Saginaw Valley exhibition gives Michigan chance to work out some kinks

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Juwan Howard knows there are going to be growing pains.

It’s a common occurrence for most teams that transition from one style of play to another following a coaching change.

But it’s especially true when a first-year head coach at any level is implementing his vision with a roster of players who were recruited to play in a certain system, which makes the preseason tune-ups all the more important.

David DeJulius

The Wolverines were able to get a test run last week in a closed-door scrimmage against Detroit Mercy and came out on top, 82-75. And they’ll get one more shot to work out the kinks in an exhibition against Division II Saginaw Valley State on Friday before the real season begins next week.

"I was most pleased with our level of competition, especially in the first half,” Howard said Thursday of his team’s performance against Detroit Mercy.

“I think our guys did a very good job of competing hard. I think that translates into how our identity is going to be, as far as a team that's going to be extremely competitive, playing hard-nosed basketball. We're going to defend, play with effort and energy. The second (half) of the scrimmage I thought our level of intensity decreased, but overall I was pleased with what I saw.”

Sophomore center Colin Castleton said Howard gave the team a lot of pointers following the scrimmage and talked about areas that need to be cleaned up, like defensive rebounding after Detroit Mercy “got a good amount” of offensive boards.

There’s also becoming more familiar with the terminology and everyone getting more comfortable playing different roles in a different offensive scheme.

“Just our decision-making within the offense,” sophomore guard David DeJulius said of what needs to be worked on. “Coach really gives us confidence to make plays ourselves and what comes with that is a lot more responsibility, so being able to make the right reads and playing off one another and to each other's strengths (can be improved).”

Of course, there were positive takeaways from the scrimmage on both ends of the floor, too. Junior forward Isaiah Livers said the team did a solid job getting back and playing transition defense, which is an area Howard has emphasized since taking over.

On offense, DeJulius noted the Wolverines played together as a unit.

“We played in sync,” said DeJulius, who was the standout in the scrimmage with 21 points off the bench on 7-for-8 shooting from 3-point range.

“We most definitely have some things that we need to fix up but that was what was expected coming from a new offense. We're very pleased with how we performed. We played a good (Detroit Mercy) team that was tough and scrappy.”

With Friday’s exhibition being the final dress rehearsal, Howard said he’s looking to make sure the team has some type of carryover from its practices into the contest.

Howard added he's going to treat the exhibition like a real game that counts. He wants the starters to get “good quality minutes” and “good reps” playing together against Saginaw Valley State and expects sophomore forward Brandon Johns Jr., who sprained his ankle two weeks ago, to play.

“We've had some very good, competitive practices where our guys have really gotten into one another and challenged each other, held one another accountable, which is good,” Howard said. “Our defense has really picked up pretty strong. Offensively, we still have a lot of work to do as far as some clean-up areas, but tomorrow I expect we're going to give our best competitive energy and effort.”

More importantly, Friday is another opportunity for the team to build more trust, more confidence and more cohesiveness heading into Tuesday’s regular-season opener against Appalachian State.

“I do expect that we're going to hit some bumps where it's going to take time for guys to adjust,” Howard said. “Our team is used to a certain way how they play, especially a guy like Eli (Brooks) who has been here two years under (John) Beilein and a guy like X (Zavier Simpson) who has been here for four years and Jon (Teske). And now you have a coach who implemented a new system and it just shows you how their level of intelligence, their basketball IQ, their willingness to learn has been awesome.

“I'm very fortunate to have a group that has accepted the new  new staff, new terminology, new offensive philosophy, new defensive philosophy. What makes this job so much fun to come here and work every day is working with 15 guys who all bought in and are willing to learn. Throughout the process with the offense, we're going to reach a moment where we are going to hit a patch and I've seen it before in practice where it's not going to happen overnight. It takes time to develop. I have the patience and I trust that our guys will grasp it."

Saginaw Valley State at Michigan

Tip-off: 7 p.m. Friday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor

TV/radio: BTN Plus/950

Outlook: This is Michigan’s lone exhibition before it opens the regular season Tuesday at home against Appalachian State. Saginaw Valley is coming off a 10-18 season where it finished last in the GLIAC South Division with a 6-14 mark.

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins