Friday came with some devastating news for the Michigan Wolverines’ basketball program as news broke junior forward Isaiah Livers is out indefinitely with a groin injury. Livers has led the team in points per game so far this season (13.6), and has been one of the focal points on offense.
Now with the Wolverines’ star out with injury, several players will need to step up to fill in his shoes. Three players specifically should have an opportunity to take that next step and be the No. 1 option in Juwan Howard’s offense.
The first player who could take that step is Eli Brooks, who had already made a large jump from last season to this one. After averaging 2.5 points and being a rotational player in 2018-19, Brooks’ production has ballooned to 11.3 points per game this season. Now with Livers out, he is going to be called upon to be the best scorer on the team.
Livers has shot 50 percent from deep this season, and Brooks is just behind at 47.8 percent. They both have put up about the same amount of shots per game, but Livers has just been slightly more efficient. If more of the weight of the offense is going to be put on Brooks’ shoulders, he is going to be just as consistent while putting up more shots. His confidence has slowly been growing over the season, and he is going to need to play the best basketball of his Michigan career if the Wolverines are going to continue to be successful with Livers out of the rotation.
Another player who will need to step up is true freshman Franz Wagner. After Wagner missed the beginning of the season with a fractured wrist, he has slowly but surely become a reliable starter in the Michigan lineup.
Now he will need to do even more, and it starts by being more involved in the offense. We have seen flashes of the player who Wagner could be, but sometimes he seems lost.
The thing he needs to improve the most his three-point shot. Coming into Ann Arbor, that was the most praised part of his game, but it has yet to shine this year. He has only hit on 30.3 percent of his shots from behind the arc in his eight games played. That will have to change if the Wolverines want to match their point production with Livers out. Wagner will need to mature into his role a little faster for Michigan to succeed.
Probably the most important player in all of this is going to be Brandon Johns Jr., who will likely fill for Livers in the starting rotation.
He has been quite the Jekyll and Hyde player off of the bench so far this season. Too often he looks like he has no idea what he is doing. He clearly has the talent and the athleticism to be a much better player, but he has struggled mightily for long periods of time. If Howard is going to keep the big man lineup in and continue run the high-low, Johns Jr. is going to have to be the guy that steps up and potentially find his way into the starting lineup.
At the very least, Johns Jr. will play a much more expanded role with Livers being out because he has the dimensions and the ability to play the 4 position. There is no other player in the rotation that has the size to guard the 3-5 position and still be able to stretch the floor offensively.
Speaking of which, Johns Jr.’s abysmal 22.2 percent rate from deep has to change. He is undoubtedly going to be the x-factor in how the Wolverines will respond as a whole with the Livers injury.
It would be foolish to think Johns. Jr can be the go-to guy on offense, but if he could put up consistent stat lines similar to the one he had against the Iowa Hawkeyes (12 points, 2-for-3 from deep, 8 rebounds), that would certainly help replace some of Livers’ production.