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No doubt about it: Michigan is one of the country’s elite

Another dominant performance has put the nation on notice.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps there were still a few remaining questions sitting in front of the 2018-19 Michigan basketball team just six games into the season. Aside from a beatdown of Villanova — which has since lost some luster — the Wolverines were yet to face any true competition. To prove their legitimacy, they would have to avenge their loss to North Carolina, a team that put up 86 against them last season.

If Wednesday night was a test, there might not be a letter high enough to represent Michigan’s grade. The Tar Heels looked completely out of place, and the Wolverines showed the country that they are here to stay. A long season still lies ahead, especially with a deep Big Ten, but this team should start dreaming about a significant NCAA Tournament run.

No challenge too big

Michigan has now beaten the No. 7 and No. 15 teams according to Kenpom, whose offenses rank No. 4 and No. 11, respectively. The Wolverines held Villanova to 0.72 points per possession at home, its lowest all season, and on Wednesday the Tar Heels fell short of under 1.00 points per possession for the first time this year.

While stifling opposing scorers is how Michigan will win most games, it is notable that two of its better performances on offense have come in these big games. The Maize and Blue posted a season-best 67.6 percent effective field goal rate against the Tar Heels and converted half of its three-point attempts. With the defense almost a given at this point, when the offense gets going, there is no stopping this team.

Taking over in style

The leaders of the offense are starting to take their place, and the trio of players in front of the pack should be no surprise. Ignas Brazdeikis leads the team with 16.9 points per game and a 26.6 percent usage rate. His swagger was once again on display, and he was super efficient with a 77 percent effective field goal rate on Wednesday.

Maybe even more encouraging is the continued growth of Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole. Both are now averaging double-digit points per game and had big nights against North Carolina. Matthews has acted as a spark many times this season and leads the team in minutes. He topped 20 points for the third time this year.

Poole has had some quiet games early on, but he is starting to heat up from behind the arc. Over the past four games he is averaging three makes a game on over 50 percent shooting from deep. He also showed some ability to facilitate the offense, carrying the ball up the court at times and collecting four assists.

The Achilles’ heel

Every team has a flaw, and unfortunately it looks like it could be free throws for Michigan. Game-to-game fluctuations are to be expected, but Wednesday was the second time this season the Wolverines have shot under 50 percent from the line, which is simply unacceptable for any team, let alone one with high aspirations.

On the year, Michigan’s 61.9 percent average ranks just 319th in the country. Theoretically, this should be an easier problem to fix than something tactical, but if and when the Wolverines do drop a game, look at the free throw numbers.

Defensive opportunities abound

North Carolina might have the best offense Michigan sees all year, but Purdue is not far behind. Like the Tar Heels, the Boilermakers also put up a ridiculous point total against the Wolverines last season, and the Michigan defense will have a chance this Saturday to cement its legitimacy as the No. 1 defense by efficiency.

After Purdue, Michigan will not face another strong offense until January. With the way this team is going, lesser opponents may have a tough time topping 40 points a game. Continue to keep an eye on the blocks and steals that this lock-down defense creates. Jon Teske was dominant again in the paint with five blocks, and leads the rotation with a 69.8 Defensive Rating.