[J.D. Scott]

For the second Saturday afternoon in a row, Michigan recorded an underwhelming win over an inferior opponent. Western Michigan is worse than South Carolina, but the Broncos played the Wolverines closer throughout the game — they led for much of the first half and Michigan was unable to pull away. Michael Flowers, a sophomore guard, had a career game and scored 31 points, but Michigan made key plays down the stretch to keep Western at bay. With the Wolverine offense struggling, especially in the first half, Charles Matthews stepped up in a featured role for Michigan: he had 25 points and 10 rebounds, and shot 11-16 on free throws.

The game got off to an ugly start, and it stayed ugly through most of the first half. Western opened with a concerted effort to get the ball to Seth Dugan in the post; he scored the first five points for the Broncos but was defended well throughout the game by Jon Teske, Austin Davis, and even Isaiah Livers. Outside of a few early Jordan Poole buckets, Michigan really struggled to score, missing their first seven threes and failing to finish on drives through traffic. The Wolverines were able to get to the free throw line often, mostly thanks to the aggressiveness of Matthews — and they missed seven of their first ten at the charity stripe.

The two teams were tied at seventeen with just over five minutes remaining in the half, and Western had maintained a consistent lead for most of the early going, when Flowers started to get hot. He posted up Zavier Simpson, got two feet in the paint, and scored; he hit a tough step-back three; he made a mid-range jumper; he scored on a really difficult layup after getting grabbed by Simpson; he drew a foul on a free throw line jumper and made both free throws. Within the span of about two minutes, Flowers scored 11 points and Western opened up an eight point lead.

Michigan responded. After Matthews missed two free throws, Flowers took a deep heat check and missed. That miss led to a transition bucket for Matthews, and then Michigan forced four turnovers on consecutive possessions. Western is one of the more turnover-prone teams in all of college basketball, and Michigan’s defense vaulted the Wolverines back into the game. Matthews hit both free throws after Western gave a transition foul; Davis threw a long outlet to Simpson for a layup; Matthews pickpocketed a guard and threw down a two-handed breakaway dunk; Poole jumped a pass and missed a dunk that would have given Michigan its first lead. A strong defensive possession leveraged Flowers into a miss with the clock ticking down on the half, and Matthews went coast-to-coast for a buzzer-beating finger roll to put Michigan up 30-28.

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Mood [Scott]

Western continued to turn the ball over after the break (they finished with 16 turnovers in the game) and Michigan went on an extended 24-4 run to go from down eight to up twelve. Matthews continued to attack the basket for layups and drawn fouls, Simpson knocked down a couple of open threes, and Poole hit a patient step-back three off a screen. The run coincided with Michigan’s best defensive stretch of the game, and the presence of Teske — who sat for most of the first half due to foul trouble — was key.

Within five minutes of the start of the second half, Michigan looked to be on the verge of a rout. After another Western timeout, the Broncos had a bad offensive possession bailed out by a tough and-one bucket for Flowers over Simpson. Sharpshooter Jared Printy got loose for a three, Dugan made a nice move on Davis for a layup, and the deficit was down to five. From there, the margin oscillated between five to ten points, with Michigan unable to ease out to a more comfortable lead and Western unable to make it a one-possession game.

In key spots late in the game, John Beilein called timeout — only to run a high ball-screen for Poole. Both situations led to positive outcomes for Michigan: on the first, Ignas Brazdeikis hit a tough runner off residual action for his first points of the game; on the second, Simpson wound up finding Matthews open in the corner for a dagger three. Western kept threatening, as Kawanise Wilkins scored on some physical moves, and Flowers hit a deep three and drew a few fouls, but Michigan always seemed to have an answer.

Matthews was the star for Michigan: he attacked the basket relentlessly, and even though he missed a few layups, he scored from the free throw line, had some offensive rebounds, and even knocked down a couple threes. Michigan needed that type of performance. Simpson had an uncharacteristic game — he made threes, but turned it over four times and Flowers gave him problems — but he and Poole chipped in with a combined 29 points. It was tough for everyone else. Iggy was held to just four points and had some ugly misses, Teske scored just one basket, and Livers was off from three. Eli Brooks and Davis were solid but not impactful.

On the whole, it was the Wolverines’ worst performance of the season. The early ice cold shooting eventually regressed to the mean, which helped stave off the upset, but Flowers had a fantastic performance and Western looked like a capable opponent and not a team that was ranked outside the Top 200 (per Kenpom, Torvik, and Sagarin). In the end, the Broncos gave away too many possessions to have a chance at the win. Michigan’s first win in this three-game stretch against poor opponents was an uncomfortable one, but they’ll get a chance to get back on track next weekend against Air Force.

[Box score after the JUMP]

get in big fella [Isaiah Hole / Wolverines Wire]

Michigan picks up a presumably final OL commit in this class:

Penn State and Georgia were the other main contenders, with Georgia briefly surging into a crystal ball lead a couple of months ago. Keegan's a mid-to-high four star ranked #163 on the composite and is a true tackle prospect, which was a priority after James Hudson left. Trente Jones is also clearly a tackle; the other four guys in the class probably project to the interior. Let's hope this six-man class works out much much better than Michigan's most recent six-man OL class, which spat out one year of Patrick Kugler starting and nothing else.

Hello post Monday.

