No. 24 Michigan basketball preaching patience as it works on better habits

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

The Wolverines took a couple of days off during the Thanksgiving break to rest, reset and refocus.

When they returned to practice, they got back to basics and the coaching staff put an emphasis on building particular habits ahead of Wednesday’s trip to North Carolina for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Forward Terrance Williams II (5) and Michigan are at North Carolina on Wednesday for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

According to sophomore center Hunter Dickinson and sophomore forward Terrance Williams II, getting guys to perfect those habits and fully buy into what coach Juwan Howard wants to do offensively and defensively is a process that takes time.

“It just doesn't happen overnight,” Williams said Tuesday. “If we keep practicing those habits each day, I've seen the success we had last year and I know the habits work.”

Like Williams, Dickinson preached patience as No. 24 Michigan looks to reach the level of play many expected coming into the season. The Wolverines have seven new scholarship players on the roster and five of them — four freshmen and a transfer — are in the rotation. Guys are adjusting to a different system and adapting to new situations and teammates.

“I think last year people got a little spoiled because we were a lot more experienced than we are this year,” Dickinson said. “We have two new starters (in grad transfer DeVante’ Jones and freshman Caleb Houstan), so we're still trying to click there. Then everybody coming off the bench…most of those guys didn't play last year and are coming into new roles.

“I think that's something that we're still trying to figure out is each other's roles. Right now, obviously, we're not where we want to be but that's fine. You don't want to peak at the beginning of the season. You want to peak at the end of the season when winning matters more.”

Through Michigan’s 4-2 start, Williams said the team has gotten better with the habits that Howard preaches. And over the past few days, Williams said the players have focused on the “little things,” like boxing out, defensive stances and rotations, and sprinting to the deep corner in transition to open the floor.

Offensively, there are several areas that have room for improvement. Ball security (14.8 turnovers per game), 3-point shooting (29.1%) and spacing have hindered the Wolverines, and there have been stretches where Dickinson has gone quiet.

“We're not clicking as a unit (on offense), so there's a trickle-down effect to that,” Dickinson said. “We're trying to find our groove right now and try to find that chemistry and trust in each other, and I think that's going to come over time just playing more and more with each other. As long as we buy into the offense and what Coach Howard is teaching us, everything will sort out itself.”

After the Arizona loss in Las Vegas, Howard said there were moments when some players were resistant to coaching points the staff was trying to make. However, Howard wasn’t concerned about it becoming an issue and chalked it up as part of the learning process.

The way Dickinson sees it, it had to do with trying to get players to shake the tendencies they learned from previous coaches and teams, whether it’s guarding a certain way or making a certain pass off a ball screen.

And as Dickinson and Williams both know, breaking down those old habits and building up new ones can pay off in the long run.

“It takes time. It's not going to be a thing that happens in a week or a month,” Dickinson said. “I think toward the end of the season when games are more important, I think we'll become a team that everybody thought we were going to be at the beginning of the season.”

Battle wound

Sophomore guard Jace Howard suffered a broken nose in practice last week when he took an inadvertent elbow to the face from senior forward Brandon Johns Jr.

According to Juwan Howard, his son had surgery to repair it on Monday and the procedure went well.

"He's doing better. He had a rough time sleeping last night,” the elder Howard said. “It's tough breathing through both nostrils when they both have stints. … It's something that he has to go through for the next week or two and I'm sure he will heal.”

Jace tweeted a post-surgery photo of himself in a hospital bed giving a thumbs-up on Tuesday and thanked everyone for the well wishes.

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins

Michigan at North Carolina

Tip-off: 9:20 p.m. Wednesday, Dean Smith Center, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

TV/radio: ESPN/950

Records: No. 24 Michigan 4-2; North Carolina 4-2

Outlook: This is the fourth time in five years the two teams have squared off. Michigan has won the past two meetings and is 4-4 in the all-time series. … The Wolverines are 8-11 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and the Tar Heels are 10-12. … Junior forward Armando Bacot leads five double-digit scorers for North Carolina with 15.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.