Nearly every starter on the Michigan Wolverines roster has earned some sort of honor from the Big Ten and across for their play this season with awards flowing in. A name missing from the bunch is senior Eli Brooks. He has quietly done a lot of the dirty work for the Wolverines on both ends of the floor this year. His impact goes beyond box scores and accolades.
Now, he could miss some time with the ankle injury and everyone around him is going to have to step up to fill the void.
It starts with the expanded role that will be given to Chaundee Brown. The transfer guard has played exceptionally well this season and has outperformed expectations. He is a strong player defensively, but his offensive game will need to take a step up. Brown is averaging 7.8 points per game and is shooting close to 39% from three, but a lot more is going to be asked of him on that end of the floor.
Juwan Howard likes to plant Brown in the corner, where he has grown accustomed to knocking down three after three from dish out passes from Hunter Dickinson in the post. Now, he is going to have to play all over the floor on offense, knowing when to cut and space the floor correctly.
We have seen Mike Smith take on more of a scorer’s role at times this season when called upon. Those types of games have been shades of what he was able to do at Columbia. Brooks has averaged just under nine points a game and the easiest way to do that is from points elsewhere. Part of that could easily be offset by a more aggressive Smith.
Franz Wagner has had the luxury to play off-ball for the majority of the year and Brooks’ impact on offense as a distributor and mover of the basketball has a lot to do with that. Wagner might very well be the key to any run Michigan makes, Brooks injury or not, so his aggression and slashing offensively and ability to create for others will be major.
Another name to look out for is true freshman Zeb Jackson. Jackson has been a bit of a wildcard this season when the Wolverines have seen him on the court, and assistant coach Phil Martelli spoke before the season in a press conference on exactly what Jackson needs to be working on:
When he’s going, he can really put the ball in the basket. What we’re working with is to make sure that he understands great shot, good shot, bad shot. That’s going to take a little work. I think the experience that he had at Montverde playing with good players, now he’s in the gym with all good players has been advantageous for Zeb. Very vocal. Very, very athletic. There’s just something about a left-hander, you know that stroke is in there. We just want it to come out more consistently.
As we saw in Sunday’s game in East Lansing, it seems the confidence is growing a bit more for him. At the very least, he proved that he is capable of giving the team good minutes in a pinch. He might have to start finding his offense if he is going to be thrust into a bigger role.
Brandon Johns Jr. will never be mistaken for a guard, but quality minutes out of him simply have to happen moving forward. His athleticism is undoubted, but there is a reason that his playing time has been cut in half from a season ago. Now he will have an opportunity to prove that giving him less playing time this year was a mistake. The Wolverines could easily op-in to going to an even bigger lineup and continue to bring Brown off the bench. Johns has shown some ability to stretch the floor this season and could provide the space and threat needed for Dickinson to dominate in the post. He’ll need to show some improvement on both ends of the court for this to become a reality.
There is a reason why two of the Wolverines’ three losses have come without Brooks on the floor. He is so involved in the offense and does everything right on both ends of the court. You hardly see Brooks making a mistake of any kind on the floor and he knows how to lead the offense when Smith needs a breather. When you lose a guy like that on your roster it means that everyone is going to have to take a step up.