Michigan 89, South Carolina 78

Michigan 89, South Carolina 78 Comment Count

Alex Cook December 8th, 2018 at 3:51 PM

A struggling South Carolina team traveled to Ann Arbor and acquitted themselves well, but Michigan’s offense (particularly the efforts of Jordan Poole) was enough to keep USC at arm’s length. The Gamecocks entered the contest outside the Kenpom Top 100 and had lost to Stony Brook, Wofford, and Wyoming - and they put up the best offensive performance of any Michigan opponent this season at 1.10 points per possession. Still, the Wolverines managed to overcome an uncharacteristic spate of turnovers and scored effectively themselves: 60% on twos, >40% on threes, and 23 made free throws. Ultimately, Michigan’s lead was never in serious danger for most of the game, but they let South Carolina linger.

Before the first TV timeout, Jon Teske made an impressive two-way impact: he drew a goaltend after slipping a layup, followed a Ignas Brazdeikis miss for two, finished an alley-oop layup from Jordan Poole, and forced three South Carolina misses inside. The Gamecocks were undeterred though, and played through their big men all afternoon. Senior power forward Maik Kotsar took advantage of his size advantage over Iggy in the post, and All-SEC center Chris Silva won his share of battles against Teske. Silva finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds; Kotsar turned it over five times but wound up with 16 points.

The game was dead even halfway through the first half, as Michigan’s turnovers held them back. On the first possession, Poole overthrew Charles Matthews on a lob, and it didn’t get much better from there: Simpson tried to thread a few passes that led to live-ball steals, Matthews caught a pass with his foot on the line, and Brooks attempted another failed alley-oop, all withn the first seven minutes of the game. The turnovers, which persisted throughout the game (Michigan finished with 16), contributed to South Carolina’s preferred, up-tempo pace - and this game wound up having the most possessions of any thus far this season for Michigan.

Iggy, who struggled from the field, helped keep the Wolverine offense afloat along with Teske as South Carolina’s offense found some success. The game was tied at 27 when Iggy took a hard foul from Alanzo Frink to send the game to the under-eight timeout in the first half; from there, Michigan went on a 13-2 run, featuring a couple steals that led to easy baskets, an Isaiah Livers three, and a Teske put-back dunk. Michigan extended the lead to 11 with time dwindling in the half, but a couple nice plays from Silva tightened the game. A step-in two for Iggy before the buzzer put Michigan up 42-36 at halftime.



The Wolverines opened the second half hot. Simpson made one of his now-trademark swooping layups high off the glass; two offensive rebounds by Matthews helped atone for first half foul trouble and netted him four points; most importantly, Poole got hot. He finished with 19 points on just 11 shot equivalents in the second half, and got going in a hurry - a three off a Simpson ball-screen, a step-back three from the wing, and a transition dunk, all before the first TV timeout. Another fast-break bucket from Poole capped a 10-2 run and extended Michigan’s lead to 14 with 13 minutes left, and South Carolina never got the deficit back to fewer than eight points.

They kept on scoring though, and managed to keep a respectable distance. It was a poor defensive showing from Michigan against the second-worst offense in the SEC and while the Gamecocks did make contested shots in the paint, they were able to go to work inside against the Wolverines. In addition to the 34 combined points from their starting bigs, South Carolina got double-figure scoring from two of their three freshman starters, and their designated shooter hit all three of his threes. The Gamecocks took very few threes for a modern game, but they hit 53% of their twos. It was the second game in a row in which Michigan’s hitherto outstanding interior defense has looked vulnerable.

On a different day, that could have proved to be an essential component of an embarrassing upset, but the Wolverines were great offensively (1.25 points per possession) against a quality defense. Poole was phenomenal, especially in the second half, scoring with flair and showing off his range with some difficult threes. John Beilein trimmed Michigan’s rotation even further, as Eli Brooks and Austin Davis only played a combined 10 minutes and didn’t score, but the rest of Michigan’s personnel played well offensively. Iggy made up for inefficient shooting by going 11-12 on free throws (and had 17 points); Matthews played well in a complimentary role, defending AJ Lawson, SC's top scorer, and totaling 12 points of his own; Teske had a line of 15-9-3 blocks in another impressive game for him; Livers hit four threes after a cold spell over the last two weeks; Simpson - as usual - was the catalyst. The turnovers were the only real problem.

This won’t go down as one of Michigan’s better performances, but they did manage to avoid putting the outcome at risk and won by double digits. With three buy games against mid-majors over the next few weeks, the Wolverines will have an opportunity to shore up the defense after these last two games and possibly experiment with rotations featuring more depth. Barring a catastrophe, they’ll retain their undefeated record through the New Year.

