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Juwan Howard: ‘I have concern for overall everything’

After a 6-7 start, most recently losing to McNeese State, Juwan Howard is concerned about the recent trend of his program.

Michigan v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images
Jacob Singer Jake Singer is a junior at the University of Michigan majoring in Political Science. He is a Michigan Football and Basketball Writer for SB Nation's Maize and Brew

The Michigan Wolverines are currently 6-7 this season, most recently losing a buy game to McNeese State at home after the Christmas break. This is not the first time the Wolverines lost to an opponent they paid and played after the holiday break in the Juwan Howard era, as Michigan lost to Central Michigan last season on Dec. 29.

Howard was openly honest about the season so far when speaking to the media on Wednesday, explaining the cause of the Wolverines’ problems lay in the fundamentals and un-coachable heart.

“Looking at the game while it was happening live action, I knew that there was nothing schematic that McNeese State was (doing) from an offensive standpoint that caused us to be late or we were surprised by,” Howard said. “What it boiled down to was just one-on-one breakdowns, one-on-one blow by, one-on-one a guy end up laying the ball at the rim and we are reacting too late. That cannot happen. That’s based on being alert and also bringing effort, and that’s something that we had missing that night was we did not bring the effort that we needed in order to compete at a high level. We didn’t have enough energy to show that type of level of commitment on the floor for 40 minutes.”

There is no question Michigan looks out of sorts this season. Not only are the Wolverines not shooting the ball particularly well, their defense has been shockingly bad. For the season, Michigan has been outscored in the paint, 464-412. In losses this season, the Wolverines have been outscored in the paint, 284-186. And against McNeese State, Michigan lost the points in paint battle, 42-14, its largest single-margin this year.

The problem everyone seems to have, however, is not a lack of talent — it’s a lack of heart and grit.

“I never did a good job of injecting heart in anyone, Howard said. “I don’t think that’s possible. That’s something that I’ve always said, being a player, as well as moving into the coaching ranks, that heart is something that you got to have as a player because that comes back to that what I mentioned earlier — if you’re a competitor, that’s what competitors lay their toughness on, and that’s their heart because they are prideful, and they do whatever it takes to win.”

As for what he can do as a coach to get the Wolverines in the right direction, Howard is going to continue challenging his players in practice and film sessions, and “pointing out teaching moments on where you have to take ownership and accountability.” He also said he would review what he and his staff can do differently coming out of a break, given the multi-year issue that is forming.

“I’ll look at the schedule and I’ll look at no practice time and I’ll look at off days,” Howard said. “I will review everything because in the last two years when we came off a break, we did not respond well. And some will say it’s resulted in losing the ball games, but I think it’s more than just that. Preparation is so important, it’s easy, whereas a small margin when you have some type of slippage, whether it’s mentally or physically, and I’m going to do my homework and see what I can do best and better as a coach.”

As for issues he cannot control, Howard explained he’s dealt with injury issues all season. With Jaelin Llewellyn, Jace Howard, Youssef Khayat and Tarris Reed Jr. dealing with injuries, Howard and Martelli have been forced to use a short bench this season. That impacts fatigue and productivity, especially late in games.

As Big Ten play starts up again on Thursday against Minnesota, these issues become harder to solve.

“I have concern for overall everything to be real with you,” Howard said. “And that goes with injury, playing time, load management, and I look at the amount of bodies that we have — I try to be very careful and respectful of everyone — our bench, they’re going to be truly needed. We know we have the conference games in the Big Ten, we have great coaches, special talented players. Coaches do a great job of scouting and trying to take away some of your strengths, and so what we have to do is make sure that everyone with all hands on deck is ready.”

When players are fatigued, it’s harder to win late games. When players aren’t attacking the rim, it’s likely the team loses the paint battle. When players don’t respect their opponents, they get caught off guard. All of these issues are a recipe for losses, and Howard knows it.

“I am not happy with our record,” Howard said. “I’m not happy with some of the losses that we’ve had. I’m not going to come up here and fake it and never will. Some of those (have been) tough losses and some have been close games. Dating back to Oregon, looking at that game, Florida, you know that game, Indiana, those games that I feel that it was just one or two possessions that we needed to have that we fell short of. And that’s the room (for) improvement that we must grow in. And I trust that we will.”

There’s good and bad that comes from all of this. The good is the Wolverines have plenty of time to fix the early-season frustrations. The possible bad is the competition will only get harder from here, as Michigan plays Minnesota, Penn State and Maryland in the span of seven days.

Howard may not have much time, but he is trying to control what he can and continue to give his team a chance.