Juwan Howard is shooting to win a national championship, an achievement that has eluded him as a coach and player at Michigan.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – MARCH 22: Head coach Juwan Howard of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates after a win over the LSU Tigers in the NCAA Basketball Tournament second round at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 22, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

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Entering Howard’s third season as coach, the former member of the Fab Five is not afraid to say he and his players have aspirations to cut down the nets at the Final Four in April.

“That’s the goal every year, to always achieve to win championships,” he said.

The Wolverines are the top-ranked Big Ten team at No. 6 in the preseason AP Top 25, recognizing the talent, depth, and coaching that gives them a realistic shot at winning the school’s second NCAA title and its first in 32 years.

Michigan will be led by 7-foot-1 center Hunter Dickinson, who earned second-team All-America, Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and all-conference honors last season. Guard Eli Brooks, who has started 68 games, chose to come back for an extra season of eligibility available due to the pandemic.

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN – JANUARY 12: Hunter Dickinson #1 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates with teammates Franz Wagner #21 and Isaiah Livers #2 after a three pint shot during the second half of the game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Crisler Arena on January 12, 2021 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan defeated Wisconsin 77-54. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

DeVante’ Jones was recruited by a lot of schools as a graduate transfer from Coastal Carolina after being named Sun Belt Player of the Year. The scoring guard also could have stayed in the NBA draft but chose to chase a championship at Michigan instead of accepting to play for No. 5 Texas, No. 14 Memphis, or Texas Tech.

“That was definitely a big key for me, playing for a national championship,” Jones said. “We don’t have a ceiling. We can be a very dangerous group.”

The Wolverines were contenders last season under Howard, winning the Big Ten title. Michigan was ranked as high as No. 2 last year, finished the regular season ranked No. 4, and fell a game short of the Final Four with a two-point loss to UCLA.

GOING DEEP

Dickinson entered the NBA draft to work out and be evaluated. After Dickinson received feedback that he would be a second-round pick, he withdrew to stay for his sophomore season.

COLUMBUS, OH – FEBRUARY 21: Hunter Dickinson #1 of the Michigan Wolverines puts up two points over the defense of Zed Key #23 of the Ohio State Buckeyes in the second half at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio on February 21, 2021. Michigan defeated Ohio State 92-87. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

“The 3-pointer is the thing the teams want to see,” he said.

Usually, with his back to the basket, Dickinson led the team with 14.1 points per game last season.

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FRESH FACES

Howard signed the program’s first top 10 recruit, forward Caleb Houstan, in nearly a decade. The highly-touted recruiting class also includes 6-11 forward Moussa Diabate, who has turned heads and dropped jaws at practice.

“He’s a freak athlete,” freshman guard Kobe Bufkin said. “You’re in for a treat.”

THOSE WHO STAY

In an era where transfers are common, senior forward Brandon Johns chose to stay at Michigan even as his playing time went down to 13 minutes from 20 minutes a game over the last two years.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – MARCH 30: Brandon Johns Jr. #23 of the Michigan Wolverines reacts during the second half against the UCLA Bruins in the Elite Eight round game of the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 30, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

“I didn’t want to start all over again,” he said.

The former East Lansing High School standout was ranked No. 60 in the country as a recruit but has averaged just 3.9 points per game.

MOVING ON

Franz Wagner chose to skip his junior season to enter the NBA draft and the Orlando Magic selected him No. 8 overall. The Wolverines also lost Isaiah Livers, who is on the Detroit Pistons’ roster, Mike Smith, Chaundee Brown, and Austin Davis from last year’s team.

SAVE THE DATES

Michigan’s top non-conference game is at No. 19 North Carolina on Dec. 1. Early in the Big Ten season, there’s an 11-day stretch against rival Michigan State, No. 7 Purdue and No. 21 Maryland at home, and No. 11 Illinois on the road. The Wolverines close the regular season at No. 17 Ohio State on March 6.

 

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