Michigan's Jordan Poole is becoming a focal point for opponent's defensive plans

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
After a hot start to the season, Michigan guard Jordan Poole is averaging only 8.0 points in his last five games.

Ann Arbor — Michigan sophomore guard Jordan Poole is starting to feel like he’s back in high school.

At least, that's what it has felt like in recent games with defenses starting to apply nonstop pressure and chasing him around the floor for 40 minutes.

“I feel like it's more of a respect thing,” Poole said last week. “Being able to see their guys want to face-guard you, not let you touch the ball and try to take you out of your element is something I definitely think is cool. You've got to find ways to get around it, still play and try to find a shot that you can get.”

The increased attention out on the perimeter and in ball-screen situations is something Poole, his teammates and coaching staff are all trying to adjust to and figure out.

Over the first 15 games, Poole averaged 14.1 points while shooting 52.9 percent from the field and 47.4 percent from 3-point range. But over the past five games, Poole averaged eight points while shooting 30.2 percent from the floor and 22.7 percent on 3s entering play Tuesday.

The dip in Poole’s numbers is simple: The more the target on his back grows, the more the defensive schemes continue to change to stop him.

“I think it's the same issue that we saw with Iggy (Brazdeikis), too. When you're a marked man, when you come out on fire people are going to spend special attention on you,” Michigan coach John Beilein said on Monday. “They're going to put an elite defender on you. It's just hard to get open shots when they're giving us other things and taking away you. That's hard to do.

“If we're just measuring his performance on how many shots he's getting off, sometimes you can't do anything about that. As long as he doesn't let it affect his defensive end or his mindset and as long as he doesn't press, then he'll get through it all.”

Poole said he’s still taking shots he was “hitting a couple weeks ago,” but he realizes he’s not going to keep getting the same looks he did earlier in the season. Now he must work more to get open, whether that’s getting out in transition or finding gaps in the defense through backdoor and off-the-ball cuts.

Beilein noted while Poole has the ball-handling skills to free himself up, he needs to continue to realize that doesn’t always mean it may lead to the best shot for him or for the team.

“That's a great asset to be able to get your own shot through step-backs, through a rise jump shot, through some wiggle, but you’ve also got to understand that people are loading up,” Beilein said. “Like everybody else on our team, we're encouraging him to hit singles. Just try to make simple plays and it'll come back around to you.”

Livers not fully back

Sophomore forward Isaiah Livers returned to the lineup nearly three weeks ago after missing two games due to soreness from back spasms.

According to Beilein, Livers is 100 percent healthy, but the sixth man still hasn’t been himself.

In the four games before his injury, Livers scored at least 11 points three times, including a career-high 17 points against Binghamton, and averaged 10.8 points on 54.8 percent shooting.

Since his return on Jan. 10 at Illinois, Livers has failed to reach double figures in scoring and is averaging 6.8 points on 36.7 percent shooting over the last five contests.

“He has recovered in health. He has not recovered in the same type of energy and ability that he played with early,” Beilein said. “We hope that in a few more practices, a few more games he'll be back to 100 percent and get his rhythm back.”

Eight is enough

Beilein has stuck to an eight-man rotation all season and has no plans to switch things up now.

The Wolverines’ reserve unit primarily leans on the versatility of Livers and sophomore guard Eli Brooks, with either freshman forward Brandon Johns Jr. or redshirt sophomore center Austin Davis providing brief relief at the five.

Beilein said while he wants to get more out of Brooks on offense, he praised his “incredible” defensive numbers and ability to hold his own on defense. As for Johns and Davis, who comes off the bench will continue to be a matchup-based decision depending on the opponent and “what the other body is like.”

“As long as we're fortunate enough to not have injuries, we should be OK with this,” Beilein said. “An injury at any position right now would be difficult.

“If we have those eight healthy all year long and their games continue to grow, whether it's Brandon or Austin, that should be enough to have us play at our best.”


Twitter: @jamesbhawkins