Nearly nine months since its last game, the Michigan men’s basketball team can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
With Bowling Green State set to travel to Ann Arbor on Nov. 25, the Wolverines find themselves just six days away from playing in their first game since March 8 at Maryland. Before they take the floor, though, they will run a 40-minute scrimmage on Friday in what stands to be their most competitive practice yet.
The maize and blue scrimmage, which will be held behind closed doors at Crisler Center, will feel as close to a real contest as one can get. Michigan will have Big Ten referees patrolling the baselines to officiate the game, and piped-in crowd noise along with a PA announcer and background music will only add to the authenticity and competitiveness of the contest. If the last six months have been learning to ride a bike, Friday will be when the training wheels finally come off.
“It’ll be competitive,” associate head coach Phil Martelli said. “But there won’t be as much teaching.”
The scrimmage, while serving as a great chance for the players to get reps, will most importantly give the coaching staff an opportunity to play around with new lineups and sets on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. With this being the Wolverines’ first full five-on-five game of the offseason, Martelli believes they will have no greater chance to evaluate the state of the roster before the lights come up at Crisler on opening night.
“The idea of going up and down and working their way through the bumps and bruises that come in a game, that’s still to be seen and still to be developed, but I think it’ll be in game action,” Martelli said. “I don’t think we can emulate that in practice.”
Among one of the most intriguing aspects of the scrimmage will be the role of junior forward Brandon Johns Jr. While freshman center Hunter Dickinson will receive reps at the ‘5’ along with senior center Austin Davis, neither possess a great stroke from the perimeter, preferring instead to work inside near the basket. Johns’s shooting touch provides the Wolverines with an option to space the floor, and his extended range will give the team opportunities to create more shot attempts outside of the paint.
“He does give you a multiple position guy that he could be a small ball 5 man,” Martelli said. “He could play with Isaiah (Livers) and again he’s banging up against Terrance Wililiams who has done some really good things. I’m glad they’re on our team, I’ll say that.”
One player who Martelli is particularly excited to watch is sophomore wing Franz Wagner, with Martelli telling reporters that Wagner professes that he is now 6-foot-10.
“If that makes him play great, if that makes him All-Big Ten, then I’ll say to him, maybe you are getting a little bit taller,” Martelli said.
Wagner figures to be one of Michigan’s go-to scorers this season. With an improved stroke from beyond the arc and a basketball IQ that is rapidly growing, Martelli believes Wagner is headed for a special campaign.
“I marvel at where he’ll go and where I think he’ll take us this year,” Martelli said. “He’s really an extraordinary player.”
As the team prepares for its scrimmage on Friday, it will serve as the final chapter of a long prelude to what will be one of the most unconventional seasons the sport has ever seen. While it may only be a scrimmage, Martelli believes that getting the team out on the court for a real game will give them the toughness they need to run the gamut once the true test begins on Wednesday.
“I think they have to play,” Martelli said. “I think they have to have that chance to be out there and I’ve always been a big believer in this, I think your truest chemistry occurs when you get a bloody nose. What happens when you get knocked down? What do you mean I’m not playing 40 minutes, what happens?
“That test is still to come because we will get bloodied. We’re gonna find out that it’s alright, it’s only for that moment in time and that will be the real test of the chemistry."
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