In Superman Vol. 1, Issue 149, Superman walked blindly into a trap laid out by Lex Luthor, who killed him with a lethal dose of kryptonite. Nobody is without weakness and Lex Luther exposed Superman’s, using that to destroy him.
Just like Superman, the Michigan men’s basketball team has a clearcut kryptonite: the power forward position.
Looking back to the beginning of the season, the Wolverines have taken strides in just about every facet. Their offense is multidimensional with ball movement, improved shooting and team chemistry. Their defense is cohesive, each player looking more confident and playing as a unit instead of individuals.
But in the ‘4’ position, there’s little semblance of growth. Aside from freshman forward Tarris Reed Jr., who is beginning to control his body and get more minutes beside junior center Hunter Dickinson, the position appears bleak. And moving junior forward Terrance Williams II from his starting role, one that he occupied for the first 25 games of the season, in favor of redshirt freshman forward Will Tschetter only reiterates that.
The change was by all means warranted. Despite inklings of hope that Williams — a team captain — would make the leap in his third year, he underwhelmed. Although his minutes have nearly doubled from 14.9 last season to 26.7 this year, his scoring increased from 4.7 points to 6.3. His shooting lines also fell, hindering his effectiveness.
It was time for a change. It was time for someone else to take on that coveted starting role. For Michigan coach Juwan Howard, that meant it was time for Tschetter to bring his high-energy approach to the starting lineup.
“For Will, he’s a kid that brings energy, his voice, his activity to that starting group,” Michigan assistant coach Saddi Washington said March 1. “And for him, having kind of a role reversal in these last couple of weeks, I think it has benefited our team.”
But energy was all he brought.
In Tschetter’s six starts, he has averaged 2.2 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. More significantly, Tschetter couldn’t give the Wolverines a much-needed boost.
“There was no surprise exactly how both guys would adjust to whatever role was given to them because they are so dialed in to help the team win,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said Tuesday. “They are team guys first and put individual, personal goals aside to give in to the team.”
That mentality works in some cases. Against Michigan State, Tschetter demonstrated his potential on the boards. He collected five rebounds, but his potential has only come through in flashes. And the team-first outlook certainly is vital to overarching success, but for the Wolverines, it has left a gaping hole in the power forward position. They may have a team-first mentality, but they’re falling short personally. And as that happens, the team goals are suffering as well.
At this point, with Michigan firmly planted on the wrong side of the bubble, the Wolverines’ NCAA Tournament hopes are dependent on their Big Ten Tournament play. And regardless of whether Williams or Tschetter fill the starting spot, something will be missing. The issue is Michigan can’t seem to figure out what.
It’s the “something” that was expected of Williams entering the season, the “something” that was desired from Tschetter and the “something” that has played a significant role in Michigan’s season-long struggles.
“I think that there are times when (Williams) doesn’t have his pop,” Michigan assistant coach Phil Martelli said Jan. 14. “And so if he could just be T-Will, that’s what we want.”
That came after Williams found himself in a tough slump. Martelli and the Wolverines wanted him to regain confidence, but that didn’t work out.
Michigan has given him ample time to “just be T-Will” and Tschetter enough opportunities to bring his spark, though. With only one guaranteed game remaining for the Wolverines, still searching for identities won’t cut it.
At least, it hasn’t cut it thus far. Instead, it has exposed a piercing weakness in the power forward spot: