ANN ARBOR — While the sizable crowd arrived early for the banners, they stayed to see the new-look Wolverines make their official debut.
No. 19 Michigan beat a team nicknamed the Spartans for the third time in 2018, the Wolverines topped Norfolk State 63-44 in their season opener. It was not pretty by any means, as Michigan shot a subpar 13 for 29 (44.8%) from the free throw line and 6 for 24 from 3-point range. However, the Wolverines were never challenged by their Virginian opponents as head coach John Beilein collected his 800th career win as a college coach.
“It’s 800 wins.” Beilein said nonchalantly in his post game press conference. “It will go with those other basketballs that are back there but it was nice to have a poster and so many people congratulate you. I do appreciate all the people that we’re part of this because it’s not done. You know Kathleen has been with me for all 800. We got married, we lost a game, then we won one and that was how it all got started.” Continued Beilein, who collected career win No. 1 forty years ago coaching at Erie Community College in Williamsville, NY.
Michigan took the floor with its three new captains starting: Zavier Simpson, Charles Matthews, and Jon Teske. They were joined by sophomore Jordan Poole, and freshman Ignas Brazdeikis made his official debut for Michigan.
Luke Yaklich’s defense picked up right where it left off as one of the most efficient units in the nation, styming the Spartans throughout the game, and holding them to a 1 for 10 shooting performance from the floor in the opening 10 minutes. The Wolverines offense took some time to find its footing but was sparked to a double-digit lead by back to back three-pointers from Isaiah Livers and Brazdeikis midway through the first half. That pushed Michigan’s lead to 17-2 and put the game out of reach as Norfolk State never drew closer than 15 points the rest of the evening.
Jon Teske seemed to thrive in his new role taking over as a starter at the 5 from the departed Moe Wagner. He showed a strong presence around the rim and threw down a few dunks that pleased the Crisler Center crowd. Teske finished with 13 points and 8 rebounds and stood out among the Wolverine performances on the night. Beilein has stated in the past he wants Teske to assert himself more, similar to what he did in the Big Ten Championship last seaon against Purdue. The 7’1 junior took his coaches words to heart Tuesday night: “I felt like I needed to do a little but to help the team and I think that is what I did tonight at the start.” Teske replied. “I felt that Austin (Davis) did that just as well. So it was kind of the combination of both of us,
As Beilein tinkers with his rotation, Tuesday may be a preview of what is to come. The primary eight players that saw minutes included the five starters (Simpson, Poole, Matthews, Brazdeikis, Teske) in addition to Eli Brooks, Isaiah Livers, and Austin Davis. “It looks like that eight might go as the freshman get more ready.” Beilein said regarding his distribution of minutes. “When Eli, Isaiah and Austin come in and give you those minutes, why do you have to go deeper? I want people to play a lot.” Freshman Brandon Johns saw action in the final five minutes, as did classmates David DeJulius, Adrien Nunez, Colin Castleton, as well as sophomore C.J Baird.
There was a lot to like from Michigan’s effort against the Spartans, but also some definite issues that need addressing, especially the Wolverines woes at the free throw line, which haunted them through much of last year. ”
“I think the foul shooting is a thing that will come around but if you look at our numbers in practice and everything it is just not happening.” Beilein remarked. “We gotta continue to just work at it and you cannot dwell on it too much.” The coach did imply that some of it was likely jitters from young players, but more will be done to address issues at the stripe, which has been far from charitable to his tema.
We won’t know how the offense will function on a night-to-night basis until the sample size grows, but for a team that Beilein has said will need to drive inside more, tossing up 24 three-pointers and making only six of them is not a winning formula. At the same time, it is only November, and this is an incredibly young team still finding its footing as the season begins.
“Coach tells us to be good before great so I know we are gonna be good first, then start knocking down open shots and be great by making that one more open pass. We will be fine. We are not worried about offense.” said Livers, who scored 8 points and collected 8 rebounds on the night off the bench.
No. 19 Michigan will host Holy Cross Saturday evening at Crisler Center. The game tips off at 7:30 and can be streamed on BTN+.