Michigan Wolverines basketball junior guard Eli Brooks explains what it's like having Isaiah Livers back in the lineup.
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Eli Brooks On Having Isaiah Livers Back: 'It Feels Like The Bahamas Again'

There have been several factors that have led to the Michigan Wolverines’ basketball team winning four of its last five games, but the revamped defensive efforts and the return of junior forward Isaiah Livers from injury are probably the two biggest.

U-M’s defense was dreadful throughout the month of January and was a significant reason the Wolverines endured a four-game losing streak from Jan. 12 through Jan. 25, but saw the intensity on that side of the ball pick up during the Feb. 1 win over Rutgers in Madison Square Garden.

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Michigan Wolverines basketball junior forward Isaiah Livers yelling
Michigan Wolverines basketball junior forward Isaiah Livers (left) is hitting 45.7 percent of his threes this season. (USA Today Sports Images)

Michigan held the Scarlet Knights to just 32.5 percent shooting that day and have maintained the defensive excellence ever since, limiting three of their last four opponents to 33.3 percent shooting or worse (including the aforementioned Rutgers game).

“We knew we had to make changes to be better defensively,” junior guard Eli Brooks admitted this afternoon.

“Everybody on the team is talking more now, and we can see the wins that have come as a result. I don’t remember which game it was after, but we had a practice where it was one-on-one and we couldn’t match the defense in the drills; I don’t remember how much time we spent on offense that day, but it was mainly all about defense.

“We needed it, because we wanted to make sure we still had that edge, even though it was during our losing streak. Offense helps our defense; people always talk about confidence on offense, but there’s confidence on defense too.

“It’s about getting stops and trusting our scouting reports.”

Livers’ return from injury last Saturday against Michigan State has also been crucial to the Wolverines’ recent defensive success, especially when considering his versatility — at 6-7 — to basically guard any position on the floor.

His return immediately paid dividends against the Spartans when U-M held them to just 33.3 percent from the floor, marking the Spartans’ third worst offensive game since the start of the 2017-18 season (the only two worse were when they shot 31 percent against Texas Tech last year in the Final Four and 25 percent versus Syracuse in the second round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament).

U-M’s defensive efficiency carried over into Wednesday night’s game at Northwestern, when the team limited the Wildcats to just 32.2 percent from the field and began to resemble the Wolverine club who started the year 7-0 with phenomenal wins over Creighton and Gonzaga.

“We can definitely feel the change,” Brooks noted when asked about having Livers back. “It feels like the Bahamas again.

“People are having fun and you can see the smiles. Coach [Juwan] Howard preached to us about having fun before the Northwestern game; sometimes we get lost and have to remember it’s a basketball game.

“Winning helps with that. Isaiah is such a good guy and is really positive, and brings a lot of energy to the team. It’s obviously a little different when he’s on the court instead of the bench.”

Brooks has elevated his own offensive play lately as well, averaging 13.2 points over his last five games and draining at least three threes in three of those five contests.

His performance Wednesday night at Northwestern was especially impressive, with the junior scoring 18 points and connecting on four of his eight threes, including a crucial one late when the Wildcats were attempting to mount a furious comeback.

“[Assistant] Coach Saddi [Washington] has been on me about hunting my shots, and I’ve taken that to heart and have applied it,” he explained.

“The ball finds energy, and the shots will fall eventually. Percentages are weighed out over time; if you’re a 45 percent shooter, you’ll wind up eventually being a 45 percent shooter.”


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