Juwan Howard had some summer homework to attend to.
He had just been hired as the new coach of the Michigan men’s basketball team, and somewhere among his laundry list of new responsibilities was getting to know his opponents.
And so he got to work, scouting the other Big Ten programs the Wolverines would have to face this season.
“I’ve looked at the big picture as far as what I’m up against, what our goals are and what we’re trying to achieve,” Howard said. “I knew this summer that I would have to get into some of the teams we’d normally face throughout the conference.”
That process will finally be put to use on Friday night when Michigan opens up Big Ten play against Iowa at Crisler Center. Having seemingly worked through the schedule sequentially, Howard scouted the Hawkeyes before anyone else.
“I have a lot of notes written down that I’m reflecting on now to prepare for tomorrow’s game,” Howard said. “This wasn’t something I started a few days ago.”
Put on Iowa’s tape from this season though, and it’s strengths are rather evident — shooting and size.
Coming off the back of a road win at Syracuse, the 6-2 Hawkeyes enter Friday averaging 79.1 points per game while shooting 35 percent from beyond the arc.
“They have great outside shooting and it comes from one through five,” Howard said. “It’s not just one guy that shoots the ball well, it’s all five guys in their starting lineup.”
As for their size, imposing 6-foot-11 junior Luka Garza is averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds. Cordell Pemsl and Ryan Kriener are also lanky options off the bench.
The Wolverines’ impressive start to the season has launched them from a team predicted to finish in the middle of the pack, to now one of the conference favorites. As Howard knows though, the Big Ten features a number of solid, experienced teams like Iowa that Michigan can’t overlook.
“It’s a super-competitive, physical conference,” Howard said. “A conference that on any given night if you don’t bring your A game, you’re getting beat.
“That’s what I can remember from my time playing here. That’s the reason I chose the Big Ten. Nothing against the ACC, Pac-12 or the Big East, but I just always thought the Big Ten fit me. I wanted to be a part of that atmosphere and that level of competition.”
Howard now gets a second stab at competing for a Big Ten championship — the only exception being this time, it’ll be from the sideline as he goes head-to-head with some of the best coaches in the country. Thankfully for Howard, alongside a veteran-laden roster he has an experienced coaching staff. Associate head coach Phil Martelli has been around the block a few times, assistant Howard Eisley is familiar with high-level competition and Saddi Washington, the lone carryover from John Beilein’s staff, has now spent three years coaching in the Big Ten.
“It’s great to have Saddi Washington, who’s familiar with every opponent we’re going to face,” Howard said. “He has experience and he’s helping guys like myself, Howard (Eisley) and Phil (Martelli). At the end of the day we have a great staff that’s been very active wherever they can to help us prepare for tomorrow.”