[Box score after the JUMP]


Michigan 62, Northwestern 60

Michigan 62, Northwestern 60 Comment Count

Alex Cook December 4th, 2018 at 11:19 PM

In what's now customary for Michigan's trips to Welsh-Ryan Arena, Northwestern took the Wolverines down to the wire - and this time, Michigan prevailed after a would-be buzzer beater from Ryan Taylor hit the backboard and bounced off the rim. Jordan Poole rejected a screen and drove for an emphatic dunk for the winning margin, and he drew a charge on the ensuing possession. The Wolverines were leveraged into two bad possessions, but their defense held up and secured the win in what was Michigan's first competitive game of the season.

Michigan pulled out to significant leads multiple times, but Northwestern was always able to respond. The beginning of the game portended another blowout: Poole scored five quick points, Zavier Simpson made a few nice plays on the offensive end, and Michigan led 9-3 early - Northwestern labored through their first few possessions but got on the board with a banked-in three from Dererk Pardon (the second made three of his career).

The Wolverines went up 22-12 on an Ignas Brazdeikis three, but Pardon kept the Wildcats in the game. Northwestern’s wings did well to get all the way to the rim on ball-screens to force help from Michigan’s bigs and get the ball to Pardon; he also went to work on the block with his back to the basket and scored effectively against Jon Teske. Pardon finished with 16 points in the first half and carried the scoring burden for a while before Vic Law got going.

Northwestern cut the lead to 22-19, forcing a Beilein timeout, but Michigan responded with a run of their own: Iggy scored on consecutive possessions out of the timeout, Simpson hit a beautiful sky-hook over Pardon, and Teske found Iggy across the floor for a three to extend the lead back to double digits. The Wildcats got back into the game before halftime though, as Pardon scored a few more buckets and Law hit tough shots to end the half - an elbow jumper over Simpson and a tough step-back three at the buzzer.

Michigan led 36-30 at halftime and started the second half well. Teske scored on a put-back on the first possession, Iggy made an and-one layup and had a put-back of his own, and Michigan’s adjustment to have Iggy double off of Anthony Gaines on Pardon’s post touches flummoxed the Northwestern offense for a while. Michigan was on a 9-2 run when Teske picked up his third foul at the under-16 timeout, necessitating a stint from Austin Davis at the center spot.

By the time Davis checked out, Michigan’s lead had evaporated from a comfortable 45-32 margin to a narrow 47-45 lead. The Wildcats held the Wolverines to just two points over a five-minute span, as Law's defense on Simpson bothered the Wolverine point guard; Taylor made a three, AJ Turner made an appearance with a few buckets, including an and-one layup after rejecting a Simpson alley-oop attempt, and Welsh-Ryan was alive. Pardon briefly exited the game with what appeared to be a knee injury and was much less effective in the second half.

Simpson broke the extended 15-2 run with a layup past Law, and Teske checked back in. The Wildcats started to concede wide-open three-point attempts to Simpson and he obliged - taking and missing several looks as Northwestern eventually grabbed their first lead of the game on a tough Law three with six and a half minutes left in the game. After the Law three, Beilein called a timeout and subbed in Eli Brooks for Simpson - a move that worked out well for Michigan. The Wildcats went up three on a Turner hook, but Poole drove baseline and kicked to Brooks, who made the extra pass for a rebuttal from Iggy. On the next possession, Teske found Brooks for a three of his own.

During the intervening possessions, Northwestern was able to keep pace with some easy looks inside. Law lost his high school teammate Charles Matthews on a screen for another layup to put Northwestern up 58-57; Iggy was fouled by Law while taking it to the rim and made one of his two free throws. The teams traded empty trips, then Teske got a steal and eventually was rewarded with an open dunk from Poole. Northwestern responded with a Taylor jumper to tie it back up; Poole’s dunk with two minutes left gave Michigan a 62-60 lead.

From there, Michigan turned it over twice, but held Northwestern scoreless on their final three possessions (despite allowing an offensive rebound on their second-to-last possession). On the final play of the game, Teske stripped Turner, and Taylor grabbed the loose ball, eventually shooting a panicked three from well beyond the arc. The carom off the backboard almost gave Northwestern the hard-fought upset, but the ball bounced Michigan’s way as the clock expired. Despite some poor late-game execution, they prevailed.

