After months of waiting to see what the new look 2017-18 Wolverines would look like, they finally took the floor on Friday night.
Michigan’s 82-50 exhibition rout of Grand Valley State was the sort up-and-down performance that you might have expected after hearing John Beilein insist that his team would experience a few growing pains early on this year.
Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews had no problem taking control as the focal point of the Wolverine offense, opening the game with a 3-pointer and finishing with team-highs of 23 points and 29 minutes. Matthews took 14 shots in the exhibition, the same number he attempted in the final 12 games combined of his Kentucky career.
While Zavier Simpson started at point guard, Beilein didn’t hesitate to throw his other two guards into the mix. Jaaron Simmons was the first man off the bench and played 15 minutes, finishing with 5 points, 4 rebounds and three assists. Freshman guard Eli Brooks played at the off guard for the first two-thirds of the game before getting his own shift to run the team. He finished with 5 points and two assists in 15 minutes.
Simpson has now started Michigan’s open practice, scrimmage and exhibition, but with all of the lead guards playing under 20 minutes I would still call the competition wide open with the opener just a week away. Overall, the lead guards combined for 16 points and 8 assists on 6-of-12 shooting, but the damage was spread evenly between the trio.
The final tempo free statistics all pass the eye-test for an exhibition win over a mid-tier GLIAC team. Michigan controlled the game from the opening tip and it was never competitive, but there were plenty of sloppy moments.
The Wolverines were hot from three-point range, especially early, and knocking in 11-of-26 triples can mask a few flaws. Eight different Michigan players made at least one three in the win, quelling at least some concerns about perimeter shooting from the newcomers. It’s hard for some teams to score 1.22 points per possession in practice against student managers, and Michigan reached that mark with relative ease despite a performance that felt disjointed.
The main defensive numbers are impressive, but again are tough to decipher given the competition. The Lakers shot just 36% on twos and 21% on threes and assisted on only 7 of 20 field goals while turning the ball over 13 times.
The most important defensive nitpick is on the glass. Grand Valley State rebounded 33 percent of its missed shots and scored 11 second chance points.
The Wolverines had several lackadaisical moments on the boards whether it was allowing below the rim second chances, missed free throw box outs, being in position for a rebound and not grabbing it or failing to box out the shooter (twice on one possession). It’s not that tonight’s rebounding performance was terrible, but adjusted for competition it isn’t going to put any rebounding concerns to bed.
A little over a week from today, Michigan will open its season by raising a banner and hosting North Florida.
- Charles Matthews: 23 points on 14 shot attempts with a 67 eFG% — that’s a pretty impressive dress rehearsal for a guy who hasn’t seen the floor in over a year and wasn’t supposed to be very efficient. We saw the different levels of what Matthews can do: post-up smaller guards, shoot from the middle of the zone, play out of the side ball screen game. There’s a certain calm to Matthews’ on the floor, even though he said after the game that he’s still not fully comfortable out there. He made some uncertain passes (a ball screen lob to Wagner) and his handle looked a bit shaky at times, but there were a lot of highlights overall. I wouldn’t hesitate to take the 35 minutes that were next to Zak Irvin’s name last year and give them to #1 this year.
- Zavier Simpson: Simpson’s performance was pretty much by the book on his offseason scouting report: he was great defensively, got Michigan into its sets and ran the offense well. He had a couple of drives with his vintage stiff-arm finish, but airballed his only three-point attempt on the night. Right now, I think he’s the safe option that can run the team most effectively, but I’m still not sure what his ceiling is.
- Jaaron Simmons: Simmons was more aggressive pushing the ball in transition and had some nice finds, including a no-look drop off to Matthews for a dunk. I thought he had some of the better highlights — a pick and roll find to the corner, a made three, a tough drive and layup — but at the same time the offensive probably looked a bit more disjointed when he was on the floor. He played most of his minutes with the other young guys and I’d like to at least get a taste of what he looks like playing with more of the first line.
- Duncan Robinson: Robinson knows this offense like the back of his hand at this point and that is how he can score 11 points on 3-of-5 three-point shooting and hand out 4 assists in 22 minutes. He’ll be an efficient scorer all season and looks like he should be able to comfortably average double digits. Defensively, the same concerns that have plagued him throughout his career aren’t going away.
- Moritz Wagner: We may have seen more clean box outs by Moritz Wagner in 22 minutes tonight than we’d see for months at a time last year. The German junior grabbed 10 rebounds and finished with 10 points. Offensively it was a bit of mixed bag (4-of-8 shooting but 4 turnovers) as he never quite looked comfortable. I’m confident the offense will click, the key will be that commitment to boxing out sticking around.
- Eli Brooks: The fact that Beilein felt it was pertinent to give Brooks his own shift running the team in the second half was telling. This is a guy who Michigan wants to see more from and is probably going to play rotation minutes one way or another. He’s the best shoot among Michigan’s 6-foot guard club and made 1-of-3 triples and knocked one in from the elbow. He looked confident offensively and had a beautiful bounce pass feed into Teske for a layup.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: This wasn’t a seize control of the offense performance by Abdur-Rahkman. It was much more of the classic “I’m here when you need me” look as he finished with just 5 points on 2-of-8 shooting with 1 assist. I wrote about this at The Athletic, but there are several reasons to think that Abdur-Rahkman might not seize that role as primary playmaker and is comfortable in a secondary shot making role. That works as long as two people on the team are ready to take it — right now the list appears closer to 1.
- Jon Teske: Teske looked really comfortable catching the ball, keeping it high and then passing out of the post. He had a great feed to Ibi Watson cutting and a couple of good kick outs. He’ll face more ball pressure than that without a doubt, but it is a unique skill that should continue to earn him playing time. Teske also had putback and dunk in the second half and while I’m not ready to call him ‘Big Nasty’ quite yet, he did look like he may have solidified his role as Michigan’s backup five.
- Isaiah Livers: Livers played 16 minutes but never got very involved. His only shot attempt was a deep mid-range miss from the baseline and he grabbed 3 rebounds and handed out an assist in 16 minutes. He got pushed off of his spot at least once boxing out for a free throw, but does provide a different look than Duncan Robinson.
- Ibi Watson: Watson checked into the game in the first half and knocked in a three and then buried a mid-range jumper on back-to-back possessions. Then he picked up back to back fouls in about the same amount of time and spent the rest of the first half on the bench. Right now he’s clearly the backup at the three, but playing time at that spot could be short behind Matthews, Robinson and then a bigger combo forward option in Livers.
- Jordan Poole: Poole appears to be the odd man out right now in the Michigan rotation. He didn’t play until very late, after Brent Hibbits had already checked into the game. The emergence of Eli Brooks probably takes away from some opportunity for Poole because it has limited the open spot to backing up the three with Watson.
- Austin Davis: Davis played 6 minutes and had a late basket around the hoop.