The Wolverine

May 2021 Issue

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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MAY 2021 THE WOLVERINE 65 D ue to a one-time eligibility exception borne out of the COVID-19 pandemic, Michi- gan, as of April 12, is waiting to learn whether senior guard Eli Brooks will return for a fifth season in 2021-22. It was unexpected that a player may get to play five full seasons before exhausting his eligibility. It was even more unexpected that U-M would hope so hard for Brooks to do it. In his first two seasons, Brooks struggled offensively. Playing spar- ingly as a freshman, he had a team- low 92.6 offensive rating (a formula used to get a player's expected points produced per 100 offensive posses- sions; abbreviated as ORTG) with a 14.9-percent usage rate (how many of his team's possessions a player is personally responsible for ending while he is on the floor; abbreviated as USG%). His minutes were limited because he was cold from anywhere he shot on the court (40.9 percent from two, 25.0 percent from three and 54.5 percent from the free throw line) and he was more likely to turn it over than register an assist. As a sophomore, Brooks saw his minutes increase while he became the first guard off the bench, but he still remained an offensive liabil- ity when he was on the floor (94.1 ORTG, 13.4 USG%). It would not have been surprising at that point if Brooks looked elsewhere to finish his collegiate career. He seemed un- likely to develop into an average Big Ten player and rotation regular. However, Brooks surprised many when he was named U-M's top shooting guard as a junior in 2019-20 and started all 30 games. He also initially looked like he had turned around his offensive game. He opened the campaign with 24 points and five three-pointers in an uncomfortable eight-point win against Appalachian State, and then he made a splash with a 24-point outburst against North Carolina in the prestigious Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals three weeks later. Over the course of the season, though, it became clear that Brooks had not put together all the pieces yet. He excelled against weaker opponents, but he disappeared against comparable competition. He converted 51.6 percent of his twos and 45.6 percent of his threes in 13 contests that KenPom did not clas- sify as Tier A — a top-50 opponent adjusted for game location (because playing a top-50 foe at a neutral site can be equivalent to playing a top-30 opponent at home and a top-70 team on the road). Those percentages plummeted to 40.8 on twos and 28.0 on threes in 17 KenPom Tier A games. As a result, Brooks' offensive rating was 103.2 on a 17.7-percent usage rate for the en- tire season, but those were anchored by his 84.1 offensive rating on a 16.9-percent usage rate versus Tier A. There was much disquietude about how Brooks would show up as a senior given the dichotomy in his performances the prior season and the departure of starting point guard Zavier Simpson. However, Brooks had his best, most consistent season in 2020-21. He posted a 117.0 offensive rating on 16.0-percent usage rate, and there was no letdown against top competition. In fact, his numbers were slightly better against KenPom Tier A opponents (119.6 ORTG, 15.6 USG%). He became a reliable threat from downtown (39.6 percent on threes), he maneuvered his way to the tin for more shots at the rim rather than settling for mid-range jumpers, he was near-automatic from the charity stripe (90.9 percent) and he was a better facilitator with the ball in his hands (17.3 assist per- centage). He even shocked the audi- ence, whether watching inside the arenas or on television, with some thunderous dunks. Brooks was an experienced senior, and the game finally slowed down for him. Michigan could really use Brooks' skill and experience for one ad- ditional season. Yes, the Wolver- ines should be in good shape next season even if he decides that his time in Ann Arbor has come to an end. They pair All-American center Hunter Dickinson with the top in- coming recruiting class in the coun- try. As a result, T-Rank projects U-M would rank eighth in the country and second in the Big Ten without taking Brooks into consideration. However, unless Michigan adds a guard in the transfer market, the backcourt would be full of youth. Without Brooks, Michigan's guard rotation likely would consist of freshman Zeb Jackson and incoming four-star recruits Kobe Bufkin and Frankie Collins. Brooks would give Michigan more margin for error. He would continue what he did last season, and he would take the pressure off of Jackson, Bufkin and Collins to perform every night. He would be able to mentor them and teach them how to navigate the obstacles he did in his career. Brooks would also make U-M a true national title contender. With Brooks on the roster, T-Rank projects the Wolverines would jump up to third nationally behind Gonzaga and Memphis. That is the boost that Brooks can bring. And that is why Michigan is holding its breath. ❑ INSIDE THE NUMBERS   DREW HALLETT The Boost Of An Eli Brooks Fifth Year Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan athletics since 2013. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett. Brooks developed from a sparingly used substitute early in his career to an expe- rienced contributor as a senior, and if he returns for a fifth year he would provide veteran leadership for the U-M backcourt. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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