Michigan’s Juwan Howard should give Indiana Mike Woodson hope

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This was a game that surely made the Michigan folks who roam among us awfully happy. The Wolverines may not have looked quite as good in schooling Florida State as Gonzaga did burying Creighton earlier in the day, but only by degrees.

Michigan seized the game early, controlled the middle, cruised to a 76-58 win by game’s end. The Wolverines looked terrific on both ends of the floor, and on offense they were an inside-outside, strength/finesse clinic that will have the purists humming all the way to Tuesday night and the Elite Eight.

They were, and are, brilliantly coached.

And that is why, as happy as Michigan fans might be right now, there must be some strains of optimism emerging from their conference rival, Indiana. For earlier Sunday, the Hoosiers named Knicks assistant (and formerly head coach) Mike Woodson to replace Archie Miller and try to guide IU back from the abyss.

At first glance, it is a curious choice.

At second glance, you realize a few other things:

  • Woodson was one of the best players in Indiana history, scoring 2,061 points on four Bob Knight teams that went to two NCAA Tournaments and won the 1979 NIT — same as Juwan Howard was one of the best players in Michigan history, scoring 1,526 points on three Steve Fisher teams that made three NCAAs and two title game appearances.
  • Woodson hasn’t coached a second of college ball until now — same as Howard before he took over the Wolverines last year.
  • Woodson takes the job as folks are wondering if this wasn’t news better reported by “The Onion,” same as the reaction as when Howard was hired to replace John Beilein at Michigan.

Of course, Woodson may be 63 years old — 15 years older than Howard — but he already has been a head coach for 680 games, winning 315 of them, including a record of 109-79 with the Knicks from 2012-14, the only New York coach since Jeff Van Gundy resigned in 2001 to have a winning record.

Indiana decided to ride a volatile wave here. There had been plenty of instances where hiring a legend back at the alma mater didn’t work out well at all — think Clyde Drexler at Houston, Eddie Jordan at Rutgers, Chris Mullin at St. John’s. But in recent years that trend has begun to reverse itself.

There’s Penny Hardaway at Memphis State, and the Tigers won the NIT Sunday afternoon with a decisive 77-64 win over Mississippi State. There’s Patrick Ewing at Georgetown, whose Hoyas won the Big East and, despite getting hammered by Colorado, ought to be on the rise thanks to momentum and a good recruiting class.

And there is Howard, who had Michigan as high as No. 2 in the polls for a time this year, who is 44-16 in two years on the job and will welcome the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation to Ann Arbor next fall.

Yes. That is exactly what Indiana hopes to channel.

“Coach always has us prepared and always has a great game plan,” said Franz Wagner, who had 13 points, 10 rebounds and five assists to lead the Wolverines. “There’s nothing that surprises us because we have a lot of confidence heading into every game.”

Woodson’s biggest move now, immediately, is to assemble the kind of staff Howard, Ewing and Hardaway have been able to assemble at their old schools, because, like Howard, that is the one area he will walk into blind. He hasn’t been a part of the recruiting process since Knight plucked him out of Indianapolis’ Broad Ripple High 45 years ago.

We have seen up close that he knows how to coach. The Knicks have had one outlier season since 2000, and that was the 2012-13 season in which they won 54 games and beat the Celtics in the playoffs. Earlier, in Atlanta, the Hawks increased their win totals in each of his six seasons. He has been mentored by both Knight and Larry Brown, two of the best.

The Hoosiers will be well-coached.

Will they have the talent to make it matter? That’s to come. That’s to be figured out. But based on what Hoosiers fans see happening at their rival to the north, they have to be filled with at least a modicum of hope today. Juwan Howard, of all people, gives them that.

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