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A Cautionary Tale: Michigan Basketball May Be In Trouble

One year removed from five straight Sweet 16s, a failure to embrace NIL and the Transfer Portal may set the Wolverines back years

Syndication: Detroit Free Press
Michigan coach Juwan Howard talks with guard Kobe Bufkin on the bench Jan. 15, 2023 during a game against Northwestern at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor. 
Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

One of Jon Scheyer’s most important decisions succeeding Mike Krzyzewski as Duke’s head coach came months before he coached his first official game: hiring Rachel Baker in a new “General Manager” role to oversee the program’s NIL initiatives. Baker has proven to be a resounding success, so much so that many other program’s have followed Scheyer’s lead in creating such a position.

The new landscape of college basketball is dominated not just by NIL, but also by the Transfer Portal, which makes it all the more important that Scheyer seems to be embracing the portal as well: after taking only grad transfers in his first season, Duke is in hot pursuit (and trending strongly for) top transfer center Ernest Udeh Jr. Assuming Udeh ends up on campus, that will mean that Duke admissions played some part in facilitating his transfer as well.

If Duke fans are taking any of the above for granted, they shouldn’t, and need only look to what’s happening in Ann Arbor for why.

Isaac Trotter at 247 has done a deep dive into what has been a disastrous offseason for the Michigan Wolverines. It began with losing Jett Howard and Kobe Bufkin to the NBA draft, got exponentially worse when Hunter Dickinson transferred to Kansas (while strongly implying NIL was a major factor in his decision), and just this week insult was added to injury when Caleb Love and Michigan parted ways after it became clear Love’s academic credits wouldn’t transfer to Michigan.

Unfortunately, these issues have become a pattern for the Wolverines. Last offseason Michigan lost two underperforming 5* freshmen to the NBA, despite them both ending up as second round picks. The Wolverines were perceived as the front runner for star transfer Terrance Shannon Jr., but he also had issues with the admissions department and ended up at Illinois. And under-the-radar, Michigan also lost 4* incoming big Papa Kante earlier this month, with academic issues the rumored reason for the divorce; Michigan’s 2023 recruiting class is now just a single player, 4* combo guard George Washington Jr.

In another universe, a post-Coach K Duke might be dealing with some similar issues; after all, the Blue Devils had a history of losing star freshmen to the NBA Draft early in Krzyzewski’s final era, and admission requirements at Duke are certainly higher than Michigan’s own lofty standards. Instead, Scheyer embraced NIL as a tool to both recruit and retain players, and has seemingly got the university on board with embracing the transfer portal (if the Udeh Jr. speculation becomes reality).

The Wolverines now face an uncertain future; a program that had gone to seven Sweet 16s and two National Championship games between 2013 and 2022 is now facing the prospect of back-to-back seasons missing the NCAA Tournament all together. Duke likely was never in danger of falling to those lows, but the Wolverines’ precipitous decline is a cautionary tale for any program failing to embrace the new landscape of college basketball. Luckily for Blue Devil fans, all evidence is that Jon Scheyer is resolutely not in that camp.