ANN ARBOR – There were plenty of reasons not to launch Hunter Dickinson right away this season.
Among them: he is a first year student; Michigan has a veteran in office; he was still acclimating to the program after an abridged preseason.
All of these things, across four games, are still true. But new facts have emerged.
Among them: Dickinson is an offensive force; he is able to play long sections in crunch time; it limits mental errors.
With the 7-foot-1 center off the bench so far, maybe it’s time for Michigan to let go of its freshman phenomenon.
Dickinson had another strong game on Sunday against UCF. He made six shots and two free throws, totaling 14 points and seven rebounds as Michigan improved to 4-0. This is his scoring average for the season, the second highest on the team.
“He’s very polite,” Howard said after the game. “He’s got a calm about it, he’s never shaken.” Howard praised Dickinson’s IQ and patience in the post. “I just see a lot of great things happening for him in his basketball future.”
This future certainly includes start-up. But when?
Dickinson is already playing more than the starter at his post: 22.3 minutes per game against 12.8 for Austin Davis. Howard was asked if he was considering a roster change.
“Everything on our team is being evaluated,” Howard said. “What he did in his role is spectacular. (I’d love to see him stay consistent, whatever his role, whether he leaves the bench or starts. “
Davis, a senior in a red shirt, has been solid, picking up where he left off last season. He is 7 for 10 on the field. It bounces at a high rate. Above all, he avoids trouble.
Howard, of Michigan’s tough first 10 minutes against UCF and subsequent substitutions, said, “Austin hasn’t done anything wrong. But it’s hard to get Hunter out of the game in the first half.
Howard often refers to a player’s plus-minus, the point differential in the game when that player is on the court. Against UCF, Dickinson was over-25; Davis was plus-5. For the season, Dickinson is at plus-75 while Davis is at a modest plus-11.
This is due in part to the success of his teammates. Chaundee Brown has often checked in with Dickinson, and he was good enough too. Still, Dickinson dominated the veteran.
Both players, at least publicly, have handled the situation well. Davis took Dickinson under his wing; Dickinson goes out of his way to show his appreciation when addressing reporters.
Both have accepted their role. And it goes without saying that both would accept new ones. Davis did not accept Howard’s offer to return this season so he could start 25 games. He enjoys being part of the program, winning games and working on a master’s degree. Coaches don’t have to worry about Davis “retiring” if he loses his starting job.
Swapping Davis and Dickinson would hurt the bench, but Brown has proven he can be the second unit’s leading scorer. And maybe that means more hits for Terrance Williams II or Brandon Johns Jr. or possibly Zeb Jackson. The net result, according to this writer, would be positive.
With the Big Ten looming, Michigan will eventually want its top five to face off against the opponent’s top five. Howard wasn’t happy with how Michigan started a few games, including Sunday’s.
UCF are Michigan’s best opponent to date, according to kenpom.com rankings. But at No.113, the Knights are still ranked below every Big Ten team. They are also relatively small in the frontcourt, as is Oakland, another former UM opponent.
A Michigan staff member recently told MLive that coaches are intrigued to see what Dickinson looks like compared to high profile competitors, such as Iowa’s Luka Garza. The staff member noted that Dickinson’s outside shot is another element of his game that we have yet to see. (He’s missed both of his 3-point attempts so far but has a good shot.)
Howard said on Sunday that most freshmen were going through lulls. They have times when they look like freshmen. Dickinson, however? “He hasn’t had his yet,” Howard said.
It appears to be a matter of when, not if, Dickinson will hear his name called by the PA announcer before the opening board.
“Right now we’re only at the start of the season, we haven’t scratched the schedule yet,” said Howard. “We’ll see how it all goes, but I like to see how it evolves.”