Iggy wound up with 23 points (and made 3-6 threes) and continues to impress; Poole started the game hot and made a few huge plays late; Teske was indispensable and finished +15 on the night. Simpson was less effective as the game went on, while Matthews had a tough night in his return to the Chicagoland area, finishing with just three points. Aside from some nice minutes from Brooks down the stretch, Michigan didn’t get much from its bench, as Isaiah Livers was scoreless in 22 minutes and Davis was unable to keep up on both ends while he was in.

Michigan hosts South Carolina on Saturday and will likely keep their undefeated record alive until Big Ten play resumes in January. Tonight, they were truly tested for the first time, and despite shooting 5-20 from three and blowing a sizable second half lead, they withstood strong performances from Northwestern’s seniors Pardon (20 points) and Law (19 points) to stay perfect on the season.

[Box score after the JUMP]


Michigan 76, Purdue 57

Michigan 76, Purdue 57 Comment Count

Alex Cook December 1st, 2018 at 6:29 PM

For the second time this week, Michigan welcomed a ranked team with one of the best offenses in the country to the Crisler Center, and for the second time, the Wolverines won easily. In this one, Michigan got out to a fast start against Purdue: consecutive threes from Jordan Poole and Charles Matthews, then a layup from Zavier Simpson past Matt Haarms prompted a timeout from Matt Painter less than four minutes into the game. At that point, the Wolverines led 13-4. Purdue didn’t get the deficit to within a possession for the rest of the game.

Michigan found plenty of open shots against the Boilermakers’ switch-heavy defense in the first half and took advantage. Michigan went on an extended scoring run reminiscent of John Beilein’s best offensive teams, and there were plenty of highlights throughout the half: the Wolverines hit nine threes, including three each from Poole and Matthews; Ignas Brazdeikis hit a particularly nasty step-back three over Grady Eifert; Matthews found Jon Teske for two alley-oop dunks, one of which extended Michigan’s lead to 31-16 halfway through the half.

That 31-16 margin held up for almost five minutes, as Michigan’s offense went cold and their defense began to lock down Purdue. Ryan Cline got open for a few threes, but otherwise Michigan’s defense was on point, especially against All-American lead guard Carsen Edwards. Purdue’s star needed to have a strong performance to have a chance at pulling off the upset, but he was held to 7-21 shooting from the field, fell short of his scoring average with 19 points, and had more turnovers than assists for the Boilermakers.



Purdue’s offense is built around Edwards’s relentless attacking style, and his aggressiveness eventually waned, as he only had three shots after the under-16 timeout in the second half. Michigan played well on both sides of the halftime break: the Wolverines hit a few threes and had another Matthews-to-Teske alley-oop to close out the first, and kept pace with a little run from Edwards to start the second. Poole kept on scoring - and finished with a game-high 21 points on just nine shots - but Matthews cooled off, and wound up scoreless in the second half.

Michigan’s offense bogged down for a while - they had a stretch without a made field goal that lasted for over nine minutes - but Purdue was unable to cut the lead to closer than 12 points during that span. Jon Teske emerged as a focal point of the Wolverine offense in the second half: he hit two pick-and-pop threes, slipped some screens to break a ball-screen coverage that had started to stymie Michigan’s guards, and had 12 second half points (he finished with 17). Of course, his excellent defense around the rim was a big factor in the win as well.

Over the course of the game, Michigan’s offense had some hot and cold stretches, but ultimately the Wolverines shot 13-26 from three and ended the game with 1.23 points per possession. Zavier Simpson, who played a major role in slowing down Edwards - sticking to him off screens, contesting every shot - was more involved in the offense than usual. Simpson was inefficient shooting (10 points on a team-high 14 shots), but had seven assists to just one turnover and frequently made the right decision when confronted with bigs on the switch. Michigan’s starters were relied on heavily in this game, as Isaiah Livers was quiet, and all five finished with at least nine points.



The Wolverine defense allowed 0.92 points per possession against an elite offense and one of the best scorers in college basketball. Michigan did well on several different fronts: forcing Edwards into a ton of missed shots (and maklng him really labor for even decent looks) was the key battle, but Michigan also muted Purdue’s typically terrific three-point shooting and offensive rebounding. As usual, the Wolverine defense was close to impeccable in its ball-screen coverages, rotations, and decisions on whether to send help; they contested almost every shot and eventually broke Purdue’s will.

Michigan travels to Northwestern on Tuesday and then will go a month without facing a decent opponent until Big Ten play resumes. This was the only scheduled matchup between the Wolverines and the Boilermakers, and UM notched a strong early result as they mount a campaign for a conference title. Michigan has been easily the best team in the league thus far and have looked as dominant as anyone in all of college basketball. With today's win, they recorded their their third quality win of the season - and they still haven’t even played a close game.

