The Wolverine

February 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE FEBRUARY 2020 I t's a long way from Paradise Island, Bahamas, in Novem- ber to Iowa City in January. That journey can freeze delu- sions solid and shatter them with a couple taps of the Big Ten hammer. They say it's better in the Bahamas, and the Wolver- ines are saying, you've got that right. Back then, new head coach Juwan Howard was John Wooden with a steplad- der and a tan. His team stood 7-0, threatening to run off 41 straight, shock the world and call it a day. Of course, such a dream or anything close wasn't ever happening. Only a few weeks earlier, the talk about Howard's first crew of Wolverines in- volved the inevitable stumbles and growing pains to come. A new staff getting used to a new roster, with three starters missing from the previous year. It's a recipe for adversity at some point, almost everyone agreed. Then Paradise arrived and almost everyone forgot. Even retroactively acknowledging the fool's gold of a win over imposters in Carolina Blue (sub-.500 record and dead last in the ACC, at this writing), U-M looked to be on its way. The Big Ten road always provides the reality check that bounces one's head off the pavement. Big Ten road teams began the conference season 6-38. The Wolverines contributed an 0-4 blanking to that tribute to home hooligans, including a 90-83 loss at Iowa Jan. 17. Michigan's defense against league foes proved as effective as a celery stick suggestion to a sumo wrestler in its 2-4 start. The Wolverines sur- rendered an average of 82 points in those games — a far cry from its de- fensive average of 61.2 in conference play only a year ago. It's obviously a different system, with Michigan averaging nearly 10 points more on offense in Big Ten games versus a year ago (78.0 com- pared to 68.5). Plus, there's always a new-guy tax when a coach is estab- lishing himself in the league (more on that in a moment). Anyway, here are a handful of reminders regarding why Michigan fans need to stay away from ledges these days: 1. The bumps were reasonably foreseen — For the reasons listed above and more, this crew wasn't about to tear through the Big Ten unblemished, or even unscarred. Ohio State started off hot as well, and sat 2-5 in the conference just past mid-January. Michigan State led the league early, as generally predicted, but its 6-1 bolt from the gate included a 71- 42 pummeling at Purdue and a five- point escape at 1-6 Northwestern. Some lumps are coming for all. 2. Michigan's early Big Ten schedule stands among the tough- est — MSU enjoyed five of its first seven conference contests at the Bre- slin Center, where the home crowd tolerates a loss as often as Tom Izzo tolerates maize and blue in his closet. Michigan played four of its first six on the road — including at top-25 MSU and Illinois, in Iowa's Carver-Hawkeye Arena and Min- nesota's infamous Williams Arena, aka The Barn. So far, the Wolverines laid a road egg, but the road immediately ahead looks much easier. 3. Paying the toll — Either Howard assembled a band of Jack The Rippers on defense and Jack Sparrows on offense … OR, he's getting the rookie treatment from Big Ten of- ficials. In three of Michigan's four road games, the Wolver- ines have shot six or fewer free throws, while the home team forms a conga line to the stripe. The difference? It's 80 of 110 for the home team, 28 of 39 for Michigan. Izzo can pull a live chicken from behind his bench, march to midcourt, bite its head off in an official's face and he might draw a warning. Howard picked up a second "T" of the season at Iowa, for pleading his case. "It's very frustrating … there were possessions out there I felt we got fouled and there were no calls," Howard said. As established as John Beilein was, he got a much better whistle after a couple of Big Ten champion- ships and a Final Four than he did early. Howard might be earning his way. 4. Requiring a Livers transplant — Losing junior forward Isaiah Liv- ers to injury hurt — a lot. Michigan went 1-3 in the Big Ten without him, and U-M hopes are high that Livers dressing and not playing at Iowa will lead to more very soon. 5. Taking the long view — Big- time help is on the way. Howard has already assembled what looks like a top-five class in 6-10 five-star Isaiah Todd and three Rivals four stars — 7-1 Hunter Dickinson, 6-6 Terrance Williams and 6-3 Zeb Jackson. Seniors like center Jon Teske and point guard Zavier Simpson don't want to hear about it — and shouldn't. It's about now for them. But Howard obviously isn't standing pat, on his way back to Paradise. ❏ Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at jborton@thewolverine.com and follow him on Twitter @JB _ Wolverine. WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON Five-Points Bulletin For Basketball Senior point guard Zavier Simpson and the Wolverines are looking to rebound from a 2-4 start in Big Ten play that saw them surrender 82.0 points per contest to league foes. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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