Michigan coach talks about the keys to Saturday's 12 p.m. matchup against Wisconsin at the Kohl Center. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Nearly every road game offers a chance for a Wolverine to return close to home.
With Saturday’s trip to Madison, Wisconsin, on the docket, that guy is sophomore guard and Milwaukee native Jordan Poole.
“I'm excited for him,” freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis said on Friday. “It's going to be cool to see him play in front of his hometown and hopefully we do really well.”
Poole starred at Milwaukee Rufus King High, which is roughly 80 miles east of Wisconsin’s Kohl Center, for three years before finishing his prep career at La Lumiere School in La Porte, Ind.
It’ll mark the second straight season Poole will get to play in front of friends and family. The Wolverines’ lone meeting with the Badgers last season was on the road.
According to sophomore forward Isaiah Livers, there’s a bonus that comes with every homecoming trip.
“He actually gets to choose the color of our tights and sleeves (worn under the uniform),” Livers said. “That's kind of a big deal for everybody. But if you know Jordan, that's a big thing for him. He's very excited.”
Poole told Big Ten Network this week he heard plenty of smack talk from the Wisconsin fans last season — “Short shorts. He’s a freshman. We don’t want you here anyway” — when he scored eight points in 13 minutes off the bench in an 83-72 win.
While Poole will look to top those marks in his second visit, Brazdeikis doesn’t expect him to get too caught up in the moment.
"He's definitely one of the most energetic and tough guys I've played with,” Brazdeikis said. “He's got that swagger, so he's really good at keeping his emotions though. I haven't seen him last year, but I feel like he improved in that area for sure.
“He'll definitely be ready. I don't expect him to go crazy. He knows what he's doing.”
No more bad back
Livers said he hasn’t had any more issues with his back after he was forced to sit out against Penn State on Jan. 3 and Indiana on Jan. 6 due to soreness from back spasms.
“The medical staff has done a great job with my back,” said Livers, who added his treatment involved massages but not a visit to a chiropractor.
“I haven't felt it since probably the day of or day after the Indiana game, so I feel great."
Livers said this isn’t his first run-in with back spasms and he had to deal with the ailment during his senior year at Kalamazoo Central High.
“It was something that lingered on and I had to sit out for a little bit, sadly,” he said. “It carried on into the offseason and we didn't know how to take care of it until I got up here. Basically, it's stuff that just gets out of balance and had to stretch it out and give it time for it to get back. That's all it was.”
Beilein said once Livers was cleared to play again, there was no thought about trying to limit his minutes.
In his first two games back, Livers has racked up 17 points, six rebounds and two blocks in 43 minutes.
Freshman forward Brandon Johns Jr. took advantage of Livers’ short absence with a season-high eight points and eight rebounds in 13 minutes against Indiana.
But Johns hasn’t been able to build off the performance in the two games since, receiving a DNP (did not play) against Illinois and playing two minutes in mop-up duty against Northwestern last week.
Even when Livers returned to action at Illinois, redshirt sophomore center Austin Davis was summoned for first-half minutes over Johns following his breakout outing.
“It depends on the matchup of who we see and again what he does in practice, what the matchup is, what the situation is in the game, what switching patterns they're in,” Beilein said. “I think right now Isaiah is our backup five just as much as Austin or Brandon, and it depends on the opponent. Any three of those guys could be the first guy off the bench at that position.
“I'd feel much better if we got consistent there and we're trying to get there.”
Michigan at Wisconsin
Tip-off: Noon Saturday, Kohl Center, Madison, Wis.
Records: No. 2 Michigan 17-0, 6-0 Big Ten; Wisconsin 11-6, 3-3
Outlook: Wisconsin ranks second in the Big Ten in 3-point shooting (39.1 percent) and third in scoring defense (63.6 points). ... Badgers big man Ethan Happ has scored in double figures in 41 consecutive games. … Michigan has won three straight in the series but is 2-7 at the Kohl Center under coach John Beilein … The Wolverines have trailed for a total of 3 minutes, 7 seconds in six Big Ten games.