When DeVante’ Jones transferred to Michigan for a fifth year this offseason, the Wolverines knew they were acquiring the reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year. They knew they were getting a player who could contribute to all facets of the game and play tough defensively. They knew Jones could be a key contributor who could start right away as Michigan’s primary ball-handler.
What the Wolverines didn’t anticipate, though, was how much time Jones would be sitting on the bench in foul trouble.
Through six games, Jones has already racked up 18 personal fouls and fouled out twice. The three other guards who have played significant minutes have combined for just 14. Jones has been an effective defender when he’s been on the court, but early foul trouble has caused him to spend too much time on the bench, making Michigan a less potent defensive team without him out there.
“DeVante’ is a smart player,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said last week. “I still want him to be aggressive, but he’s got to be smart-aggressive without getting himself in foul trouble.”
Amongst his teammates, Jones was lauded as a potential Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year candidate, mainly for his ability to generate steals. Jones boasts a 6-foot-6 wingspan and averaged 2.8 steals per game last year at Coastal Carolina. But this season, Jones has just five steals in six games, and only three since the season-opener against Buffalo.
Instead, Jones’s aggressive play has been costly, and more often than not he’s been getting whistled for fouls rather than coming up with the ball. Against Seton Hall, Jones picked up an extremely costly reach-in foul that gave the Pirates what ultimately turned out to be the game-winning free throws.
It’s an adjustment process for Jones to see how the refs will call him and it’s a process he has to go through on his own.
“As a player…you’ve got to figure that out,” Howard said. “Sometimes the coaches are not going to be the ones that help you figure it out. You’ve got to have a feel for the game and understand how the game is being called, the flow of the game and the situations where you can be overly aggressive or not. And he’ll learn that.”
Since the Seton Hall game, though, Jones’ foul troubles have only become more costly.
Against Arizona, Jones picked up his second foul with eight minutes left in the first half with the Wolverines trailing by just one. He sat the rest of the half and when the buzzer sounded, the Wildcats were up eight and never relinquished the lead. Without Jones at the point, it also put the offense out of sorts: With no clear ball handler to run plays through, the team amassed 15 turnovers.
In the Wolverines’ most recent game against Tarleton State, Jones picked up two fouls in the first five minutes of the game, sat the rest of the first half and was never able to get into a rhythm as he finished without scoring a point.
The Wolverines’ lack of guard depth was already a concern coming into the year after losing Mike Smith and Chaundee Brown and it was pertinent against the Texans. Without Jones on the court, the freshmen were forced to carry more of the load. While they held their own against weaker competition, Michigan only won by 11.
Simply put, without Jones playing 30-plus minutes a night, the Wolverines’ ability to compete in the Big Ten becomes a lot more daunting. Jones needs to clean up his defensive efforts and get back to the playstyle that made him such a fearsome defensive player a year ago — while also being able to stay on the court.
“Any coach and team would love to have their guy who’s a starter and primary ball handler be out there on the floor, not having foul trouble,” Howard said. “But over the course of a game it’s going to happen. We’ll just try to continue to keep making adjustments.”