[Box score after the JUMP]


Michigan 84, North Carolina 67

Michigan 84, North Carolina 67 Comment Count

Alex Cook November 29th, 2018 at 1:15 AM

Early on, this looked like North Carolina’s type of game. The Tar Heels scored on their first three possessions, set the pace at their preferred tempo, and veteran big man Luke Maye had a couple of buckets. Michigan had to sub out Ignas Brazdeikis after an early foul, and following a few careless turnovers and a few more scores by UNC, the Wolverines trailed 21-11 eight minutes into the contest. At that point, North Carolina was 9-13 shooting from the field and controlled the game.

From there, Michigan went on to outscore the Tar Heels by 27 and blew out their seventh opponent in seven games. UM quickly erased the deficit: it started with an awkward sequence that ended with a Zavier Simpson steal and layup, Iggy scored three the old-fashioned way and hit a spot-up three on consecutive possessions, and Eli Brooks made another three to take the lead. The game began to get more frenetic late in the first half, but it was to Michigan’s advantage as they went on an extended 17-2 run.

North Carolina inadvertently slowed the game down with some fouls and regained the lead; the Wolverines got just one point out of three one-and-one situations (it was a bad night at the line for Michigan, who shot just 11-23). Matthews and Jordan Poole each hit threes on the last possessions of the half though, and UM took a 39-35 lead into the break. Michigan had adjusted to North Carolina’s style, and the defense locked in for the rest of the game - but it was the Wolverine offense that keyed the rout in the second half.



Maye hit the first basket out of halftime on a post hook over Iggy, but Iggy quickly returned the favor by burning him on a backdoor cut from the wing. Jordan Poole hit a tough step-back three late in the shot clock; he set up Iggy for another three; and Simpson lobbed an alley-oop to Jon Teske to prompt a timeout from Roy Williams less than three minutes into the half. At the under-16 timeout, Williams subbed in his entire bench and by the time the starters returned, the deficit was at 18 and the game was basically over.

After UNC reserve guard Leaky Black hit a three to briefly stem the bleeding, he and Matthews started jawing and prompted an intervention from the refs; on the next two possessions, Matthews skied for a put-back dunk and was fouled for a three-point play, and then he blocked a shot from Black into the student section. That sequence was basically the half in microcosm, as the Wolverines dominated at both ends for much of the second stanza.

North Carolina tried to mount a late rally. Cameron Johnson, who entered the game as their leading scorer, was held scoreless (mostly due to the efforts of Matthews) until he made a layup over Iggy and was fouled, missed the free throw and wound up hitting a three on that same possession; Kenny Williams knocked down consecutive threes; a 22-point lead was trimmed in half. After the two teams traded empty possessions, Matthews knocked down a big three to slam the door. On Michigan’s last possession of the game, Poole hit a deep step-back three to beat the shot clock - a fitting conclusion to an extremely impressive performance.



Iggy and Matthews were major catalysts for Michigan, combining for 45 points on just 32 shooting possessions, and they were consistently excellent on both ends throughout the game. Poole scored 15 of his 18 points (and hit four threes) after halftime to provide a huge boost. Jon Teske had just 6 points and 5 rebounds in his season-high 34 minutes, but stepped up with Livers limited by foul trouble. He blocked five shots, was a deterrent around the rim, and made several impressive plays, including corralling freshman phenom Nassir Little (who had a rough night) on a switch and forcing a bad miss.

The Wolverines shot 63% on twos, hit 11 threes, and still finished with a healthy 1.20 points per possession despite the bad free throw shooting. On the other end of the floor, they held the potent Tar Heel offense to under a point per possession, were solid on the defensive glass for most of the game, allowed relatively few transition baskets, and - as usual - contested almost every shot well. Maye and point guard Coby White were inefficient; Johnson and Little had some of the worst games they’ll have all season.

Much like they did in the Villanova game, Michigan staked a compelling claim as one of the best teams in the country with this emphatic win in a marquee game. The Wolverine defense passed a tough test against one of the best offenses they’ll face - and they’ll get another quality offense on Saturday as Carsen Edwards and Purdue come to town on Saturday. Michigan seems poised for a special season, and if the offense clicks like it did tonight, this team has an unbelievably high ceiling. It’s gonna be a fun year.



