The Wolverine

February 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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44 THE WOLVERINE FEBRUARY 2020 BY CHRIS BALAS M ichigan's fast start this sea- son, including sweeping elite competition to win the Thanksgiving-week Battle for Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas, stunned even the most knowledgeable basketball analysts. The Wolverines rose from unranked to No. 4 in the Associated Press poll, the biggest jump in the history of the rankings (tied with Kansas in 1989), and it appeared Juwan Howard's first team was set to take the Big Ten by storm. Like every season, however, there are going to be some highs and lows, and this one has already seen its share. After starting 7-0, U-M dropped three of its next four, including a road con- test at Illinois, and faced significant adversity when leading scorer Isaiah Livers went down. The junior for- ward was averaging 14.0 points per game heading into a home contest against Presbyterian Dec. 21 and left after only three minutes, suffering a groin injury while going up for a dunk. He'd miss the next five games, including Big Ten road losses at Mich- igan State, Minnesota and Iowa. His absence was notable on both ends of the floor. "I'm praying day to day, honestly," Howard said before a 90-83 loss in Iowa City Jan. 17, noting Livers was 'getting better' and 'improving.' "We miss him. We need him. … He's a huge part of this team." "We're just taking it day by day, trying to get better," junior guard Eli Brooks added after the Iowa loss. "We've got to find ways to win with- out him until he comes back. We've got to find solutions and do different things that allow us to win without Isaiah, who was a big piece those first couple games." Michigan went 2-3 without Liv- ers, replaced by sophomore Brandon Johns Jr. in the lineup, with Johns av- eraging 6.6 points and 2.8 rebounds per game during the five contests. Though he continued to improve, the sophomore was shooting 42.8 percent from the field and only 26.7 percent from three-point range compared to Livers' 50.9 percent overall and in- credible 50.0 percent from long range, one of the top marks in the Big Ten. The absence of outside shooting hin- dered U-M in conference games, with U-M making only 33 of 114 triples (29.0 percent) in four Big Ten games without their leading scorer. Livers did his best to stay involved by serving as a player-coach of sorts, Howard noted, interacting with his teammates and giving pointers from the bench. He traveled with the team and even went through warm-ups at Iowa before taking his seat on the bench, and he was expected back for U-M's home game versus Penn State Jan. 22, champing at the bit to return. "I think everybody knows that he's kind of bored. He wants to be out there," freshman wing Franz Wagner said. "But I really like how he's still locked in, in practice and the games, obviously, saying things from the sidelines and just words of encour- agement or telling us things he thinks we can do better. "I know he's working hard to get back. He's been great so far in terms of dealing with his injury." U-M took opponents to the wire in two of the three road losses without him, leading Minnesota by 12 in the WORK TO DO Michigan Needs To Rally After Starting 2-4 In Big Ten Play The loss of junior forward Isaiah Livers to a groin injury hurt the Wolverines on both ends of floor during their 2-4 start in Big Ten play. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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