Austin Davis’ improvement into a reliable center has been a surprising development for Michigan this season. This may be the Austin Davis breakout season, or at least as close to it as could have been reasonably expected.
NEW YORK – Brandon Johns Jr. is a somewhat unlikely hero for this Michigan team.
On a team that has junior Isaiah Livers at his position, that was always going to be the case, at least until Livers graduated.
But Livers was sidelined with a hip injury at the end of December, and he re-aggravated it last week against Illinois. And so, all of a sudden, Johns was off the bench and in the starting lineup every game, and with that, responsible for putting up numbers comparable to Livers’ 13-plus points and four rebounds per game.
LINCOLN — It was decidedly different from the Michigan lineup that’s shown up most of this season, and decidedly different from the fast-paced, physical style of play that has become a trademark of the Wolverines this season.
Still, though, it was a win. And on Tuesday in Lincoln, when Michigan came in looking to snap a disheartening four-game losing skid and improve a bleak conference record, a win was more than enough.
There were a lot of things I expected when I signed on to cover the Michigan men’s basketball team this season.
But Austin Davis, I did not expect. And how could I? After three years of limited minutes off the bench and a promising backup at the big man spot in sophomore forward Colin Castleton, how could I — or anyone else, for that matter — have expected Davis to establish himself in his senior season?
And yet here we are, two months into the year, and Davis is — well, he’s doing some things.
No. 12 Michigan fell to in-state archrival No. 14 Michigan State, 87-69, at the Breslin Center on Sunday. The offense struggled to put the ball in the basket and the defense could not contain the Spartans’ top scoring threats.
Ledes that play on A Tale of Two Cities are by now long since cliched. So I’m not going to write one (though I reserve the right to use it when I can’t come up with a title for my history paper later tonight). But we’re now six weeks into the season, and it’s still seeming like there are two possible Michigan teams that could show up on any given night.
Michigan teams of years past have at times tended to rely on a few players – the Jordan Pooles and Moritz Wagners – for much of their success. But so far this season, the fourth-ranked Wolverines have been winning more on the strength of the many than the success of a few. Friday night’s 103-91 win over Iowa, their first conference matchup and Big Ten victory of the season, was the perfect example.
In the first half, Michigan shot a dismal 17 percent on their three-point attempts, and an even worse 11 percent on its layups. The Wolverines shot only 33 percent in the paint and 11 percent on second-chance scoring attempts. They just couldn't find the bottom of the net. Some of it could be attributed to the Cardinals’ defense, which was effective all night at shutting down Michigan’s ball screens — plays that have set up much of the Wolverines’ success on offense this season. But not all of Michigan’s offensive woes can be credited to Louisville. The Wolverines had plenty of scoring opportunities, and even managed to open up a few easy shots for themselves. Even then, it seemed they were only hitting rim and backboard.