The 25th-ranked Michigan Wolverines opened the 2020-21 men’s basketball season on Wednesday with a 96-82 win over visiting Bowling Green at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor. It was an odd atmosphere with no fans, pumped in ambient crowd noise and more, but a win is a win during our new normal.
Here are three quick observations after the clocks hit zero in Ann Arbor.
The new guys are good
Is it possible that the three most impactful guys on the roster this year were not even in the program the last time we saw them play games in March? It certainly looks that way.
Michigan dipping its toes — to put it more accurately, diving headfirst — into the transfer portal seems to have paid huge dividends. Guards Mike Smith (16 points, 8 assists) and Chaundee Brown (19 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) both played extremely well in the opener with the latter arguably being the best player on the floor for either team on Wednesday afternoon. Both Brown and true freshman center Hunter Dickinson (11 points, 8 rebounds) were the two first players off the bench today and part of what appears to be Michigan’s best lineup combination at the moment.
We knew there were going to be a ton of different directions that Howard could go with his lineups this year, but perhaps we did not expect them to show as much as they did in the opener. Howard started Smith, Eli Brooks, Franz Wagner, Isaiah Livers and Austin Davis, but that was only the first of the eventual 11 combinations of players we would see in this game.
The best of them? Probably the grouping of Smith, Brown, Wagner, Livers and Dickinson. At some point it stands to reason that might be their starting five, but with this much versatility, the term “starter” does not carry a ton of weight anyways. Also of note was a super-small lineup of Smith, Brooks, Wagner, Livers and true freshman Terrance Williams. It was probably their least effective of the night.
We’ll be writing more about the combos later on.
Props to Bowling Green
Under crazy circumstances in a COVID-19 impacted season, both of these programs deserve praise for the ability to schedule this game as the opener. With only five games to get ready for conference play this year, it’s important to throw yourselves into the fire and find out quickly what you have. This type of game was beneficial to both teams as opposed to scheduling non-conference cupcakes.
BGSU looks like one of the favorites to win the MAC with local kid Justin Turner leading the way. Michigan prepared for a track meet today and was a force offensively. KenPom had Bowling Green as the 69th-ranked team in tempo in the country coming into the game and this is a program that has been flirting with the KenPom top-150 for a few years. There are things that need to be cleaned up defensively, but this was about as good of an opener as you could ask for.
We’ll have more from the game and full takeaways coming throughout the evening. Next up for Michigan is a home date against Oakland University on Sunday evening in Ann Arbor. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. ET.