Michigan teams of years past have at times tended to rely on a few players – the Jordan Pooles and Moritz Wagners – for much of their success. But so far this season, the fourth-ranked Wolverines have been winning more on the strength of the many than the success of a few. Friday night’s 103-91 win over Iowa, their first conference matchup and Big Ten victory of the season, was the perfect example.
“I saw great production out of (the bench) tonight,” said Michigan coach Juwan Howard. “I saw them playing with a lot of energy, a ton of effort, and just playing inspiring basketball. It was great to see that.”
Some of the most impactful players weren’t starters on Friday night. Sophomore center Colin Castleton has also seen his fair share of time off the bench this season, especially when senior center Jon Teske has been in foul trouble, and he looked good when Teske again racked up a few fouls early before exiting the game to get stitches in his lip.
But bench players with less in-game experience were just as much of a factor in the game. With Teske in foul trouble and Castleton injured, redshirt junior forward Austin Davis saw extended playing time for the first time this season. Sophomore guard Brandon Johns Jr. saw more minutes than he normally does as well. Davis had eight points and three rebounds on the night and put up a dunk from behind the net around the eight-minute mark and two more on either side of the seven-minute mark, to the delight of the fans in the crowd at Crisler Center. Johns accounted for 12 points – his first career double digit night and a new career high – and threw down a massive dunk of his own at the 12-minute mark.
“Before the game, I was really thinking to myself, I can contribute more,” Johns said. “I can help out my teammates – just being out there on the floor. I’m not doing anything different. The rebounding’s good, for sure, but I felt like I can be there – I can be a presence on both ends, so I always just really want to be aggressive, on offense and defense.”
It was a stark contrast to the Hawkeyes, whose nine-man rotation was about what the Wolverines had expected it to be. Michigan looked effective all night on defense, even successfully putting a lid on Iowa’s star guard, senior Jordan Bohannon.
Although the bench lacks size to a certain extent, with the exception of Davis, a 6-foot-10 behemoth, and especially compared to both Michigan’s starters and Iowa’s very physical team, the defense was solid all night, no matter who was on the floor. Michigan held Iowa to just 20 percent on their 3-point attempts and came up with 38 rebounds in a dominant first conference victory.
“We have this motto on our team: ‘Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready,’” Howard said. “That’s how our guys responded tonight. I’m just so proud of their effort.”
Although there have been, and certainly will continue to be, games throughout the course of the season where the Wolverines will rely more on production from their starting five, it’s extremely promising for Michigan – both this season and in years to come – that it won’t be necessary. The fact that the bench performed so well against a by-no-means weak Iowa team is a very good sign.
The future, it seems, is bright.