Conference play has officially started for the Michigan Wolverines, and in their first game without starting point guard Jaelin Llewellyn, Michigan cruised in a road win over Minnesota, 90-75.
The last time the Wolverines faced the Golden Gophers, they got beat by double digits at home, 75-65. That game was Michigan’s fourth loss of the season and was a bit of a wakeup call for a squad that went 11-9 to close the regular season and barely earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
It was a much different story this year. While Minnesota is a little worse than last year, this Michigan team needed a confidence boost and certainly got one Thursday evening.
Here are some takeaways from the blowout win.
It was a great way to start the game
Michigan hasn’t started games too well so far this season, but was firing on all cylinders at the start of this one.
The Wolverines jumped out to a big a 20-9 at the 13:40 mark and ballooned into a 37-13 one in just a little more than six game minutes.
They went on a 22-4 run from the 14:27 mark to the 7:28 mark in the first half. Their hot shooting jump-started that run, as the Wolverines made 10 of their first 12 shots and cashing their first five attempts from three. They were getting to the rim, moving the ball and really dominating offensively.
While Minnesota did climb back a little to cut the halftime lead to 16, Michigan still put on an offensive clinic, shooting 53.3% from the field and 58.3% from three in the first 20 minutes. It kept shooting well in the second half, making 52.4% of its field goals and 55.6% of threes in the game.
The entire Michigan team looked confident on offense for the first time this season, even without its starting point guard.
Life without Llewellyn
Michigan had Dug McDaniel start the game at the 1, and had Bufkin run the point when McDaniel was out, and I thought they both did a fine job.
They combined to score 30 points and shot the ball extremely well from deep (12-of-17 from the field) on top of moving the ball well (11 combined assists) and playing decent on-ball defense.
Shooting the lights out, especially in the first half, definitely made life easy for both of them. Hopefully once the Big Ten gauntlet kicks off after the New Year, both guys will be even more confident running the offense.
Also, props to McDaniel for playing his butt off in his first collegiate start (15 points, seven assists, 5-for-6 from the field, never played too fast). He played great in this one, didn’t make many mistakes and was a huge reason why Michigan won by such a large margin.
It may be an up-and-down year for McDaniel, as is often the case for freshmen point guards in the Big Ten, but so far he’s off to a great start.
Taking advantage of turnovers
As Vikings fans know too well from watching Kirk Cousins in primetime, Minnesota did a horrible job taking care of the ball in this game. The Golden Gophers turned it over 16 times, including nine in the first half.
Michigan got 17 points off those turnovers and while a lot of them were unforced, the Wolverines did a great job pressuring the ball and rotating as the Golden Gophers moved the ball.
For a team that has struggled on the defensive end all year long, this was a solid performance by the Wolverines on that end of the floor.
A big win you can build off of
While you would have loved to see Michigan get a win over ranked teams like Virginia or Kentucky, a convincing win on the road to kick off conference play is a nice confidence booster for this young team.
You can’t expect them to shoot this well or get that many turnovers every game, but hopefully the Wolverines can build off this win and start to hit their stride as they build more chemistry.
To close the calendar year, they have home games against Lipscomb and Central Michigan, plus a tough road test against North Carolina. If they can win all three of those games and build momentum heading into the New Year, they’ll be in a good spot after the bumpy start to the season.