Following the altercation after Sunday’s loss to Wisconsin, Michigan will be without head coach Juwan Howard for the remainder of the regular season. Additionally, forwards Moussa Diabate and Terrance Williams II will miss Michigan’s next game against a red-hot Rutgers team on Wednesday.
In order to get into the NCAA Tournament, Michigan needs to avoid slipping in these last five games, and being shorthanded for that game against the Scarlet Knights certainly doesn’t help the Wolverines. With two of Michigan’s 4’s unavailable for the game, this is the perfect opportunity for senior Brandon Johns Jr. to step up and earn himself some key playing time down the stretch.
It’s been an especially rough senior season for Johns, who has seen his playing time keep going down due to inconsistent play on both ends and the stellar play of Diabate. It doesn’t help that Johns has been in the dog house since missing a defensive assignment while trying to put his shoe back on in the Northwestern game.
With a few guys in the rotation out on Wednesday, Johns will likely start and get plenty of minutes to prove he can be a steady senior presence this team could use heading into March.
Before the season started, in an article with a title that is objectively funny to look at now, I projected Johns would fill the role we’ve seen many seniors fill on successful college basketball teams; I thought he would be someone who would do the dirty work, get key rebounds, play solid defense and provide Michigan with a key bucket or two when needed.
We haven’t seen that from Johns this season, as he’s struggled all year long. He’s been an okay defender due to his length, but that’s really been the only thing he’s been counted on to do.
This isn’t the first time Johns has been called on to step up for the Wolverines. When Isaiah Livers went down last season, Johns had a couple of memorable performances in the tournament and helped Michigan on the way to the Elite Eight.
It should be noted one of the best games of Johns’ Michigan career came against Rutgers two seasons ago, when he had a career-high 20 points and couldn’t miss in the win.
Let’s be clear: does Michigan need Johns to do well to finish the regular season on a high note? Absolutely not, and if he struggles in these next few games, Michigan could very well take away all his minutes and simply give Diabate more run like they did in the Iowa win, with Williams and Jace Howard giving him breathers at the 4.
But if Johns can tap into that same success he had in last year’s tournament, a young Michigan team would gain a key depth piece and senior whose been in more than a few big college basketball games.
Late February is a crucial time of year for every college basketball squad, but it’s especially important for teams like the Wolverines who sit on the bubble as one of the last teams invited to the Big Dance on most bracket projections. Recent wins to Purdue and Iowa play a huge role in that friendly ranking and after being ranked No. 34 in the latest NET rankings, a few more big wins all but guarantee the Wolverines a spot in March Madness.
Johns can play an important role in those big wins, and if he can step up in the next few games and provide Michigan with another offensive weapon, this team could gain some momentum and go into the Big Ten Tournament on a hot streak.
And we all know how scary Michigan can be if it is hot going into the Big Ten Tournament.