The Wolverine

March 2020 Issue

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE MARCH 2020 J uwan Howard made a statement in early Febru- ary almost shocking in its honesty. In a world of college coaching control freaks, he ac- knowledged he can't control everything. Asked about the direction of his crew, he noted: "Well, we have to have luck on our side." Luck? Hearing your surgeon say he hopes to get lucky just before a heart transplant doesn't exactly inspire con- fidence. Michigan basketball fans might have been losing heart, following a four-game losing streak. But the new coach wisely expounded about precisely what this good fortune in- volved. He was talking about health, the kind that gets and keeps good players on the floor. With junior forward Isaiah Livers, Michigan raced to a 7-0 start, beat North Carolina and Gonzaga, and looked like Big Ten title contenders. Without him, they dropped four out of five conference games, tail-spin- ning downward toward an apparent collapse. The truth always rests between extremes, and does in this case. Michigan lost to Illinois at home by two in Livers' return from a leg injury, in part because he tweaked it and departed again before the end. When Livers came back again, the Wolverines reeled off three massive victories — taking down Michigan State (77-68), winning big at North- western (79-54) and "dominating" Indiana (89-65) in Hoosiers' head coach Archie Miller's description. Coincidence? Howard doesn't think so. "It's been great to have a guy like Isaiah Livers back," Howard said af- ter Livers added a dozen points, five rebounds, an assist and a steal to the humbling of the Hoosiers. "He's a special talent. As we all know, he can shoot the ball very well from the outside, he has great size. His presence on the floor just makes us a better team. "We saw it in the first half of the season, when he was healthy. We played good basketball when he was in the lineup. When he was out with his injury, we truly missed him … we're just a better ball club with him in the game." Miller stands convinced — not just about Livers' role as a vital or- gan on Howard's team, but of the Wolverines' overall prowess. "They're a very good team, espe- cially now that they have Isaiah Liv- ers back to the table," Miller said. "They're one of the best teams in the country. They're very difficult to guard, the way they shoot it and the way they spread you out." They're a deeper, more confident team as well. In Livers' absence, sophomore forward Brandon Johns grew into a force, while 6-10 senior center Austin Davis — an after- thought at Michigan following a standout career at rural Onsted (Mich.) High — flexed a bit as well. Davis averaged 8.2 points and 3.4 rebounds in the five games up to and including the win over Indiana, and Howard is counting his lucky stars. "We've seen a lot of growth," Howard said. "He's always going to come in and do everything he can, with his energy and effort — and toughness. "He's a coach's dream, re- ally." Obviously, it's about more than luck and dreams. The Wolverines have worked furi- ously — learning Howard's systems at both ends of the court, coming in on off days, toughening up and under- standing what it takes in a Big Ten world full of landmines. "Just to be the most physi- cal team, be the toughest and nastiest team," Johns said of Michigan's mindset. "We go by that every day. We want to be the most connected team out there as well. "I feel like we're back at the beginning of the year. We're all just so connected, trusting each other, knocking down shots, trusting in our game. It just feels great." They're also still fragile. Livers suffered another "tweak" against Indiana. Four of the Wolverines' last six regular-season games are on the road, a burial ground for luck and hope. If Michigan can hold serve at home — against Wisconsin and Ne- braska — and steal one win on the road (at Rutgers, Purdue, Ohio State or Maryland), it winds up a solid 19- 12 overall and 10-10 in conference going into the Big Ten Tournament. That's an NCAA Tournament-quali- fying effort as well. Miller put it best, regarding any- one getting there. "There are so many good teams in this league, it's not about what you have to do," he said. "It's about finding a way to get wins, period. Get as many as you can. "At the end of the day, you look back on your résumé, and they'll tell you if you're in or not. You earn that. You don't beg your way in. You earn it." Of course, a little luck never hurt. ❏ Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB _ Wolverine. WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON Luck, Labor Combine For Dance Prep When healthy and in the U-M lineup, junior forward Isaiah Livers has been a catalyst for winning. The Wolverines are 12-4 in games he has played and 4-5 in contests without him. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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