All season, Michigan has needed an answer.
An answer to its ineffective offense plagued by stagnant ball movement, an answer to its pregnable defense that has made far too many mistakes and an answer to its overall lack of energy.
With 12:45 left in the first half of Saturday’s game against San Diego State, the answer stepped on the court.
While the Wolverines eventually pulled away for a blowout win, 72-58, both teams started slow. The score was just 10-10, and neither Michigan nor San Diego State could get anything going. It looked like the same Wolverine team that had disappointed all-season long.
Immediately, Frankie Collins changed that. The freshman guard locked onto his man on defense, sticking to him like his own shadow. Collins elevated Michigan’s defensive pressure to the next level, causing fits for the Aztecs offensively.
“(In high school) he was relentless on defense,” associate head coach Phil Martelli told reporters on Friday. “We need that.”
In his second defensive possession, Collins pulled in a defensive rebound to his body and dashed up the court himself, laying it in on the fast break.
Just over a minute after that, Collins swiped the ball from SDSU guard Trey Pulliam near half-court before taking it to the rim for a dunk that sent a jolt of energy through the fans that filled the Crisler Center. More importantly, it electrified the Wolverines.
“He came out with a level of fight that gave us that spark we needed,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said.
It’s the same spark that Collins, himself, thinks he can bring each time he steps on the court.
“It’s a big spark,” Collins said. “Because I just feel like, it’s just how I am. I’m just energy all over the place. I just want to get stops, like I don’t like to be scored on. I feel like I feed that energy into the players in the game.”
When Collins returned to the bench, the team reverted to its prior form. Its nine-point lead became just four over the course of his four minute and 46 second hiatus.
But Collins was not simply a defensive bastion. When he stepped on the court with 16:29 to go in the game, Michigan’s offense underwent a metamorphosis.
The ball started flowing freely, connecting between Collins, his teammates on the perimeter and sophomore center Hunter Dickinson down low. Michigan’s offense finally looked like it had potential to deliver on the promise that its talent warranted.
“I think just as a team, we looked different out there today,” Dickinson said. “You know, we really guarded and just ran the offense efficiently.”
That change was spurred by Collins. And while he had a huge impact on Saturday’s victory, Collins long-term impact sits on the horizon. What he is able to do can be the fulcrum that determines the direction in which the Wolverines’ season goes.
For Martelli, the image of last-season’s offensive general Mike Smith comes to mind:
“And last year at this time, Mike Smith wasn’t a pitbull, and then Juwan Howard stayed on him every minute of every day of every practice of every game, and it changed. And that’s the same that we will expect from Frankie.”
Collins has the ability to unlock the offense the way that Smith did just a season prior. His vision, his ball movement, his handling — it’s all there. And with a tenacity on defense that already appears to exceed Smith’s, Collins could be the x-factor that Michigan desperately needs to turn this team around after a rocky start to the season.
Everytime Collins checks in, he already has his eyes set on doing just that:
“My goal is to always change the game — be a game changer.”