[Box score after the JUMP]


Michigan 66, Providence 47

Michigan 66, Providence 47 Comment Count

Alex Cook November 18th, 2018 at 4:26 PM

Ignas Brazdeikis and Jon Teske(!) led the way with 20 and 17 points respectively, as Michigan notched its fifth comfortable win in five games this season, defeating Providence in the finals of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off. It was a relatively partisan Providence crowd at the Mohegan Sun, but aside from a run in the first half to get the Friars back in the game, the crowd was subdued. It was a victory that was true to form for Michigan: despite some offensive struggles in the half-court, they managed to score over a point per possession, and their defense made it a miserable day for Providence, who shot just 2-18 from three.

Early on, Brazdeikis kept the Michigan offense afloat, attacking the basket and scoring 9 of Michigan’s first 14 points, and Zavier Simpson did a good job of selectively pushing the tempo. Simpson also did well to get Teske involved offensively; he hit him on the roll for an open dunk for the first possession of the game and worked the pick-and-pop game a little bit to stretch the floor. This was the perfect opportunity for Teske, as the Friar starters all went between 6’5 and 6’9 and switched screens frequently. Even though Teske had some success against that look, it bogged Michigan down for a time in the first half, and Providence pulled within one point as Michigan went cold on the other end.

Teske hit a three late in the shot clock to stem the bleeding and spark a run to end the half for Michigan. The Wolverine was strong during that stretch to put away the game, harassing Providence into some ugly misses, and the offense woke up a little bit: Isaiah Livers made both free throws after getting fouled some distance from the basket, Eli Brooks hit a deep three, Simpson threw in a tough hook high over a shot-blocker, and Brazdeikis scored a layup in transition from Livers. Simpson tried another hook, drew the help, and missed, leaving Teske wide open for a dunk right before the buzzer.

Early in the second half, Providence was very active on the offensive glass - they’d finish with 18 offensive rebounds, good for almost 40% of their misses, as some of Michigan’s wings struggled on the boards - but back-to-back threes from Livers extended the lead to 15 and forced a Friar timeout. From there, the margin was never closer than double digits, and the Wolverines played much of another second half in a stretch of prolonged garbage time. Michigan led by 23 when the reserves were subbed in, mostly due to a late scoring charge from Brazdeikis.

The Friars couldn’t string together more than a few quality possessions at a time, and their best player, Alpha Diallo, made a few nice all-around contributions from the wing, but finished with 10 points on 15 shot equivalents and had more turnovers than assists. Charles Matthews had a rough day of his own offensively, but he was instrumental in shutting down Diallo, though it was a group effort with all of the switching Michigan does on defense. The lineups with Livers at the five were again effective on both ends, even though Teske had a great two-way performance when he was on the floor.

The contours of this win will become familiar to Michigan fans as the season wears on. There were stretches in which the offense labored to generate quality shots, but Michigan got out in transition off of live-ball turnovers and bad misses (largely because of Simpson) and fought their way to an average offensive performance. A couple Wolverines scored effectively (Brazdeikis and Teske) and a couple key scorers were cold (Matthews and Poole). Ultimately, the game turned into a slow-motion blowout because their opponent was held to what will probably be one of its worst scoring outputs of the season (0.73 PPP for Providence). Michigan’s adjusted defensive efficiency is already up to #1 nationally in Kenpom’s metric, and that defensive quality will often give the offense a large margin of error.

[Box score after the JUMP]


Michigan 84, George Washington 61

Michigan 84, George Washington 61 Comment Count

Alex Cook November 17th, 2018 at 1:48 PM

Michigan basketball's early season tournament is less competitive than most of the ones they've competed in recently. The Wolverines passed their first test with ease, dispatching a bad George Washington team 84-61 and advanced to the finals of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament to face either Providence or South Carolina. George Washington is winless and had lost to common opponent Holy Cross; Michigan handled them as well as a possibly top-tier team should.

A noon-tip off in a game held inside a mostly empty casino is a weird environment, but the Wolverines got off to a hot start and turned in their most efficient offensive performance of the season. The gameplan called for a lot of mid-post isos for Charles Matthews on the left side of the floor at the beginning of the game, and junior was effective, drawing fouls and hitting a fadeaway. It was the start of what would be one of the most impressive performances in Matthews's career: he scored 25 points on very efficient shooting and displayed a lot of NBA-quality moves in the mid-range throughout the game.

Once Isaiah Livers checked in for Jon Teske at the first TV timeout, Michigan went on a 22-5 run, featuring a couple of wide-open Livers threes and a mini-scoring binge from Jordan Poole, who had been having a rough season. It was an impressive performance for Poole, who looked much more like the dynamic scorer he is. Poole also had a stretch in the second half where he hit three three-pointers in consecutive possessions, and he finished with 22 points. He and Matthews combined for 17-25 shooting from the field (7-10 from three) and 7-8 from the free throw line.

