Juwan Howard and Michigan plummet in Big Ten; Tom Izzo and Spartans make push toward NCAA Tournament

Wed, Jan 31, 2024

Juwan Howard and Michigan plummet in Big Ten; Tom Izzo and Spartans make push toward NCAA Tournament

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - Tom Izzo, celebrating win No. 700 of his Hall of Fame career at Michigan State, delivered a message to fans in the stands on Tuesday night.

"We got a lot of work to do," Izzo said after the Spartans routed rival Michigan 81-62. "But we ain't dead yet."

The Wolverines, meanwhile, are struggling mightily under embattled coach Juwan Howard.

Michigan (7-14, 2-8 Big Ten) has lost four straight and nine of 10, plummeting to last place in the conference.

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The season has gone so poorly that athletic director Warde Manuel was asked last week about Howard's future, and simply said he's in full support of the former member of the Fab Five and will evaluate the season after it is over.

Howard missed the start of the season while covering from heart surgery. His former strength and conditioning coach, Jon Sanderson, has been away from the team for about two months since an unspecified incident occurred with Howard.

"Based on a thorough internal review, nothing was found to warrant disciplinary action for anyone involved," Manuel said Dec. 15 in a statement.

Howard has had another off-the-court issue to deal with, playing without Dug McDaniel for nearly a month when the Wolverines are on the road because the starting point guard is working toward academic goals.

"While I am disappointed, this is not something we take lightly," Howard said Jan. 10 in a statement.

The setbacks have led to Michigan falling short of modest expectations after averaging nearly 20 wins over Howard's first four seasons, reaching an NCAA regional final in his first year and the Sweet 16 in his second season.

Among Michigan's many problems, defense has been the biggest.

"I take full blame," Howard said.

While the Wolverines have had some encouraging stretches of play within games, they have often failed to sustain success and have allowed teams to go on big runs to take control.

"It's those droughts where it's like, mentally we lose it," Howard said. "Is it confidence, or the basics? I think it's a little bit of both."

Howard knows it's not going to get any easier in conference play.

"It's going to reveal who you really are in terms of the level of talent, level of coaching," he said.

The Spartans (13-8, 5-5) are starting to show signs of promise after starting the season ranked No. 4 in the AP Top 25 before plummeting out of the poll with five losses in their first 10 games.

"We've shown spurts and signs of it throughout the year, even with some of our tough losses," point guard A.J. Hoggard said. "But we have to be more consistent, and get back to being confident in ourselves and still feeling like that team that everybody had high expectations for and just playing like we know how."

Michigan State started to bounce back with a 24-point win over then-No. 6 Baylor on Dec. 16 in Detroit, the first of nine victories in a 12-game stretch that has put the program in a position to earn a 26th consecutive bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The Spartans trailed Michigan by two at halftime in their first of two meetings before putting it together on both ends of the court to outscore Howard's team 48-27 in the second half.

"I should be more excited, but I'm not because I have bigger goals," Izzo said.


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