It’s something the Michigan men’s basketball team has been searching for throughout this disappointing season. Oftentimes, those attempts at optimism have seemed difficult to muster.
The Wolverines reached the two-thirds mark of the year with a .500 record, and a litany of on-court issues still haven’t been resolved since November.
Yet Saturday’s 60-46 victory over an overwhelmed Iowa team showed that the Wolverines are getting tangibly better as the season wears on — with the ultimate risk-reward aspect of the game.
Michigan forced seven turnovers in the first 11 minutes of Saturday’s game, leading to eight points in what opened up a 19-5 run to start the contest. Active hands and quick defensive rotations frazzled the Hawkeyes, knocking them into a hole too deep to climb out of.
And with three days off to prepare for a talented and potentially dangerous three-point shooting team (Iowa leads the conference with 545 triples attempted), the Wolverines knew exactly what was in store for them.
“We knew their sets (and) knew what was going to happen,” sophomore guard Stu Douglass said. “(Iowa) has good players, but we really just gave it our all.”
Michigan has forced more than 17 turnovers in three of its past six games. Iowa finished Saturday with just 10, but the game was blown open right from tipoff.
“We were just communicating really well,” sophomore forward Zack Novak said. “We got pressure on them and really didn’t give them anything easy. Force them to make plays, and you’ll have some turnovers.”
Son don’t shine: The Maize Rage directed all its vitriol and sarcasm on Saturday toward Iowa point guard John Lickliter, son of Hawkeye coach Todd Lickliter. At 5-foot-11, 170-pounds, the younger Lickliter looked out of place, trying to take Stu Douglass off the dribble and attempting a wild 3-point shot over senior forward DeShawn Sims in the first half.
The redshirt freshman walk-on played 24 minutes Saturday under tight defensive pressure and a slew of jeers from the student section throughout that span of time.
Lickliter was treated with the customary “BUM!” chorus with every touch of the ball. Each of his six missed shots and one turnover was complemented with new, creative insults.
At least one person not on Iowa’s sideline took offense to it — Michigan coach John Beilein. His son Patrick (currently a graduate student manager with the Wolverines) played for him at West Virginia from 2002-2006, and received more than a fair share of grief for the family connection on the Mountaineers’ bench.
“It started to get me mad at a few fans yelling at the coach’s son,” Beilein said with a slight smirk. “I’ve heard that many times. One of the funniest was at Notre Dame when they called Patrick, ‘Daddy’s girl.’ That really upset me. I’m used to that. But (Lickliter) goes out and plays hard, and you know he’s playing every day for his dad, just like my son did.”
NOTES:Beyond the mediocre overall records, Saturday’s game pitted the two youngest teams in the Big Ten against each other. Michigan features 11 players on the roster that are redshirt sophomores or younger. Iowa has such nine players of its own. … The Wolverines’ win over the Hawkeyes on Saturday marked the program’s 700th Big Ten victory. … Michigan is the fifth conference team to reach the plateau. … Harris pulled down his 500th career rebound in Saturday’s first half, making him the 39th player in school history. He finished Saturday with six boards. … Sims reached his own milestone early in the contest, hitting the game’s first basket to reach 1,400 career points, becoming just the 23rd player in program history to do so.