George Washington managed to cut a much larger deficit to six, mostly on the shoulders of Illinois transfer DJ Williams, who had a personal 10-0 scoring run and finished as the Colonials' leading scorer. After a hot start, Michigan's offense had gone cold - Ignas Brazdeikis had a rough first half and Brandon Johns was quiet in his minutes as the third center (in place of Austin Davis, who was out with an injury). By halftime, Michigan was up just nine, and the offense had cooled off to just a shade over a point per possession.

From the start of the second half until the freshmen subbed in with about six minutes left, the Wolverines were on fire and ran the Colonials out of the gym. Michigan's three-point shooting was bound to regress to the mean, and a 15-30 performance on a lot of wide open looks was a corrective to some unsustainably poor outside shooting from the small sample of games entering today. Zavier Simpson hit two back-to-back corner threes and finished with four, all in the second half; Poole had the aforementioned sequence of nine points in three possessions; Iggy got involved; Matthews stayed hot. Simpson turned in a complete all-around game: 14 points, a Waltonesque 11 rebounds, and 8 assists, many of which came in transition after rebound or a forced turnover, and he was especially impactful in the second half as Michigan pulled away.

At one point, Michigan led by almost forty points, and some shaky play from the reserves tightened the margin some. Still, the Wolverines reached over 1.2 points per possession and held the Colonials to under 0.9. Some rest late in the game for Matthews and Simpson should have them fresh for tomorrow's matchup against Providence or South Carolina, teams that would probably rate as bottom half Big Ten teams, but who represent a big uptick in quality from George Washington.

[Box score after the JUMP]


Michigan 73, Villanova 46

Michigan 73, Villanova 46 Comment Count

Alex Cook November 14th, 2018 at 9:47 PM

Michigan basketball wanted some revenge too.

A national championship game rematch against Villanova was the highlight of the Gavitt Games series between the Big Ten and the Big East, and Michigan dominated from start to finish on the road against the defending champs and Big East favorites. On the Wildcats’ first two possessions, Colin Gillespie and Eric Paschall went at Zavier Simpson and Ignas Brazdeikis, respectively, and came up empty; those plays set the tone, and Michigan’s decisive victories in those head-to-head battles were essential components of the blowout win.

The Wolverines’ performance in the first half was basically perfect: they opened the game with a 10-2 run and gradually extended the lead to a 44-17 margin by halftime, outscoring Villanova by almost a full point per possession. Michigan made 70% of its two-point attempts and only turned it over once. Charles Matthews led the charge offensively with an efficient 16 points in that opening half, throwing down a few dunks (including a put-back off a missed layup by Isaiah Livers), drilling a couple mid-range fadeaways, and stealing a careless backcourt pass for a layup. He finished with a team-high 19 points, as well as three blocks.

It was a strong collective effort defensively for Michigan, but nobody made a bigger impact on that end than Brazdeikis. The freshman was tasked with guarding fifth-year senior Eric Paschall, and while the much bulkier big man repeatedly tested him in isolation situations in the post and from the mid-range, Brazdeikis held up almost every time, forcing Paschall into contested misses near the basket. Paschall finished 3-14 from the field with three turnovers. Brazdeikis put up 18 points on just 13 shot equivalents (mostly from tough drives and ambidextrous finishes around the basket), but his work on the other end was even more impressive.

He wasn’t the only Wolverine who was locked in defensively. It was a fantastic team effort, as Villanova’s 0.72 points per possession was their worst offensive performance since January 2013. Simpson took Gillespie off the dribble for a few layups of his own, but absolutely bullied him on defense, notching five steals and forcing a couple more turnovers. Villanova’s starting guards turned the ball over 9 times; the entire team gave it away on almost a third of their possessions. Michigan quickly decided that it would be better to have Livers at the five instead of Austin Davis when Jon Teske was off the floor, and the sophomore turned in a great two-way performance as a small-ball five.

Usually early-season routs like this take place in sleepy buy games against overmatched mid-majors at home, but Michigan just recorded what was arguably the most impressive result yet this season in all of college basketball by destroying the program that had won two of the last three national titles on their home floor. It’s now customary with Luke Yaklich on the Michigan bench: the Wolverines won this game with their defense. The game was effectively over at some point partway through the first half, and even though the Wolverine offense lagged in the second, Villanova had just no chance of overcoming such a huge deficit.

