DES MOINES, Iowa (WOOD) — If Michigan wants to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, like it did last year, it will need to lean on the experience of just a few.
Five returning players have actual on-court tournament experience. Among them is sophomore Isaiah Livers. The Kalamazoo native seems poised to seize opportunity in Des Moines, Iowa, where the Wolverines open the tournament Thursday.
“I feel way more comfortable,” Livers said Wednesday afternoon just before Michigan’s first practice at Wells Fargo Arena. “The coaching staff and Coach (John) Beilein have done a great job of preparing me to be here right now.”
Livers was referring to the tournament and the madness that comes with the next three weeks.
“Preparation, practice, the game,” Livers said. “Ironically, we play the same team as we did last year in the first round (Montana). It’s kind of got the same feeling as we did in the first round. But of course everybody gets better in the offseason.”
Livers included, and there’s been proof of that in the last couple weeks. While Charles Mathews was nursing an ankle injury, it was Livers who stepped in and filled the void, averaging nearly 10 points and six rebounds with Mathews out.
“It gets me more comfortable because that’s my natural position. Charles goes down. Next man up mentality,” Livers said. “Someone has to come in and just guard the three-man and guard every position.”
Now, with Mathews back in the lineup, Livers’ teammates know they need No. 4’s increased production to continue.
“Being able to come off the bench and provide the spark that he does offensively and defensively,” sophomore Jordan Poole said. “We’re definitely going to need him if we plan on making a run in the tournament.”
“Even in practices, he’s stepping up and making plays he hasn’t all year. He’s building a confidence around himself,” freshman Izzy Brazdeikis said. “You can see it. He can shoot the ball. He can do everything on the court. When he plays at his best, we are a really good team.”
Second-seeded Michigan and No. 15 Montana are the last game on Thursday’s dockett in Des Moines, with tipoff scheduled for 9:20 p.m. The game will air on TNT.