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Michigan needs production from bench to make deeper postseason run

Bench production has been hit or miss this season.

UNLV v Michigan Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

After a rollercoaster of a regular season, the Michigan Wolverines finally put together two good performances in a row, beating Colorado State and Tennessee en route to the school’s fifth consecutive Sweet 16 appearance.

The Wolverines have another tall task ahead of them on Thursday against a Villanova squad that’s been one of the most efficient teams in the country. In order for Michigan to not only win that game but also future games in the NCAA Tournament, it’ll need consistent production from the second unit so there’s no drop off when the starters need a rest.

Terrance Williams II has been the most impactful bench player in wins this season. When T-Will is making threes and getting stops on the other end, the Wolverines are playing their best basketball.

The sophomore has been incredibly important in recent wins for the Wolverines. He put up nine points against Michigan State, was one of Michigan’s leading scorers with 14 against Ohio State, and put up nine points against Tennessee.

Six of those points against Tennessee came when the Wolverines needed him most. I’m sure Michigan will remember his two tip-ins in the final five minutes, and he was smooth from the free-throw line, hitting two shots in the final 2:10 to help secure the victory.

“He’s a primetime player,” Hunter Dickinson said of his former AAU teammate after the game. “I don’t care how much minutes he plays, or what, my man is going to make winning plays when he’s out there, and he did that today. We don’t win without Terrance Williams II today.”

Williams has played a key role for the Wolverines this season off the bench. He’s been asked to guard 3s, 4s and 5s while spacing the floor and trying to play inside and out on the year. In an interview with my colleagues on the Blue By Ninety podcast, Williams said he was happy to provide a spark off the bench and emphasized valuing the success of the team first over his personal accomplishments.

“I’m just playing my role. Throughout the season I wish I did play more, but it doesn’t work like that. I can’t just pout and cry about it, every time I come in, I just got to what I got to do and do my job, and that’s bringing energy and bringing whatever is needed to the team. I feel like I’m doing that to the best of my ability right now, I feel like I’m doing a good job of that, and whatever minutes I get, I make the most of it.”

Williams isn’t the only bench player who may need to be counted on this weekend. With DeVante’ Jones presumably starting, Frankie Collins will head back to his normal bench role.

Collins had his best performance of the year in the Colorado State win. He was a steady presence who was the energy bunny on both ends for the Wolverines.

If Collins can check into the game and maybe get a steal or drive to the basket and finish with his go-to step-through move, the Wolverines can continue to thrive while their top scorers get vital rest.

Head coach Juwan Howard may keep a short bench this deep into the postseason. Don’t be surprised if Williams and Collins are the only players who leave the bench in the next game.

Other key bench pieces have to be ready to go if their names are called. Kobe Bufkin could provide a scoring punch, Jace Howard could play key defensive minutes, and if Dickinson and Williams are in foul trouble, Brandon Johns Jr. could see extended minutes and can hopefully recapture the magic in a bottle he found last tournament.

Michigan fans know Eli Brooks, Dickinson and Jones (if healthy) will get their points, but production from rotation players could truly make a difference as the tourney continues.