Though the college basketball season is just a couple months old, it is abundantly clear the Big Ten will be an absolute battle this year. The Michigan Wolverines split their opening pair of conference games against Iowa and Illinois and will be right in the hunt for a top four finish, if not higher. As in most years, there are few very easy games in the league.
Before all that happens, though, the Wolverines have one last cupcake to face. UMass Lowell comes to Ann Arbor for the final game of the non-conference slate, giving coach Juwan Howard a chance for a tune-up before an extremely tough upcoming stretch, starting with a trip to East Lansing next Sunday.
The River Hawks enter ranked 253rd by Kenpom with an average offense and a terrible defense. Like in the win over Presbyterian, this one should be all Michigan from the start. Another blowout with some heavy rotation could help boost the Maize and Blue into the heart of the schedule after dropping three games over a four-game stretch. Look rusty here, though, and things could be rough ahead.
What to watch
Share the wealth: UMass Lowell should put up a better fight than Presbyterian, but on paper this game should not be competitive. Howard played just about everyone last weekend, and this an opportunity to help some key players get going. Specifically, Franz Wagner and Colin Castleton are in line to be big contributors for this team but have yet to play as consistently as hoped. For Wagner, it might just be continuing to get minutes after his preseason injury. Against a team ranked in the 300s in defensive efficiency, this could be another chance for him to build some momentum.
Open, but controlled: As expected, Michigan looks much more dynamic on offense this season, running the floor and getting shots up much earlier than under John Beilein. This all happens because of Zavier Simpson, one of the best facilitators in the nation. It has come at a price, however. More open play means more turnovers. His assist rate is still through the roof, but his increased sloppiness is noticeable. While this may not be the end of the world, it very much could be a difference maker in close games over the next few months.
Stay healthy: Perhaps the bigger outcome from the Presbyterian game had nothing to do with the box score. Isaiah Livers went down with a muscle strain early on in the first half and sat out the rest of the game. He is now out indefinitely, which is bad news with the conference schedule right around the corner. These are exactly the type of incidents Michigan needs to avoid. With little to achieve by throwing the artillery at UMass Lowell, hopefully this game passes without many big events.
Michigan shows a little rust after not playing for eight days, but easily takes care of the River Hawks in front of a mild Crisler crowd. 88-57 Michigan.
Teams: No. 11 Michigan Wolverines (9-3) vs. UMass Lowell River Hawks (6-7)
Date: Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
Time: 2 p.m. ET
Television/Streaming: FS1/Fox Sports Go