INDIANAPOLIS — All season, the Michigan men’s basketball team has preached a next man up mentality.
The Wolverines gutted through a tough stretch in January with multiple players out due to COVID protocols. During Michigan coach Juwan Howard’s five-game suspension at the end of the regular season, they were able to go 3-2 and do enough to make the NCAA Tournament. Most recently, they grabbed a win at Ohio State, despite sophomore center Hunter Dickinson being out with a stomach ailment.
But on the eve of the NCAA Tournament, Michigan knew they would once again have to enact this mantra.
Reports surfaced Tuesday that graduate guard DeVante’ Jones didn’t make the trip to Indianapolis. On Wednesday morning, Michigan coach Juwan Howard confirmed the news. For the first time all season, Jones would not be playing.
Instead of dwelling on the loss of their starting point guard who averages nearly 30 minutes a game, the Wolverines instead shifted the focus to the next man up:
Freshman guard Frankie Collins.
“Just running the team and picking his spots, I think (Frankie’s) grown in that area,” fifth year guard Eli Brooks said. “Since DeVante’ has been playing so well, you guys haven’t really seen that as much. Frankie’s a good leader at the point guard position, getting everybody in their spots.”
Collins has had a sporadic first year in Ann Arbor, showcasing his speed and flashy finishing moves near the rim but also lacking an outside jump shot or elite defensive tendencies. He’s served his role well as the first guard off the bench behind Jones and Brooks, but he’s never been called on to start until now.
With the game set to tip in less than 24 hours, Michigan will have to adapt on the fly. Running the offense was a role that Howard said would be split between Collins, Brooks and freshman wing Kobe Bufkin. Out of all three, Collins is the only true point guard. Without the Wolverines typical floor general on the court, Collins will be responsible for communicating and calling out plays on offense.
“We have a very good, balanced back court,” Howard said. “That’s able to step in and do whatever they can to help the team compete at a high level.”
While Jones averages 10.9 points per game, Michigan has several capable scorers who can make up that production. What’s less replaceable is his defensive abilities. Jones averaged a steal a game and his long wingspan helped disrupt passing lanes and frustrate offensive game plans.
Against Colorado State, who boasts the 12th best team shooting percentage in the country at 48.5%, Collins must find a way to slow the Rams down.
“Defensively, there’s gonna be a focus as far as how can we get stops versus Colorado State,” Howard said. “They’re a team that is capable of putting up some high numbers, offensively. So, we have to make sure we manage the game, take care of the basketball and then defensively, limit them to one shot.”
It’s a tall task for Collins, and he can’t try to reinvent his game as a Jones’ clone. Instead, he’ll have to lean on his strengths and try to push Michigan to another win with a key player out.
“Next man up,” Howard said. “What we have to focus on is how we can prepare a lot to compete and play some winning basketball.”