Michigan opened the nation’s eyes this past week. First, the Wolverines stomped No. 8 Villanova in Philadelphia by 27. Next, they swept George Washington and Providence to take the Air Force Reserve Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Uncasville, Conn.
Everyone expects dominant defense, and Luke Yaklich’s No. 1 efficiency unit delivered. It allowed just 39 percent shooting to the Colonials and 28 percent to the Friars.
However, some of the biggest plays of the weekend were on offense, as several play-makers started finding their shooting strokes.
(1) Jordan Poole finds his shot
Much was expected of the sophomore guard from Milwaukee entering this winter. CBS Sports named him the top “breakout candidate” for college basketball in the preseason.
Through the first three games, he totaled just 13 points on 4-for-17 shooting. That included a 1-of-10 effort from downtown.
He used the semifinal match against now 0-5 George Washington to work out of the funk.
He reached a career-high with 22 points on just 12 shots, bolstered mostly from a 5-of-8 mark on treys.
He showed off his offensive repertoire to create his jump shot. He first hit a long two off a screen. Later, he pump faked and reset before rising and firing. He connected on several catch-and-shoot three-pointers. Finally, he pulled up from nearly 30 feet to stretch the lead to 61-35.
If this is the Poole to expect all season, defenses will have their hands full.
(2) Isaiah Liver block starts transition, ends GW run
Up 28-10 after 10 minutes, Michigan looked to run away with the game. The Colonials answered with an extended 14-2 run to slice the lead to six.
After two Poole free throws, GW guard Shandon Brown drove to the basket, only for Isaiah Livers to block the layup from the trail position. Through five games now, the small-ball center has six blocks, disrupting shots from all comers.
The rejection ended up in Eli Brooks’ hands, who dished to Poole for the old-fashioned three-point play.
This got the lead back to double-digits at 35-24, which turned the tide back to a blowout.
(3) Is Zavier Simpson’s deep shot for real?
Zavier Simpson does many things well. He’s a lockdown defender, always in the hip pocket of every point guard from Cassius Winston to Jalen Brunson. He’s top-15 nationally in assist rate (34 total dimes, so far).
Three-point gunner is not one of his known skills. Or is it?
In his first two seasons, the junior never crossed 30 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Now, he’s at 38.5 percent. Admittedly, this is on just 5-of-13 in mid-November. Long season left.
His drives and elite passing facilitate the rest of the offense. Imagine how much more effective he’d be if teams had to respect his long ball.
(1) Brazdeikis dunk off transition
Ignas Brazdeikis has hit double-digits in every game, so far. He hits jumpers, bulls towards the net and here, and hustles down the court to finish a fast break.
Like Poole against George Washington, his 20 points represented a career high. This section is really about the transition offense.
With 54 points off fast breaks in the first five games, the Wolverines score in transition 15 percent of the time. While only chipping in six against the Friars, the ability to score easy points off defensive rebounds and turnovers creates new avenues to create offense.
With two 6-foot-7 guys in Livers and Brazdeikis as small-ball big men, the potential for more fast-break points is there.
(2) Teske= Mo Wagner?
The ball-screen offense around the three-point arc has been a staple of the Beilein system since 2012-2013.
With Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan, their lack of shooting range meant this actualized into pick and roll looks. With Mo Wagner’s lethal stroke from deep, the pick and pop approach set aflame most conference defenses.
We know Jon Teske can do the former. Just ask Isaac Haas.
The latter finally materialized at a crucial juncture of Sunday’s game. The Friars squeezed their deficit to just one, and the Wolverines had just whiffed on five straight possessions.
Suddenly, Teske drifted behind the arc, took a pass from Brooks and swiftly canned a three. This wasn’t a big man left alone and shocking everyone. Teske had a man in his grill, and only canned it due to a Wagner-esque quick release.
This isn’t a trend, since that was his first career trey. If it’s an anomaly, it’ll just be remembered as the bucket that sparked a 14-2 run going into halftime. The lead never got closer than nine the rest of the way.
If it’s repeatable, he can thrive on the floor in a hypothetical five-out approach.