Lineup change possible for reeling Wolverines: 'Every solution is being pursued'

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

After a disappointing start, the Wolverines are leaving no stone unturned in an attempt to revive their season.

That includes potentially shaking up lineup combinations and giving freshman forward Caleb Houstan more time at the four, according to assistant coach Phil Martelli.

Michigan forward Caleb Houstan (22) reacts to hitting a three-point basket as San Diego State guard Adam Seiko (2) looks on in the second half of Saturday's college basketball game in Ann Arbor.

“We absolutely, positively look at that possibility and all possibilities,” Martelli said on WTKA’s “The Michigan Insider” on Thursday. “Is there a small-ball team in there? Is there a higher-end shooting team in there? All of these possibilities are being pursued. Nothing has been, 'Put that away, put that in a box. We won't deal with that right now.’”

Michigan coach Juwan Howard has shown a willingness to use different lineups, whether it’s deploying three guards or three forwards on the floor at a time. He also hasn’t been afraid to alter his starting five during his tenure, replacing Austin Davis with Hunter Dickinson last season and Brandon Johns Jr. with Moussa Diabate this season.

Since moving into the starting four spot last month, Diabate has seen his playing time increase and is averaging 23.8 minutes per game. Backing him up is Johns, while sophomore forward Terrance Williams II has also received minutes.

More: Michigan's Beniers, Brisson highlight U.S. Olympic hockey team

Despite the glut at the position and the difference in playing the small forward — where Houstan has started all season — and the power forward in Michigan’s system, Martelli noted the “court is crowded” when Diabate and Dickinson are together.

That’s where Houstan comes in. Shooting and spacing has been a problem for Michigan’s offense all season long. The thinking is Houstan, who is shooting 31.3% from 3-point range, could help open the floor and give Dickinson or Diabate more room to roam in the low post.

The issue with the Diabate-Dickinson pairing is that both do most of their damage around the rim and neither are serious perimeter threats. That, in turn, allows opponents to sag into the paint and clog up driving lanes, which limits the effectiveness of Michigan’s pick-and-rolls. Martelli said the staff is still figuring the best and most effective way to play the two together.

Michigan center Hunter Dickinson, left, shoots over Southern Utah forward Maizen Fausett.

“In many of our calls, it's almost predetermined — ‘Moussa, you're going to roll. Hunt, you're going to pop,’” Martelli said. “We want to take advantage of Hunter's passing ability. We want to take advantage of Moussa's explosiveness.”

On flip side, there would be some give and take on the defensive end with Houstan at the four. He doesn’t possess the same size, athleticism, and shot-blocking ability as Diabate, who can help erase mistakes.

Martelli noted a lack of communication has been a problem on defense. He called Diabate an “elite level communicator” whereas Houstan is quiet and “not confident in his own voice yet.” Regardless if Houstan-Dickinson, Diabate-Dickinson or Houstan-Diabate are paired together in the frontcourt, Martelli said defensive communication needs to be better across the board.

“Every possibility to improve — what do we have to improve on? We have to improve on our shot making. We want to improve in our balance on the floor. We want to create more space,” Martelli said. “All possibilities are on the table. There are different segments in practice where somebody will say, ‘Oh, wait a second. Did he just move positions? It’s kind of seamless.’ Every solution is being pursued.”

Redshirt rule

According to multiple national reports, the Atlantic 10 is pursuing a waiver to allow redshirt players to serve as emergency fill-ins for teams that are impacted by COVID-19 and have a limited roster.

The Atlantic 10 is proposing that redshirt players in both men’s and women’s Division I basketball should be permitted to play in up to four games this year without burning their sit-out year. Under NCAA rules, a basketball player burns his or her redshirt once he or she appears in a game.

The move could help reduce tension between coaches and players, who often make their redshirt decisions before the season and are leery to lose a year of eligibility by checking into a single game.

Howard said he heard about the idea but hasn’t read any information that has been reported. Of Michigan’s six freshmen, only one hasn’t played this season: forward Will Tschetter. Wing Isaiah Barnes has also played sparingly, with five total minutes in two appearances.

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins