Replacing Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske was not an insurmountable task — especially with the freshmen and transfers coming in — but it was completely reasonable to expect Michigan to take a step back on both ends of the court this season. The two departing seniors were extremely impactful in facilitating the offense and clamping down on defense, so the Wolverines entered the year as a middle-tier Big Ten team.
Clearly just about everyone was wrong. Juwan Howard’s squad again started off the season hot, but this time has not slipped up, even with an ill-timed three-week hiatus. Michigan is just about a top-10 defensive squad despite losing two of its best defenders, but the offense sitting near the top five in the country is the even bigger surprise.
The Wolverines have blown out nearly half of their Big Ten opponents and feature some of the best players in the conference. However, the ability to attack from multiple positions without overly relying on just one player is what has made them nearly impossible to stop. This distribution of production is why this team is potentially headed for a conference title and a 1 seed.
Everyone chipping in
The best way to visualize this spreading of wealth is to look at the leading producer each game. I did this in two ways: taking the top scorer and taking the starter with the highest offensive rating (ORtg) via Kenpom, as production comes from more than just buckets.
Here is the breakdown from Michigan’s 11 Big Ten wins:
- 7 — Hunter Dickinson (5 Pts, 2 ORtg)
- 6 — Isaiah Livers (4 Pts, 2 ORtg)
- 5 — Franz Wagner (1 Pts, 4 ORtg)
- 3 — Eli Brooks (3 ORtg)
- 1 — Mike Smith (1 Pts)
So what does this all mean? There are many more ways to evaluate a player’s contribution than these two metrics, but I find it extremely telling that each of Michigan’s starters has led the team in either scoring or ORtg at least once. The more impressive fact, though, is that no player recorded more lead production nights than seven of the possible 22 times, proving just how much balance there is.
When Hunter Dickinson has an off night, there are at least five other players who have the chance to step up. As more and more teams double the league’s best freshman, it allows for wide open threes which Isaiah Livers and Franz Wagner will happily knock down. Additionally, while someone like Eli Brooks might not lead the scoresheet, his offensive production in other areas cannot be overlooked, which is why ORtg is important to consider as well.
This is what makes Michigan great. The team composition is absolutely perfect, with Mike Smith leading the conference in assists per game (5.4) and consistently getting the ball in the hands of playmakers, and Dickinson finding a way to impact the game whether he is scoring, rebounding, or passing. None of these players are going to win the Wooden Award, but as a whole they can go toe to toe with anyone in the nation.