Michigan's annual basketball open practice was yesterday. Takes! You need takes!
Pick and roll focus. After a quick warmup the drills portion of the practice was largely pick and roll, with various managers simulating the various ways teams defend P&R and Michigan executing plays based on the opposition's reaction. There was also a fast break drill that started 3 v 2 or 3 v 1 with the defense getting extra players up to parity after an initial disadvantage.
Positional intrigue. Brooks played the two next to Simpson in the scrimmage; Beilein explicitly noted that a number of players were playing multiple positions. That's par for the course; the interesting bit was that Livers and Johns are both options at center. Michigan ran a little of Livers at C last year, where he looked lost on the offensive end. Johns looked pretty similar during the scrimmage. Despite that I'd expect to see him mostly at the 5. Beilein talked about his "four bigs" at one point and generally referenced Johns as a 5.
- Maize was Simpson/Brooks/Nunez/Livers/Teske, with Castleton subbing in at the 5. CJ Baird also got a little run.
- Blue was DeJulius/Poole/Matthews/Brazdeikis/Davis, with Johns subbing in at the 5.
Maize won by approximately 8 points (there was no scoreboard but Beilein had it in his head and kept exhorting blue to get some stops), largely on the strength of Simpson and Teske. Beilein was mic'd up and kept relaying items to the crowd—this was delightful—and one of them was a mention that Simpson and Teske had great chemistry in the pick and roll. This was borne out, as Simpson found Teske repeatedly with a series of slick pocket passes that set the Maize team up for easy buckets. Many of these drew "oooohs" from the assembled crowd.
Simpson didn't just find Teske; he was able to set up all manner of his teammates. His shot's still pretty broke; even so he looked like a guy who'd taken another largish leap forward. It felt like he'd be able to get to the lane with more consistency and pay that off more. Simpson's sophomore year already featured a 25% assist rate*, which was around 200th nationally. That was comparable to Derrick Walton's final two years. Trey Burke's Naismith year saw him rack up a 37% assist rate. Simpson could get to 30-32%, maybe? The kind of passes he was making felt like they'd work against a whole hell of a lot of folks.
*[IE, a quarter of Michigan's baskets when Simpson was on the floor were assisted by him.]
[After THE JUMP: a freshman who doesn't feel like one]
Freshmen. Beilein took time to instruct most of his young charges. David DeJulius and Brandon Johns were the most frequent advisees, which I took to mean that they were the closest to meaningful time at spots (PG, C) where there was a lot of learning to do. At one point Beilein stopped things entirely and turned off his mic to give DeJulius some detailed instructions.
And not quite a freshman. The guy who avoided this, for the most part: Ignas Brazdeikis. Brazdeikis was on the same team as Matthews and Poole and very much came off like the alpha dog. He was able to get to the basket on some complicated change-of-direction drives and while his finishing wasn't quite on point a few of his misses were (or should have been) Kobe assists. He is ready to be a high(ish) usage guy immediately. It was slightly odd to see Matthews sit on the wing and watch Brazdeikis go to work on a few possessions.
It's probably good though. Matthews had a terrible stretch midseason when the offense bogged down and ideas were limited to "Charles, do something." Matthews is not that guy. There are guys who can weather higher usage without shedding too much efficiency, and then there's Matthews: a hyper-efficient gentleman when put in advantageous situation who struggles when asked to generate those situations himself.
If Brazdeikis is instantly a 20-25% usage guy and Poole takes the step forward everyone thinks he will and Simpson is able to amp up his assist rate a bit, almost all of Matthews's usage is going to fall into the hyper-efficient category. Like the time when he got Nunez on his back at the three point line and ripped past him for a dunk. Beilein in the aftermath: "who could see that coming?"
Charles Matthews usage at 20% is a bellwether for the season; I think it'll happen.
Backup C: probably fine. Austin Davis managed a couple of hook shots in the lane, played solid defense, cleaned up the boards aside from one patented Teske self-tap OREB, and felt like a guy ready to be a contributor. Beilein praised both he and Teske for growing into their bodies and getting that extra bit of athleticism that can take a project big to a playing one. He did dorf a tough entry pass but looked very comfortable on the pick and roll himself.
He'll be totally fine as a backup C… as long as he can stay on the court. We talked about Davis's 12 fouls per 40 in limited time last year on the podcast, and at one point Beilein criticized Davis for grabbing Tekse's jersey, going so far as to tell the crowd that when this happened during the season the head coach would be hopping mad.
Colin Castleton was wobblier positionally but had two impressive blocks. He's skilled; it's going to take him a year to fill out and put things together.
The one downer: shooting. Michigan worked themselves a lot of good shots off of complicated action. Easy buckets were rare. It felt like Michigan was very good at breaking down good defense. The level of polish at this practice far outstripped previous editions… but the shots didn't go down nearly enough.
Extrapolating from a brief scrimmage at the tail end of a two-and-a-half hour practice (Beilein said they'd been going for 90 minutes before folks arrived) is unwise. Many of the misses rimmed out; many of the players taking the shots have established levels of performance. Only one came from Matthews or Simpson, who were iffy shooters last year. But, yeah, the shots didn't go down enough.
FWIW, Beilein insisted in a press conference that Teske was going to take and make threes this year and he insisted it to the crowd after Teske had a three rim out. He's not going to be Mo level; Michigan will hope to establish him as enough of a threat to be guarded beyond the arc.
Other takes. From Andrew Kahn:
Beilein provided commentary throughout: "Look out!" as Livers soared towards the basket. After a Matthews drive and dunk: "I like high-percentage shots like that." After Brazdeikis finished at the rim through contact: "That's a big boy bucket right there." He told fans to expect 3-pointers from Teske and teased Davis for grabbing jerseys in the post.
With Simpson's Maize team trailing 14-10, Beilein looked at his watch, realized there was still a 3-point contest and a photo session to come, and requested five minutes be cut from the game clock, drawing a protest from Simpson.
"When I want to end practice early, Zavier usually wants to keep going," Beilein said.
Livers still expanding his game
Players and coaches alike have wanted the sophomore forward to take more offensive initiative this season. Monday’s scrimmage was encouraging in this regard — but it was also a reminder that it won’t happen overnight.
In one offensive set, Livers received the ball alone at the top of the key, with Charles Matthews just out of position to close out. Livers paused for a second too long and ended up passing out of the situation, prompting Beilein to shout, “Shoot that, Isaiah!”
One possession later, Livers made up for his indecision. Curling to his left, he received a pass on the right wing and put up a catch-and-shoot three without any hesitation, catching nothing but net. The Wolverines hope he eventually won’t need a reminder to do so.
ELI BROOKS LOOKS READY TO PLAY
After flirting with the starting job last year briefly, Brooks fell out of the rotation as a freshman to the likes of Jaaron Simmons and Zavier Simpson. While the sophomore is obviously no threat to Simpson for the starting job this year, Brooks was the best player at the open practice, consistently getting to the rim and draining multiple three-pointers. With freshmen guards Adrien Nuñez and David DeJulius not quite in the rotation yet, Brooks seems to be the most likely source of shooting off the bench for Michigan.
Brooks still has to prove it on the court in a game setting, but his development throughout the month of October looks to be a pleasant surprise for the Wolverines.