The Wolverine

December 2021*

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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34 THE WOLVERINE DECEMBER 2021 BY CHRIS BALAS E xpectations can be a danger- ous thing, especially when it comes to preseason ones in college athletics — and even more so when there's significant roster turnover. Michigan men's basketball head coach Juwan Howard found that out in a tough November for his squad. The reigning Big Ten champs started the season strong with a win over Buf- falo, one of the fa- vorites to win the MAC, but a home setback to Seton Hall and a blowout loss to Arizona in Las Vegas left them at 4-2 heading into December. Howard didn't seem worried, even after his Wolverines struggled to a 65- 54 victory over Tarleton State Nov. 24. Michigan jumped out to a solid second- half lead before turnovers and poor over- all play left it a three-point game with five minutes to go, Rather than harp on the negative, he gave his crew an A-plus grade for their effort. "With that, I didn't expect any dif- ferent because they're all high-charac- ter individuals that compete," he said. "Tough competitors that want to do whatever it takes to help the team win. "At times, throughout 36-37 games that you may play this year, hopefully, you're going to get one or two games where you're going to have something in there where you're just like, 'Wow. Where did that come from? Because that's not who we are.' Because some- times mentally a [opposing] team is do- ing some special things." The coach credited Arizona in particu- lar for its domination in an 80-62 win, one in which the Wildcats notched 18 dunks and put on a clinic in the paint. At the same time, he didn't like how his team reacted on occasion during the game. He noted some of his play- ers weren't as coachable in the contest, having been frustrated with what was happening on the court. The Wolver- ines were out of sorts on both ends of the floor at times, not completely unex- pected given the number of new faces in the lineup. On offense, that meant three players sometimes running the right play with two others thinking it was something else. Defensively, the communication and rotations weren't great. All wasn't lost, however. U-M still checked in at No. 24 in the AP poll that was updated Nov. 29 after peaking at No. 4 a few weeks earlier. The Wolverines were No. 9 on KenPom.com's analytics site through Nov. 28, 12th in adjusted of- fensive efficiency and 10th in adjusted defensive efficiency. And when it came to those struggling to take coaching, Howard insisted he had "no concern" about it. "It's just a part of learning," he ex- plained. "When you hit a little adver- sity in games, guys try extremely hard to do everything right … to make sure they play mistake-free basketball. When mistakes happen, you have to be ready to accept some of the coaching, especially when frustration settles in. That's a part of growing. "Every kid on our team has high char- acter. Every kid on our team cares about each other, cares about the team, cares about the coaches and loves being around one another. That's a part of growth. You're going to have those moments. They don't want to see teams make runs on them; they … hate to make mistakes. They want to give their best effort. "So, that's part of the process. I don't feel it will be a problem, nor will it ever be a problem." GUARD PLAY, TURNOVERS SLOWING PROGRESS There are several issues, though, that needed to be addressed before the Wolverines traveled to North Caro- lina Dec. 1 for a Big Ten/ACC Chal- lenge matchup with the Tar Heels. Point guard play, for one, had been an issue, with Coastal Carolina transfer DeVante' Jones struggling to stay on the floor. Foul trouble was a concern, as was his 1.48 assist- to-turnover ratio. Jones also seemed to be lacking ag- gression on offense. H e 'd s h o t 4 2 .9 percent from long range this year after making 36.8 percent at Coastal Carolina last season, but he'd taken only seven threes. Last year he took 5.2 per game, but he hasn't been looking for the triple as much, even when teams were ducking under ball screens against him on the perimeter. Asked if he wanted his point guard to be more aggressive following U-M's mid-November win over Prairie View A&M, Howard simply said he was happy with Jones' balance between scoring and distributing. It's clear, though, that Michigan needs more from the spot. Freshman Frankie Collins notched six points and four rebounds in the first half of the win over Tarleton State, and he was good with the ball. He could be an option, though he didn't play in the second half. Howard stated Collins just needed to "continue doing what he's doing" to see more time. Fifth-year senior Eli Brooks, off to an outstanding start playing primarily two guard but also the point occasionally, could also get more run at the 'one.' He WORK IN PROGRESS Michigan Basketball Is Trying To Find Its Way In The Early Going Fifth-year senior guard Eli Brooks was aver- aging 15.7 points per game and shooting 42.9 percent from long range through the first six contests, in which the Wolverines went 4-2. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL Head coach Juwan Howard on his team's 4-2 start "That will now help us throughout the season. Going through the adversity we went through and learning to grow with it, I think we're going to have some special things coming."

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