It is pretty clear to anyone with eyeballs that the first half of the Michigan Wolverines opener to the 2019-20 basketball season was a much better performance than the second when they narrowly defeated Appalachian State by a score of 79-71 on Tuesday evening.
The offense was humming at the start of the game as the jumped to a 46-25 lead at the halftime break. The ball was being whipped around as the Wolverines penetrated the Mountaineers defense and found open shots because of the excellent ball movement.
A huge reason for the first half dominance was Jon Teske who put up big numbers to start the ball game. The 7-foot-1 senior center stole the show dropping the first 11 points of the season while hitting jumpers, three-pointers, and by obliterating opponents in the paint.
Howard’s new offense sees a lot of high-low looks which fits this team really well. There is a lot of talent at the forward/center position in guys like Teske, Colin Castleton, Brandon Johns Jr., and even Isaiah Livers who can play all over the court.
What I love is the focus to pound the paint with Teske. We didn’t see that a ton last season under John Beilein because his priority was to find open shots around the perimeter and utilize big men off of screens.
The new philosophy will breed success because Teske is one of the biggest human beings in the Big Ten right now. His post game seems improved under the guiding hand of Howard, and he is still capable of hitting a jumper from the elbow and a three-pointer off a pick-and-pop. Not to mention, Teske anchored down in the key is going to help him be a monster on the boards as we saw with his 11 first-half rebounds.
Castleton also looked really impressive off the bench. Last season the backup center was one of the biggest problems on the team. When Teske came out of the game it seemed like there was a huge drop off on both sides of the ball when Austin Davis came in. But through the first game it seems as though Castleton has taken a huge step up, and we began to see his development at the tail end of last year. He scored eight points (all in the first half) and had two rebounds in the game. When he was in the game he had a usage percentage of 26.6 percent, the most of any player on the team.
When this offense is working the way Howard seemingly wants it to, the movement will go through the big men. Getting the ball into the interior of the defense makes it run smoothly.
Look how easy of a bucket that Michigan can get when they do just that:
It’s a seamless two points as Johns seals on the right block and is wide open for an easy bucket. This is what Howard wants his offense to look like, and why the Wolverines jumped out to such a big early lead.
That changed in the second half. Guards tried to take over the game with a big lead, and it led to some costly mistakes that eventually brought App State right back into the game. Teske and Castleton, who had combined for 23 points in the first half, scored only 2 in the remainder of the game. App State began to double the big men in the key and forced the ball back out of the middle, suffocating the offenses movement and efficiency.
Once the bigs were taken out of the picture, the offense came to a screeching halt, and the Mountaineers went on a ridiculous 30-5 run that brought them right back into this game. It was game one, and the offense clicked until adjustments were made by App State. We didn’t see a whole lot of successful adjustments from Howard, but you can and should expect that from a first-time head coach. We will just have to wait and see what happens the next time these problems arise and if they have learned from it.
This won’t be a perfect transition from a veteran head coach like John Beilein to someone with no previous head coaching experience. There are going to be hiccups and moments of huge concern throughout the season. But when this team is moving like they were in the first half, you best believe they are going to be a good basketball team. It all starts with getting the ball to the guys on the interior in the Michigan offense. If they can do that consistently like Howard would like, they have a chance to be a solid team this season.