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Michigan eases into season with win over Norfolk State

The Wolverines had little trouble in the season opener, though a few issues emerged.

NCAA Basketball: Norfolk State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

As expected, Michigan cruised into its first victory of the season, dispatching Norfolk State 63-44 in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines never trailed, scoring the game’s first 11 points and jumped out to a 32-13 lead at halftime, taking care of business against a severely over-matched opponent.

The most encouraging takeaway was the number of players who took the floor. 13 different Michigan players made an appearance, with the freshman five of Ignas Brazdeikis, Brandon Johns, David DeJulius, Colin Castleton, and Adrien Nunez all making their collegiate debuts. The rotation went seven-deep for the most part; Isaiah Livers and Eli Brooks both recorded at least 20 minutes off the bench.

It starts with defense

The Spartans scored just .64 points per possession, highlighting the continuation of Michigan’s stifling defense. Norfolk State shot 30.5 percent from the floor, with most of its points coming after the final outcome was decided. The Wolverines added eight blocks and three steals, as well as many efforts that do not show up on the stat sheet.

Jon Teske led the way defensively and was a big mismatch on both ends of the floor. He recorded half of the Michigan blocked shots and made scoring in the paint nearly impossible for the visitors. His 13 points on offense actually led the team, but this is more of a bonus than a indicator of things to come. If Teske can anchor the defense near the basket, the Wolverines are in excellent shape.

Deep shooting woes

Last season saw a drop in three-point shooting accuracy, and Tuesday night was unfortunately more of the same. Michigan shot just 23.1 percent from deep on 26 shots, almost half of its field goal attempts. The starters were especially horrible, going 2-for-16 on mostly good looks.

Jordan Poole and Charles Matthews will have better games ahead. The former went scoreless but is a good ball distributor and keeps the defense honest with his outside shooting; the latter was very active on the floor, but dismal from the line, missing all five free throws.

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One area where Michigan was noticeably effective was passing the ball. The Wolverines recorded 16 assists on 26 makes, which accounted for over 60 percent of their baskets. This number would be even higher if some of the open shots fell, particularly those from three. Last season, Michigan averaged a 25 percent assist rate, so this mark was a large jump.

Zavier Simpson and Brooks did what they were supposed to do, accounting for nine assists between them. On an offense that can attack in different ways, the facilitators will be in great position every game to rack up some dimes. Simpson did have a couple of turnovers, but a 9-to-2 ratio is more than fine from the main point guards.

Room to grow

The three-point issues were the main contributor to Michigan’s offensive struggles, as the Wolverines managed just .91 points per possession. This was not an issue against a lesser opponent who had even worse fortunes on its end of the floor, but similarly to football, the defense might need to help out the offense this season.

One other alarming problem from the first game of the year was Michigan’s struggles from the line. A 13-for-29 effort was simply unacceptable. Matthews’ 0-for-5 and the bench’s 1-for-5 did not help the final numbers, but no Wolverine went without at least one free throw miss, assuming they took at least one foul shot. As noted in the preview, Norfolk State is a team who fouls a lot. It looks like the home team came unprepared for that.

Odds and ends

Brazdeikis was not shy in his first game in the Maize and Blue, recording a 26.9 percent usage rate, which was second to only Matthews among the seven players in the rotation. He scored 12 points and was good at the free throw line, but struggled from deep like the rest of his teammates. Overall it was encouraging, though, to see him without any training wheels.

Competition aside, it was interesting for Michigan to record a 34.7 percent offensive rebound rate. Last year’s squad sat around 25 percent, and the Wolverines have not been known for this area. Both Teske and Matthews did a good job creating second chances, as did Austin Davis, who recorded five points and three rebounds as the de facto eighth man.

The takeaways for Michigan are pretty simple. Free throw shooting has to be a priority, and hopefully something can click from behind the arc. However, assuming the Wolverines can continue to lock down on their own end of the floor, these shooting concerns become a little more tolerable. The chemistry was surprisingly solid given the team’s losses, and this season looks to feature another top defensive unit.