[Marc-Gregor Campredon]

What non-rotation bench player's development is most crucial for 1) this season's success 2) success in coming years? — @DrGarbs

Right now, the rotation consists of all of Michigan’s scholarship players who have been in the program for more than a year, as well as Ignas Brazdeikis. That leaves the remainder of what was a highly-touted freshman class: Brandon Johns, David DeJulius, Colin Castleton, and Adrien Nunez. All four have struggled in their rare, mostly garbage time appearances in live action so far in their young careers. None have looked ready to meaningfully contribute for a top team.

With Austin Davis’s struggles as the backup center and Michigan’s depth issues more generally, the Wolverines could really benefit from the emergence of another adequate role player (or two). Unfortunately, the three 4* freshmen who are currently out of the rotation play at positions that are difficult for some young players to adjust to: point guard and center. DeJulius was a great scorer and shooter in high school and has to learn how to operate one of the most complex offensive schemes in college basketball. Center isn’t Johns’s natural position, and Castleton might be too slender to contribute in his first year on campus (Johns and DeJulius have looked much more physically ready).

Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske were near the same caliber of recruit as those three — and both fared poorly as freshmen two years ago. Simpson was recruited to be Derrick Walton’s backup and made more than one shot in a game just four times all season; Teske couldn’t supplant Mark Donnal as the backup center, and the game looked way too fast for him in his brief cameos. They’re now essential components of an extremely good team. Michigan’s best freshman (Iggy) won’t be around for too long, and it’s impossible to say how any of the remaining members of that class will turn out solely based on how they’ve looked as freshmen.

Based on Michigan’s current rotation, the most obvious need seems to be at center, though any of the bench freshmen who can step up to provide eight capable minutes per game will surely find playing time. Johns and Castleton provide different looks than Teske or Davis; if Johns can get more comfortable in his role on both ends, he could make a sporadic impact as early as this season — he has the talent. And while DeJulius profiles to be a good — possibly great — general of the Beilein offense in time, Johns probably has the higher ceiling. The idea of Castleton is an intriguing one as well, though. Maybe they could reprise the Wilson-Wagner frontcourt.

So, for this season’s success: Johns. For success in coming years… DeJulius (because he’s the Point Guard of The Future, and having a good point guard is very important in college basketball).

Which B1G team is KenPom/Torvik underrating the most? Overrating the most? — @colintj

Team Kenpom Torvik Sagarin Average
Michigan 4 2 3 3
Michigan State 8 6 2 5.3
Wisconsin 13 13 15 13.7
Nebraska 21 12 11 14.7
Ohio State 19 17 14 16.7
Purdue 14 21 18 17.7
Indiana 25 27 16 22.7
Maryland 28 32 36 32
Iowa 38 34 45 39
Northwestern 47 47 49 47.7
Penn State 42 52 58 50.7
Minnesota 58 72 63 64.3
Rutger 107 66 82 85
Illinois 104 65 93 87.3

Overrated: Nebraska.

Tim Miles and his veteran team are likely to return to the NCAA Tournament, but a ranking on the edge of the top ten (per Torvik and Sagarin, Kenpom has them around twenty) is too high. James Palmer is one of the better scorers in all of college hoops; Isaac Copeland and Isaiah Roby make up a strong frontcourt; crucially, Glynn Watson is shooting well from outside. The Cornhuskers have a quality offense and a quality defense, though they’re not exceptional on either end.

Nebraska’s resume thus far consists of a narrow road win over Clemson and decisive home wins against Creighton and Seton Hall (none of which are consensus top forty teams); in their losses, Texas Tech pulled away at a neutral court (not really any shame in that), and they blew a substantial lead at Minnesota (a bad loss in how it went down, not necessarily that bad as a binary outcome). They did annihilate two bad teams by a combined 121 points, which may be boosting their rankings.

According to the computers, Michigan and Michigan State are ahead of a well-regarded second tier, and I don’t think Nebraska will prove to be the best team in that tier, and could wind up closer to the middle of the league. I don't think Tim Miles's first truly good team is this good, and I'm not sure I trust him to get this team to its ceiling.

Underrated: …nobody?

Because of how well-regarded the league is right now, there aren’t many candidates here. Michigan, State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Ohio State, Purdue, and Indiana are too highly-ranked relative to how good they are to be considered underrated. Illinois and Rutgers - both bad - are assessed fairly.

That leaves Maryland, Iowa, Northwestern, Penn State and Minnesota, roughly in that order. Maryland and Iowa will probably wind up on the bubble - Maryland’s one of the youngest teams in the country and Iowa is the big “good offense, bad defense” outlier in the conference. Northwestern, Penn State, and Minnesota all are probably mediocre, and if there actually is an underrated team in the conference, it’s probably the Gophers (Minnesota is the lowest-ranked of the three).

But ultimately the Big Ten is just viewed too favorably by the computers to consider any of its teams to be underrated. I’m not going to make the affirmative case for Minnesota being good (though Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy are certainly good), and everyone else seems to be ranked where they should be — or too highly.

[More after the JUMP]

Stargazing [Patrick Barron]

Mouseovers!

Jack Becker shoots against Michigan State's Drew DeRidder

A look at even-strength scoring and the power play from hockey's first half

I wrote it down while writing about the Lions

WMU's mascot will always be a drugged out horse eating chips at 2 AM. It will not be a mean muscle horse. This is not up for debate. 

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