After a rocky start to its first game of the season, Michigan wasted no time jumping in front of South Carolina State on Tuesday night. The Wolverine offense played a flawless first half to open up a 59-23 halftime lead before slowing down in the second half and coasting to a 93-59 victory.
Last year’s Michigan team was among the best transition teams in the country because of Trey Burke’s ability to pick opponents apart on the break. Michigan doesn’t have a perfect replacement for Trey Burke (although Derrick Walton’s not a bad point guard himself) but it has an alternative approach: a stable of wings that can make plays for others, shoot the ball and attack the basket.
South Carolina State insisted on crashing the glass but came up empty handed and left itself vulnerable on defense. Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert made the Bulldogs pay. Michigan’s devastatingly efficient wing guards both posted career highs, combining for 47 points on 13-of-18 shooting, with 11 threes, nine rebounds and nine assists on the night. The Wolverines don’t have a point guard to replace Trey Burke’s production, but they might not need one with the sort of wing play they’ve had to open the season.
Michigan’s offense was nearly perfect in the first half, scoring 1.72 points per trip and posting a ridiculous 87% effective field goal percentage – connecting on 12-of-19 threes will always make the statistics look impressive. The hot shooting cooled in the second half as Michigan managed just .97 points per trip. Despite the second half regression, this was still an impressive offensive performance with 93 points on 70 possessions and an effective field goal percentage of 63%. The SCSU defense really struggled to find shooters, especially in the first half, and you can’t do that against a team as potent as Michigan offensively. The Bulldogs played some sort of amoeba match-up zone look that just didn’t work very well.
Michigan’s defense also regressed in the second half. The Wolverines stymied the Bulldogs in the first half, surrendering just .67 points per trip, but allowed a shade over a point per possession in the second half. Overall it was still an adequate defensive performance. The Wolverines forced Matthew Hezekiah to miss five of his first six shots and cleaned up the defensive glass against a very good offensive rebounding unit. It was disappointing that Michigan couldn’t force more turnovers against a team that struggles in that department. The last time SCSU turned the ball over on 13% of its possessions or less was on February 25th, 2012.
It’s a lot easier to justify playing a lackadaisical half in the second half after opening up a 36 point lead than it is to be tied at 23-23 against UMass Lowell. However, the Wolverines were outscored against an obviously sub-par team in the second half. Michigan has played one really great half and one pretty underwhelming half in each of its first two games. The Wolverines will have to raise their level of execution across the board on Sunday as they jump into the meat of the non-conference slate. First up is a trip to Iowa State on Sunday and then it’s off to Puerto Rico. Add in a trip to Durham and we’ll have a lot better idea of what this team is capable of.
- Caris LeVert: Caris knocked down his first five triples and everything rolled downhill from there. He finished with a career high 24 points on 7-of-11 (6-7 3pt), four assists, three rebounds, two blocks and a steal in 31 minutes. LeVert wasn’t just spotting up shooting, he was making plays all over the floor. His acceleration in transition is superb and his form on his jump shot has improved tenfold. He hit a pick-and-roll three after his defender went under and he was still extremely active defensively.
- Nik Stauskas: Stauskas might not grab as many headlines, mostly because LeVert made so many threes first, but he might have actually been more impressive. There’s a maturity to his game that was absent last year. He could have hit five threes any game last year but the six rebounds, five assists, eight FTAs and one turnover were most impressive. Stauskas, like LeVert, looked very comfortable pushing the ball on defensive rebounds and showed the patience to find other players whether it was Horford for a dunk under the basket or making the extra pass for an open three.
- Derrick Walton: Walton is still more advanced on the defensive side of the ball. His quickness and knack for the ball is impressive although he’ll learn to make the smart play instead of always going for the big play. Offensively, he’s up and down. He struggles to identify where he is on the floor when shooting for the perimeter, resulting in long twos and very long threes. He also made a poor pass against SCSU’s three-quarter court press. There are also plenty of positives, he was 4-of-6 inside the arc and did a great job of pushing the ball and getting all the way to the basket with the ability to adjust in the air. The comparison I can’t help but making is Yogi Ferrell: not the best offensive player as a freshman but still kept the talented options around him involved in the offense while excelling on defense despite his size.
- Glenn Robinson III: Robinson just never looked dialed in. He got blown by off the dribble by Luka Radovic early in the game and promptly took a seat on the bench. He pushed the ball fairly well in transition and scored in ways that we are used to (transition dunks and open straight line drives) but he also tried to show off his diversified game. That didn’t go so well, especially in the second half. 13 points, nine rebounds and three steals is solid but 4-of-12 is underwhelming and there’s more of Robinson’s game to see but he’s not the primary option right now.
- Jon Horford: Horford has steadily improved during the early season. He finished with 9 points and 15 boards (5 offensive), an assist and a block in 24 minutes. He’s rebounding very well and had some nice moves offensively, including a little spin move and pull up jumper from the high post. He’s gone to his jumper more and more often and while it hasn’t been falling, that could be a very nice weapon.
- Jordan Morgan: 4 points, six rebounds, two assists, two blocks, a steal and a turnover in 15 minutes. That’s a really impressive stat-line and better than I would have guessed from watching the game. He had a great help-side block in the first half and is still a bit hesitant offensively but he gives this team some frontcourt versatility defensively.
- Zak Irvin: Irvin missed a couple 3-point attempts early which rattled his confidence a bit (although he bounced back with an assist to LeVert, a nice mid-range jumper and a made three) but right now he reminds me a bit of Tim Hardaway Jr. early in his career (before he discovered the pick-and-roll). He’s content to wait in the corner and fire up kick out threes but not comfortable getting involved in much else. There’s more to his game and that will come, but it’s something to watch. Another concern? Rebounding. Irvin grabbed one rebound in two exhibition game and has yet to corral a board in either of Michigan’s first two games.
- Spike Albrecht: Albrecht didn’t attempt a shot but handed out three assists in 14 minutes. He was quiet but that’s two more assists than Walton managed in 24 minutes.