Ann Arbor — Sophomore guard Jordan Poole and sophomore forward Isaiah Livers were among several Wolverines who stayed on campus over the spring and summer semesters.
When the two roommates weren’t honing their skills with the coaching staff and strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson during offseason workouts, they would often find time to have 3-point shooting competitions.
“I was beating him by a lot,” Poole said following Michigan’s win over Chattanooga last week. “As the spring and summer started to go he started to get a little bit too close to my numbers, so I could definitely see that he was starting to shoot at a high rate.
“He works so hard and definitely wanted to expand his range this year, especially with us being a 3-point shooting team. He's definitely done that.”
Through six games, Livers is shooting a team-best 55 percent (11-for-20) from beyond the arc and has accounted for over a quarter of Michigan’s total made 3-pointers (43). He’s also the lone Wolverine to make at least 10 deep balls and shoot at least 50 percent from 3-point range, with Poole (eight 3s) and sophomore guard Eli Brooks (40 percent) being the next closest.
It has been a boon for Michigan’s perimeter shooting, an area that was a question mark with last season’s top long-range and volume shooters Moritz Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson all gone.
It has also been a promising start for Livers, who shot 36.2 percent (21-for-58) from 3-point range last season but hit a rough patch after he suffered an ankle injury at Northwestern and only hit at a 14.3-percent clip (2-for-14) over the final 15 games.
According to Michigan coach John Beilein, there was no major overhaul in Livers’ shooting form. Instead, the uptick can be attributed to some subtle tweaks and data from Noah’s Arc, a program that tells a player the plane of his arc and helps him find the “sweet spot.”
“Last year what was happening was he wasn't consistent with his footwork and the arc on his shot. Down the stretch last year, he couldn't make many shots,” said Beilein, who added Livers’ arc is up to 48-49 degrees from the 40-41 degrees it was last season.
“So, he's really worked on it and you see much more arc on the shot and frequently you see really good rotation.”
The alteration has paid dividends for Livers, who has come through off the bench and knocked down numerous 3-pointers to help Michigan pull away in several games this season.
But for Poole, the biggest difference he has seen in Livers has been his mindset.
When he was thrust into the starting lineup as a freshman last season, Poole said Livers wasn’t trying to do too much and was focused on just being solid. Now as a reliable sixth man, Livers is being aggressive and playing with a clear mind.
“He’s just a different player,” Poole said. “As a freshman it's just so much more. You can sometimes overthink or get down on yourself, but this year he knows the ropes. He's been playing college basketball for a year under Coach B and now he's just confident, especially when you got guys around you who believe in you to shoot the shots.”
It shows as Livers has been delivering for the Wolverines on both ends. With a Swiss Army knife-like versatility, he’s tied for the team lead in steals (seven), ranks second in blocks (six), third in scoring (55 points) and tied for third in rebounds (32).
And that doesn’t account for his increased understanding and feel of Beilein’s intricate system — knowing all the offensive and defensive assignments and coverages for not just one but three different positions at wing, forward and center.
“Whether it's going out there and guarding the one or the five or going to get rebounds but also being able to make shots and really defend at a high level, Isaiah is definitely a piece that we need on our team,” Poole said.