The Wolverine

January 2021

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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JANUARY 2021 THE WOLVERINE 45 that's going to bring it and he's going to be ready." Williams (3.0 points and 2.9 re- bounds in 9.4 minutes per game) was that guy at the end of the Penn State game, shining defensively in the last five minutes. Brown was the spark against Nebraska, notching 13 points and five rebounds in only 16 minutes. "We don't put positions on guys. We just have basketball players," Howard said. "There are going to be lineups being shifted depending on the situation, depending on the team that we're playing, depending on personnel that we're matching up against or that we want them to match up with us. "We're going to be mixing and matching a lot, but I love the fact that we have versatile guys on our roster." They're going to need all of them in what figures to be the toughest conference in the country this year. There are no gimmes on the sched- ule, and this could be a year in which 14 wins (out of a 20-game Big Ten slate) could win the league. Howard's Wolverines aren't fa- vored to capture the title — Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin have garnered most of the early attention — but they're off to a good start and have the potential to surprise. ❑ Michigan has gotten boosts from several sources to start strong and remain one of the last eight undefeated teams from a Power Five conference (as of Dec. 28). Here are five of the biggest takeaways: • Freshman Hunter Dickinson is a bona fide star in the making: Sure, he's got a lot to prove, but the freshman center is the most advanced first-year big man the Wolverines have had on both sides of the floor since perhaps his coach and Chris Webber in the early 1990s. He has an uncanny basketball IQ for his age, finishes incredibly well around the basket (with his left hand — expect more Big Ten teams to test him and make him go right) and is a rim protector. Beyond that, the guy is completely unselfish and a great teammate. He'd already won three of the first five Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors, and that number is certain to grow. • Eli Brooks has upped his defensive game, and that's had a huge effect on team defense overall: And let's be clear — the senior shooting guard had already made huge strides in this area last year. But having a defensive stop- per on the floor against a team's best player can change a game the way an elite cornerback can change a defense in football, taking away half the field. Brooks might never get the credit he fully deserves because he's not overly flashy. He's a grinder who does all the little things necessary to win, and that includes running over screens and committing to the cause on defense. His play at the end on Penn State's Sam Sessoms saved the game down the stretch. • The depth is legitimate: Former head coach John Beilein had some pretty deep teams (2013 comes to mind), but he often liked to stick with a seven- or eight-man rotation. He could do that, and it worked well for him (obviously), in part because of tempo. The Wolverines now push the ball at every opportunity and want to run as much as possible — to do that, you need fresh bodies and guys that are in great shape. Strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson has done a great job on the latter, as usual, and Howard has found a number of contributors. There are games in which junior Brandon Johns or fresh- man Terrance Williams have barely played, for example, and they're both good players that have made great contributions. • The transfers have been huge addi- tions and fit perfectly: There's always a concern when guys come from dif- ferent programs that they won't mesh with teammates or "get" the culture. That hasn't been the case with Columbia point guard transfer Mike Smith or Wake Forest transfer wing Chaundee Brown. The two have not only filled needs through seven games — Smith is bet- ter as a driver, finisher and passer than envisioned (averaging 8.1 points and 5.0 assists an outing), while Brown was shooting 43.3 percent from three-point range, one of the early-season sur- prises — they've also been outstand- ing teammates. Howard has built on the culture Beilein established, and that involves getting everyone to buy into their roles. Brown, for example, has been better than ex- pected defensively, too, after playing on some woeful Demon Deacons teams that gave up points in buckets. • Franz Wagner Hasn't Come Close To Reaching His Potential: This isn't a shot at him as much as it is a "think about what they'll do when he does" observation. Wagner averaged 11 points and 7.3 rebounds per game through the first seven contests, and his defense had been outstanding. At the same time, he was only shooting 26.3 percent from three-point range, an area in which coaches and teammates insisted he'd improved immensely in the offseason. He ap- peared to be pressing a bit offensively, and there were times he tried to force the action offensively instead of letting it come to him. If and/or when he gets it going — and his team-high 20 points at Nebraska Dec. 25 was a move in the right direc- tion — this team could shift into another gear offensively. — Chris Balas Top Five Impactful Developments In The Early Going Senior guard Chaundee Brown — a trans- fer from Wake Forest — has not started a game yet, but he's provided a huge spark off the bench while averaging 10.4 points an outing, which ranked fourth on the squad through seven games. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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