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Daily Brews: Michigan basketball’s possible blueprint for a turnaround

Some thoughts on how Michigan can get back on track after struggles during the middle part of the season.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Minnesota David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines are 4-5 on the basketball court since returning from the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas over Thanksgiving break and are starting to look like the team that a lot of people thought they’d be in Juwan Howard’s debut season.

We knew that bumps and bruises were going to come in a transition year, but seeing the downward trend is eye-opening considering we know now what the ceiling is. There’s no need for panic just yet, as their postseason goals are still ahead of them and in their own hands, but something certainly has to change and be adjusted.

Howard has proven himself to be more than capable as a collegiate head coach, but the book is out on his team and the rest of the Big Ten is starting to adjust to it. He’ll have to adjust right back, which makes what happens moving forward so critical.

We’re not going to sit here and claim to know more than he or his staff does, but they are aware of the adjustments that have to be made, as well. Howard has forgotten more about basketball than I will ever know, so this is not some know-it-all exercise.

Here’s our best guess at what the conversations may look like as Michigan’s coaches get together and discuss the path forward.

Cross your fingers for Isaiah Livers to return ASAP

First and foremost, the health of one of the team’s best players might be the biggest key to stabilizing the situation. Livers is the closest thing to a go-to guy that Michigan has offensively and they have often looked out of sorts without him on the court. Now, groin strains typically can take anywhere from two to six weeks to come back from, so despite the day-to-day prognosis Michigan simply has to keep moving forward without him. We are heading into week three of his absence from the rotation.

Time to try something different defensively

The Big Ten’s big men cannot continue to feast on the Michigan interior. Howard said after the Purdue game that his stubbornness to leave Jon Teske down low in single coverage was to blame for what has been going on. The self-awareness was good, but the lack of an adjustment against Minnesota was frustrating. They don’t have to completely overhaul their scheme, but Howard and his staff will likely be practicing throwing some different looks in there, including double-teams, as the team prepares for Iowa this week. Luka Garza went for 44 points the last time these two met. Michigan now has four full days to prepare and it would be stunning if they did not do something differently.

Shake up the minutes distribution

Howard may also discuss switching up his rotations a bit. Fans are frustrated that David DeJulius is not starting, but starting a game or a half is simply a title. What speaks larger volumes is the amount of minutes a guy plays in a game, and right now the sophomore guard probably is not getting enough. For example, Eli Brooks played 32 minutes on Sunday at Minnesota to DeJulius’ 21. Brooks has struggled offensively against top-tier schools since returning from the Bahamas and, at times, you do not even notice him much on the floor. At the very least, these minutes need to even out a bit. As far as other players go, Adrien Nunez might be looking over his shoulder for Cole Bajema soon if the true freshman is able to develop in practices. Just a thought.

Continue to empower Franz Wagner

One of the bright spots of the last few weeks is the continued growth of the younger Wagner. He is much further along than his brother was at this time in his college career, but is still so very raw. But with each passing game you’re starting to see him get more comfortable and assert himself more offensively. He is only going to get better as the season moves along and if he can continue to develop and Livers comes back healthy, the Wolverines might have their two go-to scorers.

Michigan lost a very winnable game on Sunday and now probably needs to go out and win one they aren’t supposed to down the stretch to put themselves in position to get to 20 wins. Unless the bottom falls out, they still have a respectable-enough resume to make the tournament, but there is a ton of work to do and this group just is not as far along as we thought they were in November. At some point, they have to go win a road game and Friday at Iowa is the next test for that. We’ll see what happens, but we’re beginning to enter a stage or they are either going to turn it around or just kind of tread water the rest of the season.

Other Brews

  • The national title game between Clemson and LSU is tonight after a long, long wait. College football is ending, so just a PSA to soak it all in before Week 0 in August.
  • All of Michigan’s pending NFL decisions are in with Ambry Thomas deciding to stick around for his senior year. They lost Josh Uche, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Cesar Ruiz to the NFL.
  • “What if” is a possible discussion around recruiting, but four former fans of Tennessee will play for a national title tonight and they discussed it.