Michigan coach John Beilein speaks to the media after the 83-55 win over Chattanooga on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018, at Crisler Center.
Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press
Michigan’s Jordan Poole had a message for Isaiah Livers this summer.
The pair of sophomores — who were roommates last year and are best friends —competed against each other in shooting competitions throughout the offseason.
When they started last spring, Poole would beat Livers “by a lot.” So he told Livers to stay on his back.
“As the summer and the spring started to go on, he started to get a little bit too close to my numbers,” Poole said Friday night after No. 9 Michigan’s 83-55 win over Chattanooga. “So I could definitely see that he was starting to shoot at a high rate.
“He’s worked so hard; he definitely wanted to expand his range this year.”
According to Poole, Livers has yet to win one of their shooting competitions. But the work has already paid off when it comes to shooting against other teams.
Against the Mocs, Livers scored 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting while hitting two of three 3-pointers. He’s now shooting 55 percent on 3-pointers for the year.
The Wolverines (6-0) have shown they can beat teams in many different ways this season. Livers exemplifies that philosophy best.
The 6-foot-7, 235-pound forward is able to guard bigs and switch on ball screens to guard smaller players. He can play three different positions on offense.
Livers’ contributions are reflected by his averages: 9.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks in 23.3 minutes per game.
“Yeah, Isaiah’s definitely a glue guy,” Poole said. “Whether it’s going out there, playing — guarding the ‘1’ or the ‘5’ or going to get rebounds, but also being able to make shots and really defend at a high level. Isaiah’s definitely a piece that we need, for sure.”
As a freshman, Livers won the starting job at the four. But he had yet to earn complete trust; as the Wolverines made their run near the end of the season, forward Duncan Robinson would replace Livers during crucial moments.
According to Poole, Livers wasn’t as aggressive last year. He was constrained by playing the way he thought a starter should play — about “being solid.”
This year, his role has changed. Livers is the first man off the bench, like Robinson was, and has been an important member of the rotation. A small-ball group featuring Livers at the five may be Michigan’s most effective lineup.
He has been more aggressive on both ends of the court, and that has been apparent in his shooting. Livers averaged 3.4 points on 2.9 shot attempts last year, using few of his team’s possessions.
This year, he is averaging 5.7 attempts per game — and he’s making a lot, especially from outside.
“He’s really worked hard and stayed both of the terms this summer and worked on (his 3-point shooting),” said U-M coach John Beilein. “Last year, what was happening (was) he wasn’t consistent with his footwork and the arc on his shot. Down the stretch last year, he couldn’t make many shots.
“You see much more arch on his shot (now), and occasionally, frequently, I should say, you see really good rotation.”
Livers hasn’t just made strides with his shooting, though. According to Beilein, Livers has improved his “IQ for the game.” Now, he understands the game and Michigan’s system to the point where he isn’t just a student — he’s a teacher for the team’s younger players.
“When I see him pushing other people to do things, I know he’s understanding,” Beilein said. “When you become a teacher, it shows that you’re a really good student.”
All of that makes for a much improved player. And for Michigan, that has made a huge difference so far this season.
“He used to overthink a lot but this year, he’s just going out there hooping,” Poole said. “Just rely on all the hard work that we put in the gym.”
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Contact Orion Sang: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang.