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Michigan Wolverines vs. Norfolk State Spartans Basketball Preview

The Maize and Blue begin the season with a tune-up against Norfolk State.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Loyola vs Michigan Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan (0-0) officially kicks off its 2018-19 season at home against Norfolk State (0-0) Tuesday night.

The Wolverines easily dispatched Northwood 90-58 in their one and only exhibition match, seeing six players hit at least 10 points and 20 minutes. While there is not much sense in reading too much into a meaningless contest, the team’s first public outing does give a hint as to who might receive minutes early on.

Head coach John Beilein has always been hesitant to put too much weight on the shoulders of freshmen early in the season, and that should still be the case this year. The one player who might be the exception is Ignas Brazdeikis, the No. 40 overall recruit who got the start against Northwood at power forward. The rest of the starters (Zavier Simpson, Jordan Poole, Charles Matthews, and Jon Teske) were all contributors last season and will be core to start out the year.

Norfolk State finished 14-19 last season and fifth in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The Spartans played just one Power Five opponent, losing the season opener on the road against Auburn. None of the stats jump off the sheet for Spartans; they do tend to play at a quicker tempo than Michigan and racked up a bunch of fouls, but the rest of the numbers are fairly mild.

Matchup overview

Michigan: Overall (24), Offense (28), Defense (22)
Norfolk State: Overall (296), Offense (292), Defense (292)

Last season showed a new trend in Beilein’s tenure at Michigan, with the strength of the team surprisingly resting with the defense. Kenpom ranked the National Runners-Up third overall in defensive efficiency, which is absolutely mind-blowing given the recent composition of the team. Michigan was eighth-best in the country in terms of points allowed, giving up just 63.3 points per game and 65.6 points against Big Ten opponents.

The offense was not quite as prolific as the average Beilein squad, but still ranked 35th by Kenpom. The biggest change was in the team’s three-point shooting, as the Wolverines hit under 36 percent of their shots from deep, which was only 136th best in the country. The volume was still there, as the team ranked sixth in attempts and 11th in makes, but the lethal efficiency behind the arc of teams past was nowhere to be found.

With some new faces in the mix, it will be interesting to see how the 2018-19 version of this team decides to go. Assistant coach Luke Yaklich will be sure to continue the defensive pressure, and players like Simpson and Matthews will help lead the way on that end of the floor. However, it would be great to see the Wolverines bounce back with their outside shooting as well.

What to watch

Start strong: Michigan handled most of its lesser non-conference opponents soundly in 2017-18 and will need to do so again this season. Just two games precede a NCAA Championship rematch with Villanova next week, so there is not much time to work out the kinks.

Freshman rotation: With a bunch of new faces on the roster — five freshmen saw the floor against Northwood — a big lead early on could allow for some of the youngsters to get some playing time. Michigan lost three key contributors from last year’s team, so some players will be throw into the deep end to start the season.

Three-point shooting: The exhibition game saw Michigan take just 11 threes, but the Wolverines connected on over 45 percent of them. Even if the volume from last year decreases, a bump in accuracy could go a long way. The team has the shooters to be productive, it just becomes about execution.