the spot this time around fall into five categories: sign another 2020 recruit; bring in a graduate transfer; bring in a regular transfer, most likely one with multiple years of eligibility remaining; give the scholarship to a walk-on.
The fifth option, of course, is to do nothing. Juwan Howard and his staff may feel comfortable with the roster as is. If Isaiah Livers withdraws his name from the NBA draft, Michigan would have three returning starters (Eli Brooks and Franz Wagner being the others). Brandon Johns Jr. and Austin Davis will be back as well. Michigan added grad transfer Mike Smith and brought in the country’s No. 8 recruiting class.
If Howard thinks another piece is necessary, here are potential options.
There are a handful of top-100 recruits still available, but only one with clear ties to Michigan: Greg Brown, a 6-foot-9 forward and the No. 9 player in the class. Brown, from Vandegrift High School in Austin, Texas, has Michigan among his finalists.
He is also considering Auburn, Kentucky, Memphis, and Texas. He could follow former Michigan recruit Isaiah Todd and join the G League.
Brown is expected to announce his decision on Friday afternoon.
As mentioned previously, Michigan recently added Smith, a high-scoring guard from Columbia. As a grad transfer, he is immediately eligible. Howard, perhaps wanting even more depth at a certain position for next season, could pursue another.
Based off ESPN’s rankings of the top grad transfers, there are just two in the top-20 still available: Purdue center Matt Haarms and George Mason’s Justin Kier, a shooting guard ranked 17th. (It’s worth noting that players ranked below that have ended up at schools like Duke and Kentucky.)
Let’s look ahead to this time next year. Even if Michigan has no attrition beyond its four seniors, there would still be five open scholarships for 2021-22. That would be a relatively large recruiting class — and, keep in mind, Franz Wagner could definitely turn pro by then, not to mention potential transfers. In other words, Howard may want to get a head start by adding a transfer now, accepting the fact that such a player would have to sit out next season.
Like with the grad transfers, many of the top sit-out transfers are off the market. ESPN’s top transfer, Virginia Tech’s Landers Nolley, has narrowed his options to three schools, Michigan not among them. There are two Big Ten players at the bottom of the top-20: Ohio State forward Alonzo Gaffney and Nebraska guard Cam Mack. Gaffney has three seasons of eligibility remains; Mack has two.
Oklahoma guard Jamal Bieniemy (No. 23, per ESPN) is in the transfer portal as well. Michigan recruited the 6-foot-5 Texan out of high school, albeit when John Beilein was Michigan’s coach. Bieniemy started all 30 games for Oklahoma as a sophomore last season and while his numbers weren’t great — 5.2 points per game, 35 percent shooting — he could be a possibility.
If Michigan doesn’t add a new player to the program before next season, Howard could give the open scholarship to a walk-on. During Michigan’s recent roster construction — which included a couple of high-profile recruits deciding not to come to Ann Arbor — Howard considered the scholarship status of his son Jace, an incoming freshman.
“Originally, we had some discussions about Jace walking on,” Howard said. “After some attrition this offseason it opened up opportunities for us to explore different scenarios. After discussing several options with the staff, we were excited to extend a scholarship to him.”
That was a unique situation, but there’s no reason Howard couldn’t make a similar move for any of his five returning walk-ons: C.J. Baird, Jaron Faulds, Rico Ozuna-Harrison, Brandon Wade, or Luke Wilson. It’s worth noting that just because a student-athlete is not receiving an athletic scholarship that counts against a program’s allotment it doesn’t mean he’s not receiving scholarship money.
If Michigan doesn’t use all 13 scholarships next season, the program doesn’t recoup funds or get a bonus scholarship the following year. But as Howard proved last season, he’s not going to fill the spot just to do it.
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