In the end, Michigan shot poorly from behind the arc (5-17, with the starters combining for just one made three) and the free throw line (12-19), but it just didn’t matter. Matthews and Brazdeikis were an effective one-two scoring punch, the latter locked down the veteran who’s probably Villanova’s best player, and the entire team harassed the Wildcat offense into a miserable night - turnovers galore and virtually no easy looks, especially inside. Villanova loves to spread the floor and exploit mismatches, but they couldn’t break down individual defenders, especially Brazdeikis.

Expectations will necessarily be ratcheted up after such a huge win. Michigan sleepwalked through their first two games and then demolished a top ten team on the road. In a few weeks, they'll get another chance at revenge in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge against North Carolina. After how well they played tonight, you’d have to like their chances.

[Box score after the JUMP]


Michigan 56, Holy Cross 37

Michigan 56, Holy Cross 37 Comment Count

Alex Cook November 10th, 2018 at 10:13 PM

Early on, Michigan’s old conference nemesis Bill Carmody and his well-spaced Princeton offense gave the Wolverines some problems. After subbing out Jehyve Floyd, their starting center, and going five-out, the Crusaders went on a bit of a run: they hit four of their first five three-point attempts and led Michigan 18-9 at the second TV timeout. On the other end of the floor, the Wolverines were bogged down against a passive 2-3 zone and couldn’t knock down many of their open outside shots.

John Beilein’s decision to sub in Isaiah Livers at the five after Jon Teske and Austin Davis (who made a brief appearance) struggled to guard out to the three-point line changed the complexion of the game. Holy Cross’s offense completely ground to a halt, and while Michigan’s offense couldn’t find its rhythm until after halftime - the Wolverines shot just 5-24 in the first half - the Crusaders were completely stymied until the end. Behind sophomore wing Connor Niego’s 13 first half points (good for a career high), Holy Cross led 24-18 at the break before Michigan took over.

It was Ignas Brazdeikis who led the charge for the Wolverines. On three of Michigan’s first four second half possessions, Zavier Simpson set up the freshman: first with a drive and kick that led to a driving Brazdeikis layup, then with another assist for three, then with a pass to Iggy on the baseline for a dunk attempt on which he was fouled (before making both free throws). Shortly after, Iggy took a defensive rebound and went weaving through the Holy Cross defense for a coast-to-coast layup; on the next Crusader possession, he got a steal and was fouled on a layup attempt (before making both free throws). In the end, the talented freshman put up an efficient 19 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists - almost entirely after halftime.

After that initial barrage, Michigan put Holy Cross’s offense to sleep - they were outscored 38-13 in the second stanza and found it tough to get much of anything outside a few scattered layups off the patented Princeton backdoor cuts from the wing and a handful of post-up baskets over Livers. Teske finished with 5 blocks in 21 minutes of action, but it was a collective effort on that end: the top two scoring Crusaders from last season (Floyd and Austin Butler, who scored 26 points in the opener) combined for just four points, and Butler was held to 1-13 shooting. Michigan’s defense was locked in with its typically excellent shot contests, and the ability to switch everything with Livers at the five shut everything down. The three-point luck evened out too. After that 4-5 start, Holy Cross missed the rest of their eight attempts.

Despite the eventually comfortable 19-point margin of victory, Michigan’s offense was still an issue, even though it was better in the second half. Charles Matthews was the leading scorer for the Wolverines, putting up 20 points, although they came on 20 shooting possessions. His scoring early on kept Michigan in it - and he actually had more than half of Michigan’s first half points - and kept it up in the second half, with his customary floaters and mid-range jumpers. Most notably, he was 4-5 from the free throw line (as a team, Michigan was 17-21 and Iggy made all eight of his attempts). Michigan’s two starting wings were definitely the bright spots on offense.

Pretty much everyone else had a rough night. Livers’s activity on the glass generated a handful of extra possessions (and he was fantastic on the defensive end), but he was 2-8 shooting for his 7 points. It was much worse for the guards. Simpson was scoreless, though he did have seven assists to just one turnover; Jordan Poole hit a shot - his first and only of the season - but had two bad turnovers and only scored three points; Eli Brooks didn’t get on the board until a late steal and transition layup. Beilein went with a tight, seven-man rotation as Matthews played pretty much the entire game, and Z / Poole / Brooks / Iggy / Livers / Teske played between 21 and 31 minutes. Only two players scored in double figures, Michigan was just 3-19 from behind the arc against the zone, and the Wolverines were held below a point per possession for the second straight game.

These two tune-up games before a trip to Philly for the national championship rematch against Villanova essentially followed the same script: shoddy offense fueled by poor outside shooting, but phenomenal defense against an overmatched opponent. Michigan’s offense will probably have to pick it up against the Wildcats to have a chance at revenge in that game, but Villanova might not see a better defense all season - Holy Cross can probably attest to that.

