Through the first seven games of the season, Michigan’s offense has languished in large part due to prolonged 3-point struggles. As a team, the Wolverines shot just 29.3% from beyond the arc, punctuated by woeful 3-of-15 and 1-of-14 performances in losses to Seton Hall and Arizona.
At last, though, it seems as if Michigan is turning the page.
The last two games — convincing victories over San Diego State and Nebraska — have shown the other side of the coin. Michigan has shot 50% (26-52) from distance, a marked improvement. And, uncoincidentally, the offense has looked far more in-sync.
“Confidence is through the roof, especially once you see the ball go through the net a couple of times,” assistant coach Saddi Washington said. “Once you see the ball go through the net a time or two, then it really opens the rim up for you, from a psychological standpoint.”
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The struggles weren’t exactly out of the blue. Michigan lost a number of capable 3-point shooters over the offseason, with Isaiah Livers, Chaundee Brown, Franz Wagner and Mike Smith all not returning. Much of the onus to replace that void fell on the shoulders of freshman Caleb Houstan.
But Houstan, in spite of a picturesque 3-point stroke, struggled shooting the ball in the first few weeks of his collegiate career.
In the last two games, though, Houston is 8-of-12 from beyond the arc, mirroring the team’s collective turn-around.
Even as Michigan struggled, neither the confidence nor the offensive game plan changed.
“Time tells a story,” Washington said. “We’ve been with these guys since July. The time and the work that they put in tells us that we can make shots and make them at a high level.”
According to Washington, the improvements are a testament to the team’s work ethic.
“At some point, the boat rises to your level,” Washington said. “You’re able to see the ball go through the net. Whether it’s spending extra time getting in shots, watching film – we’re all about the growth mindset. Whatever we need to do as a staff to put our guys in a position to be successful from one game to the next, that’s what we’re committed to doing.”
Now, the hope for Michigan is that the revelatory success parlays into the rest of the season.
Chemistry on the upswing
Michigan notched a season-high 102 points on Tuesday night against Nebraska. Although the Cornhuskers are perpetual bottom-dwellers in the Big Ten, the performance was a welcome sight for a unit that has often looked out of rhythm this season.
Early-season struggles are, of course, expected with a relatively young team. Now, in the midst of a soft spot in the schedule, the Wolverines appear to be piecing everything together.
“With a team of young guys and some new faces, sometimes it takes a little bit of time for that to gel,” Washington said. “I think off the court our guys are definitely connected in terms of socially and how they deal with one another in the locker room. The goal is to speed up that learning curve so that also applies to on the court, which I think we’ve done a pretty good job of thus far this season.”
It’s also inherently more difficult to develop chemistry and consistency when a number of players still have undefined roles. Due to a combination of injuries, poor play, and recurring foul trouble, playing time has largely been fluid for a myriad of Wolverines.
Michigan is doing what it can, though, to combat that.
“The mentality of the group individually and collectively is that, stay ready so you don’t have to get ready,” Washington said. “… The expectation is, whether you’re a starter, whether you’re coming off the bench, one night you play five minutes a game, one night you might play 15 minutes a game. Being dialed into your role, being dialed into what we’re trying to get done on the floor is critical to our success as a program.
Diabate practices, timeline for return still unclear
Much-ballyhooed freshman forward Moussa Diabate didn’t make the trip to Lincoln on Tuesday due to a non-COVID illness. A team spokesperson said that Diabate participated in practice on Thursday, although his status for Saturday’s game against Minnesota remains unclear.
“We try to do our best to manage and take care of our guys from a health perspective,” Washington said. “… We just ask our guys to make good decisions when they’re away from the court. We’re going to, like we do all the time, roll with who is available. We’ll do that on Saturday.”