On Dec. 6, Iowa center Luka Garza marched into Ann Arbor and dropped 44 points.
Perhaps even more astounding, though, was that his team lost — by double digits.
Regardless of the outcome, there is no chance Michigan men’s basketball coach Juwan Howard is happy with letting any human being score 44 points on his team.
So that leads to one big question heading into Friday’s match against the Hawkeyes: Should the Wolverines continue their defensive strategy of maintaining one-on-one matchups, or is it time to double the post and one of the nation’s most prolific scorers? That description is not an overstatement — Garza sits as the NCAA’s sixth-leading scorer with 22.3 points per game.
For now, it seems that Michigan will look to maintain its defensive scheme — involving guarding the low post one-on-one — and to trust the strength of its big men on defense to limit Garza in the points column.
For many teams across the nation, thinking of a way to effectively prepare for a 6-foot-11 elite scorer may leave coaches and players alike scratching their head. But for the Wolverines, with their plethora of big-bodied centers, the task falls on the shoulders of its scout team. Junior forward Jaron Faulds, in particular.
“We got Jaron Faulds playing Luka Garza,” junior walk-on forward C.J. Baird said. “Jaron’s really good at taking his time and getting in good positioning, so we’re hoping that’s a good imitation of Garza. Cause Garza’s elite at getting his body, getting position in the post and scoring, so we’re trying to imitate that as best we can, but honestly, it’s hard. He’s, I don’t know, number six scorer in the country. So it’ll be a good challenge for us.”
How effective Faulds will be at this game of impressions will unfold on Friday in Iowa City. Faulds’ impersonation, combined with the defensive capabilities of senior center Jon Teske, sophomore center Colin Castleton and senior center Austin Davis as well as how many fouls these players will commit against the shifty Garza will dictate whether or not Garza will have another career night down low.
So far this season, early foul trouble and hacking opponents down low has been the Wolverines’ defensive “MO.” In no game was this emphasized further than the most loss on the road against Minnesota. The team committed 19 fouls, emphasized by four by Teske, and let Golden Gophers center Daniel Oturu drop 30 points.
Baird insists that fouling has been a focus for the team, defensively, as well as one-on-one situations, given the team’s defensive sets.
“Guarding one-on-one without fouling is probably one of the hardest things to do in basketball, and I’d say, in my opinion, in the post as well, it’s probably one of the hardest things to do in basketball,” Baird said. “But there are some things that you can do with, technique-wise, that you can say look at this technique, this will help you in this situation. Or make sure you keep your foot planted here and stay down on a second jumper so you're not fouling. There are a lot of stuff that goes with technique, especially in the one on one defense, that you can improve upon rather than just saying, ‘Be better.’ ”
And if the technique doesn’t work, it sounds like Howard is relatively fine letting Garza getting those touches and points in the paint. As long as that plan of attack ends in a victory.
After Michigan’s last game against Iowa, Howard sat down at the podium, stat sheet in hand, and visibly revealed his shock at what he was reading. The first-year coach was floored by the opposing offense and joked about his role in the affair.
“Second-chance points,” Howard responded when asked what shocked him. “(Garza) had 27 second-chance points, and then points in the paint, 56. I was like, ‘Wow!’ That’s on the coach, man. I did a horrible job.”
Joking or not, Friday’s game will be as credible an indicator as any of whether Howard’s defensive gameplan is reliable, or makes as brazen of a comment as his own as to the state of his coaching.