Not unlike past seasons, February is starting to look like the month where everything begins to come together for Michigan men’s basketball. The Wolverines notched their third consecutive win this past Sunday with an 89-65 route over Indiana at Crisler Center. Michigan was in control throughout, bringing a seven point lead into halftime before running away in the second half. Arguably the biggest story of this recent winning streak is the impact of junior forward Isaiah Livers returning after missing eight of nine games with a groin injury.
“The play of Isaiah Livers, you can’t stress enough what a difference maker he is for this team,” said former player and "Inside the Huddle" expert Chris Young. “He is able to do so many different things, and you can see that motivate the rest of the team. They follow his lead. It was amazing to watch, he’d drive to the basket or he’d make a shot and you can see everyone’s energy level pick up and keep on getting better and better.”
In the three games since his return, Livers has averaged just over 14 points per game on 46.7% shooting from the field. Outside of an 0-5 mark against Northwestern, Livers has canned 44% of his threes in that stretch. Despite struggling from the outside against the Wildcats, he got to the free throw line seven times, hitting all of his attempts.
Livers has proven all season long to be the glue guy for the Wolverines. Michigan has played like a top-20 team with him healthy and in the lineup. When that hasn’t been the case, it struggled to a bottom four record in the Big Ten.
“He’s such a dynamic player, and can do things that not another guy on this Michigan roster can do,” Young said. “He’s able to penetrate, shoot, create his own shot. Because he can do all of those things, the defense has to react in different ways, and so he’s finding guys. He’s also got that swagger to him, that confidence that he knows he’s going to be able to go out there and do things that other guys feed off of.
“When he was gone, you really don’t have another guy on the roster that carries himself that way. There’s a couple of guys that have the potential to do it, but they don’t have the rest of that well-rounded game to show everybody that this is what they’re capable of.”
A separate, but not insignificant, trend over this stretch has been the play of senior forward Austin Davis. While fellow senior big Jon Teske has struggled immensely over the past couple of weeks, Davis has stepped up in a big way — shooting a red-hot 86% from the floor in 12.6 minutes per game dating back to the win against Rutgers on February 1. The jump in Davis’ play has resulted in a deeper frontcourt and bench unit than the Wolverines were afforded while they struggled at the beginning of conference play.
“He never quite fit in with the Beilein system, but now he’s got a coach that believes in him,” Young said. “Apparently they had a conversation a couple of weeks ago about him potentially coming back (next season), and since that conversation, he’s been phenomenal. On offense, he’s been doing absolutely everything that you want someone like that to do. He’s playing better than Teske, who’s playing 30+ minutes per game. Davis doesn’t quite have a swagger to him, but he gets the ball inside and he’s probably going to score on whoever’s guarding him.
“He’s just got that innate ability to get down there and score. If he’s able to come back next year, you’ll see another huge step from him. Now he’s got a coach who believes in his game.”
How important is Isaiah Livers to Michigan's tournament run? How many minutes would you like to see Austin Davis in the game tonight? Comment below!!!