[Box Score after the JUMP]


Michigan 63, Norfolk State 44

Michigan 63, Norfolk State 44 Comment Count

Alex Cook November 6th, 2018 at 11:12 PM

In John Beilein's 800th career win, his Michigan team leaned on its defense and suffocated Norfolk State from the beginning en route to a comfortable, if ugly, 63-44 win. It took the Spartans (Not Those Spartans) over seven minutes to score their first points, which came on an unintentionally banked-in long two after Michigan had eased its way to an 11-0 lead. For most of the first half, the Wolverine defense was nearly impeccable, holding Norfolk State to just 0.37 points per possession and affording a misfiring Michigan offense a large margin of error.

Jon Teske was the standout for UM: not only did he lead the team in scoring (with 13 points) and rebounding (with 8, which was tied with Isaiah Livers), his defense in the paint was outstanding, as the 4 blocks he logged in the stat sheet is an insufficient record of how many shots he altered around the rim. After a swat as the help defender midway through the second half, BTN announcer Shon Morris remarked that he was "almost not fair," and it was hard to shake that feeling as he completely smothered any and every Norfolk State drive in his vicinity. Michigan's team will look quite different with Teske replacing Moe Wagner as the starting center, but early returns indicate that an already outstanding Michigan defense will be even more formidable with the surprisingly quick giant deterring opponents and swallowing up their shot attempts.

The wings mostly had rougher season debuts, and were the principal cause of Michigan's offensive troubles. Jordan Poole didn't hit a shot from the field, though he did have a few nice assists early on in the game before Norfolk State switched to its mix of zone defenses; Charles Matthews was active on the offensive glass and chipped in 12 points, but missed all four of his mostly wide open three-point attempts and - more worryingly - all five free throws; Ignas Brazdeikis had a rough first half in his first college game (featuring a rushed, contested two that was blocked after he'd conceded a layup, an airballed three, and a charge in transition) before making a few nice plays in the second. Livers, who played more minutes off the bench than the freshman did, had a nice game: protecting the rim, generating a few extra possessions on the boards, dishing out a few nice assists - including a drive and no-look dish to Brazdeikis for a dunk - and hitting a variety of shots.

That Michigan scored just 0.91 points per possession and still managed to win very comfortably speaks to how utterly overwhelmed Norfolk State was by what could be one of the best defenses in the country. The Wolverines did a good job of moving the ball against the zone and avoided turnovers for the most part (at least until late in the game, deep into garbage time), but just couldn't hit shots: 16/34 on twos (47%) against an undersized opponent and 6/26 on threes (23%). More worryingly, free throws were an issue even aside from Matthews, as Michigan hit just 13-29 of its free throws as a team (45%).

It didn't matter though. Even if most of Michigan's rotation was having an off night on the offensive end, their work on defense made those struggles irrelevant. The three guards, Zavier Simpson, Poole, and Eli Brooks (who played well on offense, hitting two threes and notching four assists to zero turnovers) were disruptive - forcing more turnovers than they were credited with in the box score - and did well to stay in front of Norfolk State's perimeter players. Most of the rare baskets they conceded came on tough shots, including multiple contested step-back twos. That first Spartan bucket was illustrative of simply how hard it was for them to score, as was their first made three, a turnaround deep buzzer-beater in the second half. In the end, Norfolk State scored 0.64 points per possession, a number that was better than all but two of the defensive performances over Michigan's 41 games last season.

Before the last five minutes of the game, when Beilein subbed out Teske for good and put in freshman big Brandon Johns, he went with a tight, eight-man rotation: the same starters as the exhibition (Simpson, Poole, Matthews, Brazdeikis, and Teske), the sixth man, Livers, third guard Brooks, and backup big man Austin Davis, who was active around the basket on the offensive end. By the end, all five freshmen had played, and the Wolverines closed with a lineup of David DeJulius, Adrien Nunez, walk-on CJ Baird, Johns, and Colin Castleton - so there will be no redshirts this season.

Once Michigan's strength of schedule ramps up, it's unlikely that opponents will look so uhapless on offense, but it's clear that this team has a ton of potential on the defensive end of the floor - and that starts with Teske, who looked outstanding against an overmatched Norfolk State team, and Simpson, who was his usual tenacious self tonight. Michigan's shooting struggles may or may not portend a rough year in that regard (it's far too early to tell) but their defense could rack up plenty of wins either way.

[After the JUMP: the box score]