After a flawless exhibition debut, Charles Matthews went off script in his first official game in a Michigan uniform.
The transfer wing missed six shots and turned the ball over in the first 10 minutes Michigan’s season-opening win over North Florida. The Wolverines found themselves down 7 points early on their home floor in a game that few expected to be competitive.
Fresh faces, new roles. At that point, everything was real. Michigan was in a game and the result counted.
There will be tougher challenges ahead, but this was the first time that Matthews had to answer after a rough stretch (he made 8 of his final 13 shots) or that the Michigan defense had to string together multiple stops in a close game (they did after allowing the Ospreys to take a 1 point second half lead).
Right now, Michigan is still trying to figure out who does what and who goes where. John Beilein can’t settle on his two best point guards, let alone a starter. Moritz Wagner, Charles Matthews and Duncan Robinson look like they will be the primary scorer, but they are still figuring out how they fit together. Add in an unconventional extended zone defense by North Florida and a few uncertain moments should have felt inevitable.
When all was said and done, the final box score still looks like what you’d expect (deviating from the KenPom score by a late three-pointer). Michigan’s offense scored 1.14 points per possession, even after a long first half drought. The Wolverines shot 52 percent on twos and 36 percent on threes for a 53% eFG%. They didn’t turn the ball over or get to the free throw line much, but that’s a standard Michigan offense even with the new pieces.
Defensively, Michigan isn’t without its warts but the numbers aren’t all bad. This game might have looked completely different if North Florida didn’t turn the ball over on a third of its offensive possessions. It certainly felt like many were unforced, but Michigan did record 12 steals and turned the turnovers into 28 points. The game also would have looked completely different if the Ospreys didn’t make 9-of-15 three-point attempts. Beilein was frustrated with Michigan’s tendency to over-help, which contributed to the majority of the open looks.
The Wolverine defense does deserve a lot of credit for tightening up in the second half and really starting the run the put the game away with some solid rebound, outlet, transition basketball. One other impressive defensive number that I’m not sure what to make of: North Florida only made 37% of its twos. Time will tell if that holds up against better foes.
With its next game just 48 hours away, Michigan won’t have much time to reflect. Central Michigan is headed to the Crisler Center and will bring an aggressive full court pressing defense that the Wolverines need to prepare for on short rest.
- Duncan Robinson: Duncan Robinson with 13 shot attempts per night will be an offensive force. Beilein referred to him as being in ‘elite shape’ and said they have focused on him being in the right kind of shape to play offensively rather than turn him into something he’s not (a guy who can bang against bigger players). He is a liability on defense and will be tested offensively, but he also makes up for those mistakes with things like charges (he drew 2) and apparently rebounding (he grabbed 7). Robinson was also key to putting the game away with a personal run in the second half featuring a three, a coast-to-coast layup, a cutting dunk, and a pair of free throws. That allowed Michigan to take its decisive double-digit lead and cruise to the finish.
- Charles Matthews: Matthews finished with 20 points on 9-of-19 shooting and made a three in 31 minutes. That’s not the sort of performance to complain about, but it was hard to watch him miss the early shots They might not have been the best shots, but run back the tape and they wouldn’t look much different than the ones he made later in the game.
- Moritz Wagner: Michigan made a concerted effort to feed Wagner the ball in the second half and he finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds. I scoffed at the idea of him being a double-double guy in the over-under post, but he’s 1-for-1 right now. I do think that he’s rebounding the ball better and even though his three-pointer seems to be inconsistent right now (0-of-3 tonight), he’s been aggressive around the rim.
- Zavier Simpson: Simpson started and handed out 9 assists in 18 minutes, but don’t call the point guard position yet. Beilein said that Simpson is clearly the best defender of the point guard crop, but he needs to be more aggressive looking for his offense. Right now Simpson is content to just make the next pass and Michigan needs more out of the point guard position offensively.
- Isaiah Livers: I think Livers can give this team a new dimension. He had a couple of great passes from the middle of the UNF zone and brought a certain energy to the game. He needs to get stronger on the glass (getting pushed off of a few boards) but he also hit a three late and is a more of a true combination forward option at the four.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: We talked a lot about Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman taking another step this year, but right now he looks comfortable in his old role. He didn’t attempt a shot until after the under four timeout in the first half and finished the game 1-of-5 from the floor with 1 assist.
- Jaaron Simmons: Simmons only played 10 minutes (trailing Brooks and Simpson) and scored 2 points at the free throw line. Simmons probably isn’t the answer against a zone, but it is clear that he’s not producing at the level that many expected.
- Eli Brooks: Brooks played more minutes than Simmons and had a long stretch in the second half where he was running the offense. He was in the game because he’s a shooter, but he missed all three 3-point attempts. He was the natural answer against the zone with his shooting ability, but he didn’t really seize the opportunity tonight.
- Ibi Watson: Watson had 5 points off the bench, making a three and a mid-range jumper. He got a little overconfident on a few attempts, but he looks like he’s capable of playing some shooting minutes off the bench when Matthews or Robinson needs a blow.
- Jon Teske: Teske checked into the game in the first half and immediately had a dunk down low. His length can be disruptive, but he needs to continue to work on going straight up.
- Austin Davis: Davis got thrown into the fire in the second half and produced. He was fouled going for a rebound and split the free throws and then had another follow up around the basket. It was just two minutes, but they were 2 critical second half minutes with the game in the balance.