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Takeaways from Michigan basketball’s exhibition game against Saginaw Valley State

The Wolverines grabbed a victory in the first collegiate game coaching for Juwan Howard

South Carolina v Michigan

Michigan basketball hosted Saginaw Valley State on Friday night in an exhibition tune-up at Crisler Center and grabbed a 82-51 victory over the visiting Cardinals. At one point in this game, SVSU had gotten the score down to two points late in the first half, but the Wolverines were able to pull it together and surge, running away with a victory in a game that will not count against either team’s record.

Here are some of the takeaways from the contest.

Isaiah Livers’ transformation is real

The hype throughout the offseason and leading up to this year was that Livers had slimmed down and transformed his body with the idea that he is going to be one of this team’s lead dogs. Not only does he look the part, but he was easily Michigan’s best player on the floor all night long. He had to sit on the bench for a bit during the first half due to some foul trouble, which coincidentally when the offensive slump in the first half started to occur (more on that later) and SVSU got back into the game. Once he was inserted back into the lineup, the Wolverines started to once again pull away and they never looked back.

If there’s a potential star on this team, Livers is the guy right now and physically and athletically looks like someone that we might be hoping NBA scouts somehow ignore throughout the season. He finished with 20 points and six rebounds on 7-for-11 shooting from the floor in 25 minutes of play.

Pace of play

Chalk it up to the level of competition or whatever you would like to, but this team is remarkably fast and athletic on both ends of the floor. The Wolverines played at a pace in the first half offensively that we only saw a handful of times all last season. The line of thought that this is going to be a much quicker offensive attack was certainly correct.

Who played the “critical” minutes and lots of tinkering

Michigan opened the game with a starting lineup of Zavier Simpson, Eli Brooks, Adrien Nunez, Isaiah Livers and Jon Teske. Freshman wing Cole Bajema was the first player off of the bench, followed by forward Brandon Johns and guard David DeJulius. Colin Castleton was the ninth of nine players to get onto the floor in the first half of the game.

There was a lot of tinkering in the first half with lineup combinations. At one point, we saw Simpson with the four sophomores (DeJulius, Nunez, Johns, Castleton) and another look that had Simpson on the floor with Brooks and DeJulius at the same time.

Bajema was the first guy off the bench, but through the first 75 percent of this exhibition only had three minutes on the night. Everyone else had at least 11.

Here are some more quick-hitter takeaways from the performance on Friday night:

  • Perhaps the most notable thing to take place during the outing was that the team wasn’t always firing on all cylinders offensively. Michigan had a lengthy scoring drought in the latter half of the first 20 minutes if play, which is something we have grown accustomed to seeing a lot when this team was coached by John Beilein. With so much youth and offense gone from the wing, this is to be expected early on.
  • With Franz Wagner out for the next month or so, you’re going to see a lot of Brooks and Nunez on the floor with those two guys getting the start at the two and the three spots in Friday’s contest. Both guys have been singled out as good shooters in the past, but Brooks has struggled to find his shot for much of his Michigan career. Nunez didn’t get to play much last season, so the same can sort of be said there. Both guys were confident and aggressive with the basketball throughout the evening and if those shots continue to fall, they’re going to be nice pieces to this team. Brooks (1-for-7 shooting, 10/10 free throws) had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Nunez had seven points (2-for-6 shooting, 2-for-2 free throws), in 19 minutes of play. Neither guy shot particularly well, but they certainly did not lack the willingness or want-to.
  • Defensively, Michigan played man-to-man for much of the night after reports that they have mixed in some zone during preseason camp. As far as SVSU’s defense goes, they played a lot of zone on the evening and left Michigan’s shooters open to do damage. Sometimes it worked, other times they slumped. So we do not truly know offensively what they want to do in half-court situations just yet. Personally, there are zero concerns on this end that Michigan’s defense will slip. They looked just as good and “on it” as they did last season.
  • Johns was wearing an ankle brace in the game on Friday, but did not appear limited by his injury at all. He finished the game with 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the floor and hit a pair of threes in the game in 17 minutes.
  • Castleton is another player who has gone through a bit of a physical transformation after putting on weight throughout the offseason. Howard has spoken highly of him, and it’s easy to see why they are excited about his potential. He had a handful of nice moves in the post on Friday night and finished with six points and three rebounds in 18 minutes.. He’s still raw, but his development under a coach who has made a living out of molding bigs should be fun.
  • DeJulius was a player who was impressive in both the closed door scrimmage against Detroit last week and in the open practice on Monday, but came back down to earth a bit on Friday night. He finished the game with five points (2-for-9 shooting) and three rebounds in 23 minutes.
  • Austin Davis checked in late and played a few minutes with the Brooks, DeJulius, Johns and Bajema before Howard emptied the bench and let it play out with C.J. Baird, Luke Wilson, Jaron Faulds and Rico Ozuna-Harrison

Michigan officially opens the 2019-20 regular season on Tuesday night at home with a visit from the Appalachian State Mountaineers.