Michigan basketball looks for DeVante’ Jones to stay feisty on defense, without the fouls
Part of what made DeVante’ Jones one of the best players in the Sun Belt Conference was his aggressiveness on both ends of the floor.
But that style of play can backfire at times and draw whistles, an issue the grad transfer guard has run into with the Wolverines on numerous occasions this season.
Through five games, Jones leads No. 20 Michigan by a wide margin with 16 personal fouls — the next closest players are sophomore center Hunter Dickinson and freshman forward Moussa Diabate with 11 each — and has fouled out twice.
Defending without fouling is something coach Juwan Howard stresses, and it’s been a balancing act that Jones is trying to work out.
"That's something that he has to learn, not just the coaches,” Howard said ahead of Wednesday’s home matchup against Tarleton State. “I still want him to be aggressive, but he's got to be smart aggressive without getting himself in foul trouble.
“As a player — and being a former player — you've got to figure that out. Sometimes the coaches are not the ones to help you figure that out. You've got to have a feel for the game and understand how the game is being called, the flow of the game and the situations when you can be overly aggressive and not. He'll learn that.”
This isn’t a new issue for Jones as he adjusts to high-major competition. During his three years at Coastal Carolina, he committed at least three fouls 39 times in 81 career games, a number that drew assistant coach Phil Martelli’s attention.
“I have not seen that in practice,” Martelli said earlier this month. “He's not a guy that you say, 'Come on. That's not going to go.' He doesn't present that persona during a practice session.”
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Part of the issue during Jones’ career has been his tendency to reach in and gamble on plays. At times it pays off, as evidenced by the 73 steals he recorded last season, a figure that ranked No. 4 in the nation, and the team-leading five swipes he has this year.
Then on offense, there are times when he can try to do too much to create a play for himself or others, as evidenced by the offensive fouls he’s been called for — once each against Arizona and Buffalo and twice against UNLV.
Howard noted some of the fouls Jones has committed are ones that just “happen in games,” like tripping over himself and knocking over a player while bringing the ball up the floor or hitting an opponent’s arm when he tries to back tap the ball.
Regardless, it’s led to early foul trouble and a pair of occasions where Jones has had to sit for a long stretch. In the opener against Buffalo, he sat the final 12:33 after picking up his second foul in the first half. The same thing happened against Arizona, when he stayed on the bench after he drew his second whistle at the 8:21 mark.
When asked how the offense changes with Jones sidelined with foul trouble after the Buffalo game, sophomore forward Terrance Williams II said there wasn’t much of a notable difference, commending the way fifth-year senior Eli Brooks is able to control the tempo and the team when he’s at the point.
Howard also expressed confidence in freshman guard Frankie Collins and Brooks to take over and make decisions with the ball in their hands when Jones is on the bench for an extended period of time.
“Any coach and team would love to have their guy who is a starter, primary ball handler to be out there on the floor not having foul trouble,” Howard said. “In the course of a game, it's going to happen. We'll just try to continue to keep making adjustments.”
While the Jones’ fouls might be the biggest concern for Martelli, the coach noted he’s “extraordinarily confident” Michigan is in a good spot with Jones manning the point.
“We have to find out what is that (foul trouble) all about without getting him mental,” Martelli said. “I don't want him out there thinking he's got to be overly cautious. His rebounding is extraordinary. We have to stay on and stay with him in terms of pace. We're in great shape at that position with DeVante' Jones.”
Sophomore guard Zeb Jackson (non-COVID illness) has been cleared to return and will be available to play on Wednesday, according to a Michigan spokesperson.
Jackson dressed for Michigan’s games in Las Vegas against UNLV and Arizona and participated in pregame warm-ups but didn’t play because he’s barely practiced. He has yet to play in a game this season.
Tarleton State at Michigan
► Tip-off: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
► TV/radio: BTN/950
► Records: Tarleton State 1-4; No. 20 Michigan 3-2
► Outlook: Eli Brooks is one win away from No. 109 of his Michigan career, which would set a new program record and pass the all-time mark set by former teammates Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske. …Tarleton State is in its second year in Division I after competing in Division II from 1994-2020. The Texans are 0-4 on the road with a 12-point loss at Stanford, a 26-point loss at Kansas and a 14-loss at Wichita State.