UM looks to carve out more minutes for Jordan Poole
Ann Arbor — Freshman guard Jordan Poole calls himself “The Microwave” for his ability to quickly heat up and scorch the net in a moment’s notice.
And as Michigan nears the midway point of the Big Ten season, coach John Beilein is trying to find a way to add to Poole’s timer.
The problem, however, is there aren’t many minutes to go around for Poole at the two and three positions. He plays behind senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and redshirt sophomore wing Charles Matthews, who lead the team in playing time, averaging 34.3 and 29.7 minutes per game, respectively.
“We’re going to try to do everything we can to get Jordan more minutes,” Beilein said Wednesday. “If Muhammad is clicking, not in foul trouble and defensively he’s very good, and Charles gives us a great slasher, a shooter, a playmaker — we don’t want (Poole) just sharing time at one position.”
Beilein provided a glimpse of that effort in Monday’s win against Maryland. For a brief stretch in the second half, the Wolverines used a lineup that didn’t include one of the team’s three point guards — Zavier Simpson, Eli Brooks and Jaaron Simmons. Instead, Abdur-Rahkman played at the point with Poole at the two.
While Poole has proven to be a one-man spark capable of igniting a game-changing run — like he did against Maryland with a trio of 3-pointers during a 15-4 second-half spurt that turned a seven-point deficit into a four-point lead — he’s also beginning to see more eye-to-eye with Beilein about the little things it takes to win games.
Beilein noted when Poole first started practicing, the two were at opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to what winning basketball looked like. Now, that gap is closing.
“Jordan is an interesting guy for me to coach,” Beilein said. “There’s some extracurriculars that go on in the game that we’re trying to embrace and work through, but we really have gotten along really well.
“If he plays defense and he really tries to make the next right play, then he’s got a real good chance to very good one day. He’s got to understand what winning plays look like, and I’m trying to understand better ways to get him there.”
For Poole, who plays with an unabashed amount of swagger and confidence, it’ll continue to come with more patience and experience as the game starts to naturally flow and every play becomes second nature.
“I came in as any other hungry freshman trying to make an impact right away,” said Poole, who is averaging 6.5 points in 10.1 minutes off the bench. “As I started to slow down and ask questions and really understand what was winning basketball, it started to pay off.
“A couple days ago, I was watching when I played in high school, and I was taking some wild shots. And now, obviously, I know how to play and what’s the right shots and playing under a shot clock, and it’s paying off.”
Entering Thursday night’s game at Nebraska, Michigan is 3-2 in true road games this season with consecutive wins over Texas, Iowa and then-No. 4 Michigan State.
The three road victories are the second-most in the Big Ten and already matches Michigan’s win total from last season’s Sweet 16 team that went 3-8, which included two losses in overtime and one on a last-second layup.
With five road games remaining — at No. 3 Purdue, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Penn State and Maryland — Michigan will have a decent chance to finish above .500 in opponents’ arenas. Purdue is unbeaten at home with a 12-0 mark and Maryland is 11-1, but Northwestern, Wisconsin and Penn State have all dropped three games on their home court so far.
“Three power-conference road wins, that’s pretty good,” Beilein said. “We don’t want to finish with three, but if you can win half your road games, you had an incredible year.
“If we can win a couple more and protect home like we did (against Maryland), it’s going to be a heck of a year. But we’re a long way from accomplishing either one of those things.”