The Wolverine

February 2021

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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34 THE WOLVERINE FEBRUARY 2021 U-M was up 69-29 before calling off the dogs. "Any time anybody would beat anybody off the dribble, there was plenty of help there, and then recov- ery was incredible after the help," he noted. "I've never seen a Wisconsin team get shook like that." Another Big Ten Network analyst, former Illinois standout Stephen Bardo, added his own assessment when Michigan handled Purdue. "They come at you in waves," he said succinctly. It's deflating for opponents, and it was again against Purdue. The Boil- ermakers got to the rim at times, but when they did, they often couldn't finish. They blamed themselves, but the Wolverines' length stymied them time and again, altering shots and holding the Boilermakers to 31 per- cent shooting. Michigan was solid at that end of the floor in Howard's first year, fin- ishing No. 28 in adjusted defensive efficiency, but it was susceptible in the paint. Iowa's Luka Garza aver- aged 38.5 points in his two games with U-M, for example, and Minne- sota's Daniel Oturu had a career-high 30 when the Wolverines chose not to double-team him in the post. This year has seen great improve- ment, and it's not by accident. "That's an area where we've had a lot of growth," Howard said of his defense. "Looking back to last sea- son, our defense didn't do a good job, and that's one area where I wanted to really improve. "When we were quarantined, I took time to study and see how we could improve our defense. The first day we returned and we were al- lowed to have more than 12 players in the gym, we started working on defense — [from] day one." It's been a process. Michigan stood 28th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency in December, on pace to match last year 's numbers, before turning it up. U-M opponents were shooting only 40.1 percent on two- point shots as of Jan. 26, while simply getting an open look at a three has been a chore. Purdue, for example, attempted only 12 triples in its loss to Michigan and made only two. "We thrive off that," Livers said of shutting down opponents. "Coming into games, we know it's about de- fense, and our focus isn't even on the offensive end. We're just out there having fun and staying disciplined. "Teams know we're going to pres- sure them, so we try to be aware of back cuts." Even when they do, there's a lot of length waiting for them at the rim. Purdue big man Trevion Williams scored 36 at Michigan last year in a loss but went only 6 for 19 (31.6 per- cent) from the floor and struggled with Dickinson's length and poise this year. "For a young fellow fresh out of high school, guarding a guy like Trevion, who is one of the best bigs in the country and very skilled … I thought Hunter did a pretty good job," Howard said. "Every shot at- tempt that Trevion took, he chal- lenged. I'm not saying he stopped ev- ery one, but he challenged the shots. "Trevion is a load in there, but Hunter did a fantastic job of taking on that one-on-one challenge." That's been the mantra this year — contest everything — and it's getting better and better. Nothing comes easy, and by the end of most games, wills are broken and scores are lopsided. Not surprisingly, the one exception came when Brooks missed the game at Minnesota, a 75-57 loss Jan. 16. Brown (8.8 points per game, 39.6 per- cent from three-point range) scored 14 points and defended well, but the Wolverines were off from the start. Brooks has arguably been the Big Sophomore guard Franz Wagner was one of six different U-M players who had led the team in scoring during their first 14 games on the way to a 13-1 record. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL Senior guard Eli Brooks "We all cheer for each other, and there's so much energy on the bench from everybody. How connected we are is excel- lent, and that's one of the reasons we're doing so well."

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