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Michigan showed its true colors against Villanova

There is no more room for debate; Michigan is an elite defensive team.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Villanova Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

To be honest, there were plenty of reasons to doubt the legitimacy of Michigan’s defensive turnaround. Head coach John Beilein has a lengthy track record of outstanding offensive teams, but they almost all struggled on the other side of the court. While last season was exciting, there was always a chance of regression.

The first two games of the season were encouraging, but came against teams ranked outside of the top-200 on offense. Villanova sits just a tad higher in the top-10. Though the Wildcats lost a lot of talent from last year’s Championship Game, Michigan made sure to leave no doubt to its new-found mantra, completely eviscerating the Villanova offense.

It all looked good on defense

Pick any statistic — Michigan dominated Wednesday night. The Wildcats hit just 32 percent of their field goals and 20 percent of their threes. They manged just .72 (!!!) points per possession, compared to 1.22 last season. The Wolverines also recorded 11 steals, six blocks and forced Villanova into 19 turnovers, which would have tied its season-high last year.

Everything was working for the Maize and Blue. The rotation once again stayed seven-deep and featured stretches with Isaiah Livers at the five. This lineup was successful on both ends of the floor, but was a huge asset against an outside-shooting team like Villanova. Zavier Simpson had a game for the ages, posting a 59 Defensive Rating, which led the starters.

The offense showed some life

The offense definitely took a step forward from the first two games, managing 1.25 points per possession and a 56 percent effective field goal rate. Thirteen assists speak to good ball movement and multiple players were getting involved. Villanova does not have a smothering defense, but Michigan should feel good about its offensive output.

However, 3-point shooting is still a problem and looks like it will be all season. The Wolverines hit just 5-of-17 attempts, and only Livers and Eli Brooks inspired much confidence, going 3-for-3. The other five players in the rotation went just 1-for-11, which will probably be an issue at least some point in the future.

The kid is legit

It was fun watching Ignas Brazdeikis tear it up against weaker competition, but everyone should know his name now. Though his usage was lower than the first two games, he still put up 18 points thanks to a crisp 64 percent effective field goal rate. Throw in seven rebounds and a couple blocks and Brazdeikis is suddenly one of the most dangerous players in the Big Ten.

There is a long way to go in the season, but the freshman looks like a legitimate weapon.

Running the (defensive) point

As noted above, Simpson had a game to remember, absolutely harassing the Wildcats. It is easy to see he is the heartbeat of the team and the driving force on defense.

That said, his offense still leaves something to be desired. Simpson was tied for second in usage rate, but posted an effective field goal rate of just 44 percent. He was great driving to the rim, but could not do much elsewhere on the floor. He is a good point guard and did dish out six assists, but his usage needs to go down given the other weapons.

Odds and ends

  • Charles Matthews led the team in points again with 19. He struggled from deep but played a solid all-around game and is going to be the driver of the offense for many games this year.
  • Michigan’s free throw percentage was low again, sitting at 63.2 percent. The 81 percent mark from the previous game was an anomaly, but 63 percent is too low.
  • Brooks only had five points, but is 6-for-11 on the season and can actually hit a three. He is a stable part of the rotation now.
  • Because everything was rolling on defense, the Wolverines did not need big nights from Jordan Poole or Jon Teske. The latter is on the floor more for spacing and defense and is not expected to put up big offensive numbers, but the early struggles of Poole are a bit disappointing. Many people were hoping for a big step forward for the sophomore, but that has not been the case so far.