The Michigan Wolverines sent an emphatic message to the college basketball world on Tuesday night in its thorough beatdown of the Wisconsin Badgers. The narrative with this team for the longest time this year was, “wait until they play someone good.”
You have to like what you saw.
There has been a surge in energy with the team since the calendar turned to 2021, especially with the players on the bench. Those not in the game have combined to make one of the most boisterous cheering sections in the sport. Head coach Juwan Howard says from top to bottom, this team is bringing that energy every day.
“Our guys, man. They do a phenomenal job of competing and the energy they’ve brought night in and night out. It’s not easy, but they’ve embraced the competition,” Howard said after the game on Tuesday night. “They understand that they’re fortunate enough to be playing basketball, but they know that each day is not easy. They don’t know if they will be playing a game, but they appreciate the opportunity. And it is beautiful just to have some high character guys that’s wired the right way, give to the team, never wants a guy to be looked at as selfish. And it’s a beautiful buy-in.
“As far as the bench goes with the energy, I hear some of the energy in the background. But what I thought was so inspiring was just hearing the bench energy when it was a timeout and they all rushed the floor. They are part of this team. All 17 (players) matter and count. We need them all. They could be sitting on their hands. They could be sulking about minutes and shots, but we haven’t had that. They’re inspired by watching their teammates compete out there on the floor. And the guys that go out there and take a breather, they come off and they’re giving and feeding life into the guys that’s on the floor. I hear it. I also see it, too, when I go back and watch the games and I see our bench in the energy they’re bringing. They even had (Howard Eisley) up clapping. (Eisley) normally is more laid back! He’s clapping while he’s sitting down, but tonight he was up and active.”
The Wolverines are playing a free and loose brand of basketball right now and it seems like it gets better with each win that stacks up throughout the first 11 games of the season. Given all that is going on in the world,
“I’ll sum it up like this — they had fun,” Howard said. “And they are supposed to have fun. Because why not? We put in a lot of hard work in practice and you come out in the game and you do it to what is basically our offensive identity and defensive identity. Have fun out there on the floor. They’re student-athletes...very young in age, they’re not professionals, they’re not getting paid. I still think professionals should have fun out there competing. But you don’t get these days back.
“I remember a time when I was playing college ball and that was one of the key things that Coach Fisher always said to us, ‘Compete out there, play hard but have fun, enjoy it.’ And that’s what I want my guys to do.”
Michigan also became the first team in the history of college basketball to beat three top-25 opponents in a row by 19 or more points. Not much attention is being paid to that.
They have much bigger aspirations.
“Oh my God,” Howard responded to the postgame statistic. “No, I hope our guys don’t get too high on that. Still early in the season. But I give all the credit to the fellas, man. I mean players and staff. And our managers. Everyone is a major contributor to the success that we’re having. But we know that it’s still early. We’re not here to try to break any records. Our goal is to be the last team standing on Monday night in April.”