After Michigan’s win against Minnesota on Jan. 6, men’s basketball senior forward Isaiah Livers sang senior guard Eli Brooks’s praises:
“I think he’s one of the best defensive players in the Big Ten if you ask me,” Livers said, “but that’s a little biased.”
Brooks, who serves as one of the No. 3 Wolverines’ three team captains — alongside Livers and senior center Austin Davis — has established himself as one of the Big Ten’s premier defenders, averaging 1.1 steals and 0.5 blocks per game and helping his squad put together a 13-1 record. Brooks has proven to be a force on the offensive end of the floor as well, averaging 8.8 points and 3.5 assists per contest and shooting 44.1% from the field. As Michigan prepares to play its first game since Jan. 18, The Daily breaks down Brooks’s senior campaign.
Defending top guards
As Brooks has inherited Zavier Simpson’s ace defender role, the Wolverines often rely on him to take on the opposition’s top scoring guard. Brooks has proven himself more than capable in this regard. Whether it’s limiting the Big Ten’s third-leading scorer, Minnesota’s Marcus Carr, to a 5-of-16 shooting display or shutting down Wisconsin’s D’Mitrik Trice in a statement win over Wisconsin, Brooks has time and time again shown up against the Big Ten’s elite.
“He’s still teaching me things, and I’m a senior and I’m like, ‘Wow, I never even knew that,’ ” Livers said. “Guarding the ball or guarding someone coming off ball screens, down screens, anything like that. He’s on it, man. We call him the professor.”
While Michigan hasn’t found itself in many close games, Brooks showed up on the defensive end in a 4-point win over Penn State.
With 18 seconds left, the Nittany Lions’ Sam Sessoms received the ball at the top of the key and proceeded to make his move. As the junior guard forced his way into the paint, Brooks stood his ground, forcing Sessoms to throw up a wild shot down the lane that ultimately missed the rim altogether, clinching the Wolverines’ first Big Ten victory of the season.
“You only have a few of those guys around,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said after the win. “And when you have one of those guys on your team, it is a joy to coach. Because you have a guy who doesn’t really care about scoring. Not all about the stats. Doesn’t show up on the box score, he just wants to make winning plays to help the team. Eli’s that person.”
Brooks’s tenacity on this final defensive stand speaks volumes about the type of player he is. When the game is on the line, he wants to help determine its outcome.
With the Wolverines set to play against some of the conference’s top guards in Rutgers’s Ron Harper Jr. and Iowa’s Jordan Bohannon, Brooks should be ready to rise to the occasion.
Brooks has proven to be one of the Wolverines’ most reliable shooters from beyond the arc this season, shooting a career-best 36.7% from 3-point range. He’s been noticeably more aggressive as a shooter than in previous seasons, routinely spotting up for triples in both transition and halfcourt sets. In a win over Nebraska, Brooks sank just one of five from deep, but his confidence on that one make was unmistakable as he received a pass from Livers out of the post and nailed a three with the Cornhuskers’ Teddy Allen swiftly closing in.
Brooks has produced a series of games with multiple makes from deep this season, including four in a game against Northwestern, and should continue to be a weapon from outside for Howard’s offense as Michigan finishes out its Big Ten slate.
Turning offense into defense
Some players are adept at forcing turnovers, while others are more skilled at converting those chances into points. Brooks is skilled at both. With great speed and vision in the open floor and quick hands against opposing guards, Brooks has made a habit of routinely jumpstarting fastbreak chances for his teammates with his thefts in Michigan’s backcourt.
In the aforementioned win over Nebraska, Brooks notched two steals, including one where he tipped an errant pass in the lane midway through the first half. As he intercepted the feed, Brooks pulled back to create more space between him and a lone Cornhusker defender before serving up a lob to Livers for an easy bucket.
Brooks’s defense has proven to be instrumental to Michigan’s white-hot performance this season, though it is perhaps just as impressive to see how he is able to help his teammates score off the turnovers he forces. In a league where turnovers can at times be difficult to come by, converting on the ones you can get can help separate a team from the rest of the pack.
So far this season, Brooks has helped the Wolverines do exactly that. With offensive juggernauts like Iowa and Ohio State waiting in the wings, Brooks will need to continue to help Michigan capitalize on its opponents’ mistakes.
As they return from a three-week pause, the Wolverines are looking to prove that they can finish the season how they started it. With a knack for shooting from beyond the arc and a reputation as one of the best defenders in the conference, Brooks will be a key component in trying to ensure that Michigan finds itself at the top of the conference standings come March.
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