Michigan basketball opened its season on BTN Plus (which costs ten bucks a month!) on Friday night against Grand Valley State. The Wolverines came away with a 82-50 win after racing out to a large early lead and spending most of the game on cruise control. With so many new rotation players, I was excited to see what the squad looked like – here are some observations. Important caveat: the level of competition was very low.
Charles Matthews is a scorer
He eventually cooled off in the second half, but Matthews was impressive in his Michigan debut. He opened the scoring with a corner three; he hit a jumper from the middle of GVSU’s 3-2 zone (which they used for about half of their defensive possessions); he iso’d and posted up a smaller defender, then hit a turnaround fallaway jumper; he had a transition dunk off a feed from Jaaron Simmons; he had a few nice cuts to the basket for easy layups, including one that came on a baseline out of bounds and resulted in an and-one. Even though he missed a handful of first half free throws, he had an efficient 17 points in the half.
Matthews’ final line was solid: 23 points on 17 shot equivalents, 4 rebounds, 2 assists (including a nice dish to Moe Wagner on a pick-and-roll), and 2 turnovers. He led Michigan in minutes and shot attempts by a healthy margin, and looked very smooth with the ball. Wagner sort of had an off night; Matthews definitely picked up the slack. He’s Tarik Black Santana Solo Smooth: gets great lift on his jumper, handles the ball well, and definitely looks the part. His defense and rebounding were as advertised, and he entured towards the offensive glass more than Beilein's perimeter players typically do.
Matthews was Michigan’s best player in this game. I would not be surprised at all if Matthews was Michigan’s best player this season. He appears to be the real deal.
There is no clarity whatsoever at PG
Zavier Simpson started the game running the point, and Jaaron Simmons entered the game after the first timeout, but Eli Brooks got plenty of playing time as well. Their stats were almost identical: 6 points and 3 assists in 18 minutes for Simpson, 5 points and 3 assists in 15 minutes for Simmons, and 5 points and 2 assists in 15 minutes for Brooks. Beilein played all three as the sole point guard, and played each of the possible lineups featuring two point guards. While Simmons doesn’t have great size, he’s bigger than the other two; the Simpson-Brooks backcourt was tiny.
Simpson supposedly started for Michigan in the secret scrimmage and he started tonight, so it seems like he’s the tentative leader. He’s the best defender of the three – quick, always closely guarding on-ball, and physical for his size, even though some the GVSU guards could rise over him a little bit. He had a few takes to the basket in the first half with mixed results: made a tough layup over three guys, drew a dubious foul on a player who seemed to be vertical, and was blocked. That he was assertive enough to take those opportunities is a good sign, but he’ll probably have a low shooting % on layups no matter what. He did airball his only three point attempt (which was open in the corner), shooting the ball well over the rim.
Simmons played well in his first stretch of playing time: two early assists (one to Robinson for a three), the other to Matthews, and he made his first shot – a corner three. From there he was fairly quiet – he and the other point guards had several would-be assists go for naught during Michigan’s prolonged stretch of clunky offense at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second – though he did have a nice hesitation move that led to a tough sweeping layup.
Brooks spent most of the first half playing alongside the other point guards, but was given a solid chunk of playing time in the middle of the second to run the show himself. He made a corner three against the zone, but missed his other two; he missed both free throws attempts, one pretty badly (a surprise given the chatter about his shooting ability). Brooks had some decisive passes against the 3-2 in that time as the only point guard on the floor, and sank a jumper from the middle of the zone as well.
I’d be willing to bet that it will take Beilein until at least the middle of the season to figure out his guard situation; I would not be surprised if he played all three as part of the rotation, and I could see him playing lineups with two smaller guards far more frequently than he has in the past few years.
Jon Teske is big man #2
Teske was the first big off the bench, spelled Wagner twice in the second half, and looked far more comfortable on the floor than he did as a freshman (though there is still some indecisiveness there). Austin Davis got a few minutes in the first half, but didn't play again until the end of the game. At 7’1, Teske is certainly an imposing presence – but what stood out most was his passing. He made some good reads from the middle of the floor against the zone, and he had a really nice dish to a cutting Ibi Watson after posting up on the low block. As hard as it is to envision a pass-first seven-footer, Teske may be one.
He didn’t block any shots, and a couple of GVSU players were able to score over him. Michigan struggled to clear the defensive glass at times (surprise surprise) and that was the case even with Teske patrolling the paint. His field goal attempts were a mixed bag: he put back a missed MAAR layup in traffic, sealed off his man in transition and got a great bounce pass from Brooks for a dunk, and threw up a long jumper that drew all glass with the shot clock ticking down.
Teske still has a ways to go, but he’ll be learning on the job as a sophomore and has an intriguing skill-set that could prove to be useful.
- We did not see a fully weaponized Moe Wagner. He made his first three attempt, but missed the next two and was hesitant for the rest of the game until a second half make that broke a long stretch of Michigan bricks; he had four first half turnovers; he drew two charges; he had ten rebounds (which would have tied his career high). He seemed more engaged after those early struggles than he did last season in similar circumstances and did well in pick-and-roll defense for the most part – Michigan’s bigs showed and recovered, but didn’t hedge hard. Wagner did give up a couple buckets, but Michigan doubled the post often and it mostly worked.
- Duncan Robinson was Duncan Robinson, though he did also have four assists. He made a three off an offensive rebound that the BTN student announcer described as “Curry range” – not quite, but close – and Beilein drew up a top of the key attempt for him to start the second half (he missed, but hit one from that spot shortly thereafter).
- Isaiah Livers played a good amount backing up Robinson, but was pretty invisible for most of his 16 minutes.
- MAAR had a rough night: 5 points on 2-8 shooting, and after missing a couple corner threes in the second half, he hesitated when open, dribbled to the baseline, and kicked it back out.
- Ibi Watson scored two buckets in quick succession in the first half after entering the game and wound up finishing fourth on the team in scoring with eight points. He could provide some wing depth backing up Matthews this season.
- In the second half, Beilein started with Simpson-MAAR-Matthews-Robinson-Wagner (the starters), and after they struggled some, he did a complete line change and brought in Simmons-Brooks-Watson-Livers-Teske. That’s the two-deep right there.
- Jordan Poole didn’t play until walk-on time.
- Grand Valley State is bad.