After the 2020 college basketball season, Michigan lost the two winningest players in program history: point guard Zavier Simpson and center Jon Teske. Both were part of 108 victories, including a run to the 2018 national championship game. Simpson was the team's bulldog of a point guard who finished his career ranked second in school history in assists (667) and who added a lethal hook shot to his offensive repertoire before his college career was over. Teske was one of the five most prolific shot-blockers in school history, who went from shooting 0-for-1 from 3-point range in each of his first two seasons to making more than 36 percent of his 3-pointers in Big Ten play as a junior.
Despite losing Simpson and Teske to graduation, and reserves David DeJulius and Colin Castleton as transfers, Michigan was one of the final eight undefeated teams in the country this season, after starting 11-0.
How were the Wolverines, despite losing its point guard and center, and ranking 11th in the Big Ten in minutes continuity, able to take an undefeated record into mid-January?
Look no further than freshman center Hunter Dickinson, who is Teske's replacement in the middle and who ranks seventh in the national player of the year standings on the advanced analytics website kenpom.com, as of Jan. 17.
Teske was a well-regarded prospect when he arrived in Ann Arbor. He chose the Wolverines over reported scholarship offers from Duke, Florida State, Louisville and Notre Dame, but few could've predicted this from the 7-1, 255-pound freshman, or the Wolverines as a team.
Here's a look at what makes Dickinson a breakout All-America candidate, while leading one of the best (and arguably most surprising) teams in the country. The stats are current through Jan. 16.
Dickinson shoots from where he's the most efficient
Jon Teske, Dickinson's predecessor, only had one career 3-point attempt before he made 36 percent of his 3-pointers in Big Ten play as a junior. Perhaps Dickinson's offensive game could expand — literally and metaphorically — in the future.
But right now, he stays near the rim, and for good reason. Seventy-two of his 115 attempts this season have come at the rim, per hoop-math.com, which is roughly two-thirds of his total attempts. He's making 86.1 percent of his shots at the rim, so if you're 7-1 and you make almost nine out of every 10 shots that's a layup, a dunk or a tip-in, then there's pretty good reason to stay in or around the lane.
Here, on this possession against Wisconsin, Dickinson sets a screen for point guard Mike Smith, then rolls to the basket, where he was a huge target for Smith. Dickinson paused only briefly as he gathered the ball, which he never brought below the letters on his jersey, and he put it back up for an easy two, around two Wisconsin defenders.
Dickinson's size can be imposing for even other centers in the conference. On the play below, he just powers his way past Minnesota's Liam Robbins, who's 7-feet and 235 pounds.
Dickinson has attempted 40 shots that are classified as 2-point jumpers (shots that aren't layups, dunks or tip-ins) and the freshman has made half of those attempts. Whether it's short jumpers or hook shots, the big man's offensive game isn't limited to layups and dunks.
On this possession against Penn State, he used his physicality to gain better position, then scored on a short, left-handed jump hook.
Through Jan. 16, his 73.2 percent shooting inside the arc rankings 18th nationally and he's the Wolverines's most-efficient offensive player with an offensive rating of 127.4. This means, roughly, that every time he ends a possession (through a made shot, a missed shot rebounded by the defense or a turnover), he averages almost 1.3 points, which is really good, especially for someone who doesn't take or make 3-pointers.
He finds other ways to score easy points, too
As one might expect, a 7-1, 255-pound center who makes nearly three-quarters of his attempts inside arc is probably going to get fouled a lot. Dickinson is drawing 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes, as he's taking nearly 4.5 free throws for every 10 field goal attempts. He's an adequate free-throw shooter for his size, too, shooting 72.5 percent from the line. Even if a defender fouls Dickinson to stop him from making 73.2 percent of his 2-point attempts, then he just goes to the line, where he makes that 72.5 percent of his free throws.
Dickinson has attempted nearly twice as many free throws as the Michigan player who's second in free-throw attempts (Franz Wagner with 27), and the Michigan big man has already had games with nine free-throw attempts (against Oakland) and seven against Maryland.
For as good as Michigan is at 2-point shooting, it's even better at 2-point defense
Led by Dickinson's 73.2 2-point shooting, Michigan is one of the top 10 teams nationally in 2-point shooting, with a team percent of 59.6 percent. That is elite.
But the Wolverines actually rank even higher nationally in 2-point defense. Opponents only make 40 percent of their attempts inside the arc, which ranks No. 3 in the country as of Jan. 17. In a vacuum, this means that Michigan's opponents are expected to get 0.8 points for every 2-point attempt, while Michigan is expected to get roughly 1.2 points for every 2-point attempt. That really adds up over the course of a game.
Thanks to Dickinson's size, he's the team's leading shot-blocker. He blocks 5.5 percent of opponents' 2-point attempts, or a little more than one out of 20, on average. He has 17 blocks through 12 games, including three games with at least three blocks.
For being a freshman center in the Big Ten, Dickinson has done an admirable job of defending without fouling. He commits just three fouls per 40 minutes, which not only generally keeps him out of foul trouble, but it keeps opponents off the free-throw line. Opponents are going to the line roughly 2.1 times for every 10 field-goal attempts, which ranks eighth nationally.