What Michigan basketball's Juwan Howard has told his team about playing in NCAA tournament

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Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press
·4 min read
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Michigan basketball is in the bubble.

And that means plenty of time spent in isolation.

"I haven’t been outside since Sunday," joked Hunter Dickinson, "and so I don’t know what the air feels like outside anymore."

The Wolverines are quarantining in Indianapolis ahead of Saturday's first-round matchup in the NCAA tournament, and although that means their days are often filled with boredom, the players aren't complaining.

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"We’re just fortunate to be out here and play," Dickinson said, "because last year the team wasn’t able to play and (head coach Juwan Howard) talked about how that was difficult for the entire team, so we’re just fortunate to be out there and play and hopefully win the national championship.”

Here's what else Dickinson and Howard said ahead of No. 1 seed Michigan's first game:

Confidence in Johns

Isaiah Livers remains out with a stress fracture in his right foot and isn't expected to return during the tournament. That means more playing time for backup forward Brandon Johns, who started Michigan's first game without Livers in last Saturday's Big Ten tournament semifinal loss to Ohio State.

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Dickinson says the Wolverines know that Johns isn't an exact replacement for Livers, one of the nation's top 3-point shooters, but has his own strengths — such as his offensive game near the basket. And Dickinson says Johns' transition to the starting lineup has been "pretty seamless."

"I think Coach Howard’s done a really good job of treating Brandon like Isaiah," Dickinson said. "Not really switching up the offense too much. We all have enormous confidence in (Johns) so for him to be able to fit right in there with the rest of the team, rest of the starting 5, just trying to give him as much confidence as we can, we see him in practice every day.”

Howard's answer when asked about Johns was much more succinct.

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“Been great," Howard said. "Was great in practice all year. No different.”

Drawing on old experiences?

As a head coach, Howard is coaching in the postseason for the first time — but this isn't his first experience with the NCAA tournament. As a member of the Fab Five, he reached the national title game twice and the Elite Eight in his final season. Howard told reporters he hasn't spoken to the Wolverines about his playing days at all, and Dickinson said he hasn't asked Howard specific questions about his previous tournament success. Howard still had a general message for his players, though.

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“He did talk to us about how the tournament can really set you up for life if you do well," Dickinson said. "That’s something that works for us because as a team with players that have aspirations to play other than just in college, the NCAA tournament can really, like I said before, set you up for life. It’s a big opportunity for us to kind of make their name during the tournament. And I think as long as we play together as a team and share the game, I think everyone can get their cognition that they want.”

Recent rough patch

Michigan stumbled near the end of the season, losing three of the last five games (coupled with the unfortunate injury to Livers). The last loss — by one point to Ohio State — was especially difficult for the team, according to Dickinson, because U-M of the nature of the defeat; Michigan came back from double digits late and had the ball on the final possession with a chance to win.

“I think that one really hit home, especially for me, I gave it my all out there. When you give it your all and you lose, really affects you and hurts you," Dickinson said.

The Wolverines have gone back to the film to see what went wrong — and Dickinson said he has noticed his own mistakes and understands he must play better in the postseason.

"I think sometimes the film that he shows, we have lapses, I'm usually one of those people that has those lapses," Dickinson said. "Sometimes I have spurts where I don’t know what’s going on out there in my mind, I'm just not locked in. That’s what I’m trying to focus on now, treating every possession like it’s a one possession game with a minute left.

"I think it starts with me personally, I need to do better for the team."

Contact Orion Sang at osang@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for our Wolverines newsletter. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here's how you can gain access to our most exclusive Michigan Wolverines content.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan basketball's Hunter Dickinson can't wait for NCAA tournament