When the unfortunate news broke that veteran forward Isaiah Livers suffered an injury that would likely end his season, many folks - both inside and outside of the Michigan fan base - believed that the Wolverines national championship hopes essentially ended as well. After all, Livers averaged more minutes on the floor than any other Wolverine during the season (31.6), was the second leading scorer with 13.1 points per game and was third in rebounding (6.0 per game). Additionally, the 6-7, 230-pound forward shot 87% from the freethrow line (the second highest percentage on the team) and was a solid defender on the defensive end.
Put simply, Livers isn’t the type of player you can afford to lose - particularly during tournament time.
After digesting the news, many began to speculate just how Juwan Howard would replace such a significant contributor like Livers. Who would start in his place? Who would be able to elevate their game in order to make up for such a huge loss? On the eve of Michigan’s Elite Eight matchup against No. 11 UCLA, we now know the answer.
Junior forward Brandon Johns Jr. stepped into the starting lineup in place of Livers and has become a massive piece of Michigan’s tournament success so far.
Averaging just 4.8 points per game during the 2020-21 season and 3.9 points per game for his career, Johns Jr. has found his mojo in March and is averaging just under 11 points per game during tournament play. His increase in production from the regular season to the tournament is the highest of any other Wolverine, with a scoring increase of 129% during the NCAA tournament.
Following Michigan’s hard-fought win against LSU in the Sweet Sixteen, Johns reflected on what has helped him be successful in his new role.
“I’ve tried to focus more on playing my game rather than trying to play something else that I’m not -- just trying to do what I know how to do, and that’s just give effort all the time on the court,” Johns said. “Take the open shot, be aggressive, draw fouls as much as I can. Doing anything I can to help my team win.”
“My teammates and my coaches have been helping me a lot, trying to instill confidence in me,” Johns said on Thursday. “I’m trying to reciprocate that. I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts, a lot of my coach’s words, trying to keep my confidence up, and it’s been working.”
On the verge of making their eighth Final Four appearance in school history and the first since 2018, the Wolverines have gone from a No. 1 seed question mark to a No. 1 seed favorite to win it all - and the play of Brandon Johns Jr. is a massive reason for that transformation.