The Big LeadThe Big Lead

Juwan Howard Can Coach a Little Bit

Juwan Howard
Juwan Howard has righted the ship. | Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Not long ago, Michigan was in free fall. Gone were the days of being the hottest, fastest-rising team in college basketball. The blistering 7-0 start and unprecedented poll ascension were in the rearview. Losers of nine of the last 13, the Wolverines were in serious jeopardy of missing the NCAA Tournament entirely if some form of stabilization couldn't be found.

With backs against the wall, first-year coach Juwan Howard was under the gun to find answers and find them fast. And he did. Time after time.

The Wolverines responded. They cruised past rival Michigan State before destroying Northwestern and Indiana. Then on Tuesday they did something no other team in the country had done this year: Go to Rutgers and emerge with a victory. Without Isaiah Livers, whose comeback campaign took a detour.

Michigan is getting hot at the exact right time. This late-season push is reminiscent of what the team up the road in East Lansing usually does.

Livers' health is a huge question mark, but assuming he's good to go, this team has the potential to matriculated deep into a wide-open NCAA Tournament.

More than that, though, it's a great sign for Wolverines fans looking at the long-term. Howard has been crushing things on the recruiting trail since Day One. He proved early this year that he could coach his team to major wins. Now, he's proving that he has the mettle to find port in a storm, then get his guys rowing in the right direction.

This is, in all likelihood, not a championship or Final Four arriving in Ann Arbor. But if Howard is going to be the type of leader Michigan believes he will be, we'll look back at this mid-season turnaround as the turning point.

Things won't be easy down the stretch. Trips to Purdue, Ohio State, and Maryland remain. An always tough Wisconsin team visits Crisler. For now, though, it appears the train is back on the track, thanks to Howard. It's not the unstoppable freight variety on display early this year, yet it can get the job done.

The rookie with the clipboard is showing he can, as well.