Bench Mob, activate. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
It's me again, the guy who tells you not to pay too close attention to the final score.
This time we're talking basketball. Michigan went to 2-0 this evening with a win over Central Michigan that never felt particularly alarming nor particularly comfortable. While it wasn't pretty in the moment, however, there were some promising signs for the future of this young team.
Much like North Florida in the first game, the Chippewas came out in a zone defense that kept the Wolverine attack stagnant. They also started off hot from beyond the arc, making five of their first ten three-point attempts to jump out to an early 22-14 lead.
Then the Wolverines got some good things going. Zavier Simpson calmly sunk a three over the zone, then worked his way to the hoop for a layup. Moe Wagner took ownership of the defensive boards. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman salvaged a possession with a hard driving layup to beat the shot clock. After an 0-for-4 start, Duncan Robinson drilled a triple. Jon "Big Nasty" Teske checked in for Wagner, blocked two shots, and got hit with a terrible foul call on a third. Teske combined with Simpson for a textbook shutdown of a pick-and-roll that led to an Abdur-Rahman three that gave Michigan a one-point halftime edge.
MAAR kept a sometimes-stagnant offense going with some tough shots. [Campredon]
Frustratingly, Michigan couldn't hit enough of their open looks to really pull away in the second half; on the game, M would go 10-for-34 on three-pointers. Instead, they had to grind out a win with defense and timely transition buckets. That began early in the stanza, as blocked or altered shots by Matthews and Wagner begat five fast break points for Abdur-Rahkman, capping a 15-3 Michigan run.
The offense had its moments breaking down the CMU zone. While Matthews didn't look confident in his three-point shot, he was able to get into the lane and get the defense moving to set up a couple baskets, then showed off his athleticism with a hanging jumper in the lane. Jaaron Simmons, who was mostly quiet as the backup point guard, got a three-pointer to go in rhythm after some nice ball movement. Abdur-Rahkman, who led the team with 17 points, saved another late-clock situation with a slick step-through scoop that rattled home. With some late fast break points helping out, Michigan eventually clawed to 1.13 points per possession.
But it was the defense, which held CMU to 1.01 PPP despite 10-for-24 three-point shooting, that stood out for Michigan. Simpson's constantly pesky approach, which resulted in two steals and multiple other knockaways tonight, will make him hard to unseat as the starting point guard if he continues making open threes (2-for-3 tonight). Matthews generated some points all on his own by jumping a passing lane and going coast-to-coast for a dunk. Wagner looked improved as both a rebounder and defender—he's noticeably stronger and putting in a greater effort on that end. Teske made some impressive plays on the boards and looked surprisingly fluid; less surprisingly, he proved difficult to shoot over.
While it's not safe to assume that Michigan will be as good of a shooting team as last year, they'll certainly be better than they were tonight; Robinson and Wagner won't combine for too many 3-for-13 nights from downtown. Meanwhile, there are some early signs that Wagner and the rest of the squad have improved in the expected problem areas of defense and rebounding. That's a tradeoff I think John Beilein will take this early in the year.
[Hit THE JUMP for the box score.]