John Niyo, Matt Charboneau and James Hawkins preview the Michigan and Michigan State basketball seasons, which get underway on Tuesday. The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — A new chapter of Michigan basketball is about to officially begin.
The Wolverines will make their real debut under the direction of first-year coach Juwan Howard in Tuesday night’s regular-season opener at Crisler Center.
“Every game is important to us,” Howard said Monday. “We're taking it game by game, day by day. We're not looking past tomorrow. We're locked in on that.
“I'm sure the guys are going to come in focused and ready to go because they're excited about tomorrow. And so am I.”
The Howard era will start with plenty of mystery and intrigue. Not just because the Wolverines will have a different style of play than under former coach John Beilein and that this is Howard's first head-coaching job at any level, but because the Wolverines' first opponent — Appalachian State — also is under new leadership.
Like Michigan, Appalachian State will be making its first appearance under its new head coach, Dustin Kerns, who takes over after going 31-37 in two seasons at Presbyterian. That means there’s not much tape for either team to get a good feel for the other.
“It's tough to scout a team that hasn't played,” Howard said. “I know they had a scrimmage. They didn't give us the tape. I understand where they're coming from. They're keeping it in-house.
“It's going to be a big surprise, but we have to prepare just like how we'd prepare against any opponent. We have to go out there and do what we do defensively, get active, be aggressive but also be smart, try to limit the fouls, try to keep them off the free-throw line, try to limit their open shots as well as protect the paint.”
Howard said the team has been watching clips of Presbyterian from last season but noted it’s not an “accurate indication” of what the Wolverines can expect to see Tuesday night.
That's because Kerns is inheriting a completely different roster — one that returns junior guard Justin Forrest (16.2 points) and senior forward Isaac Johnson (10 points, 8.6 rebounds), two of Appalachian State's top three scorers last season — that will have different strengths and weaknesses.
Howard added that he expects to see Appalachian State use some 3-2 and 2-3 zone, which Michigan struggled against leading to a lengthy offensive drought in its exhibition against Saginaw Valley State last week.
"Preparation is big with us," Howard said, "and we want to make sure we're not surprised by anything."
Junior forward Isaiah Livers said breaking down tape of a different team to study what schemes the coach used in the past is a challenge. But it also means no team will have a distinct game prep advantage and both will be preparing for the unknown, in a sense.
“They don't know what we do. We don't know what they do,” Livers said. “It's going to be a good game.”
For senior center Jon Teske, the season opener is a chance for the Wolverines to continue to "find ourselves within the offense" after they took a lot of one-pass shots early in the shot clock against Saginaw Valley State.
But with the real season here, Teske said there’s a different vibe heading into it compared to previous seasons. Livers said he has sensed it, as well.
“It is a different feeling. We've got Coach Howard's first game, man. That's huge,” Livers said. “It's really good for him because you can tell he really loves and enjoys coaching here.”
And make no mistake, Howard has high goals and expectations in his first year, from winning the Big Ten to winning the whole thing.
“Our goal is to win. I can't come in here and say we're just going to try to play average basketball,” Howard said. “We want to win. That's what we do. That's why we work hard in practice. Our guys our competitors. They have a super competitive coach who is going to do whatever he can to prepare ourselves to win each and every ballgame.”
That first opportunity and that first step starts against Appalachian State.
“I think it's going to be a really exciting time for not only myself,” Howard said, “but for our players moving forward.”
Appalachian State at Michigan
Tip-off: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
Outlook: The first 3,500 fans will receive a Juwan Howard bobblehead. … This is the first meeting between the programs. … Appalachian State is coming off an 11-21 season in which it finished 10th in the Sun Belt Conference with a 6-12 record.