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Takeaways from Michigan’s win over BGSU: Combinations galore, newcomers shine

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Michigan has options all over the place and no shortage of combos to use them in.

NCAA Basketball: Bowling Green at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines opened their season with a bang in a 96-82 victory over Bowling Green at Crisler Center on Wednesday afternoon in a game that saw 10 players get into the action and a trio of newcomers leading the way.

Here are some more takeaways from the aftermath of the game.

Look at all these dang combos

We had been waiting to see which five players would get the nod as starters in the first game of the season for Michigan after a truncated offseason and a schedule that was uncertain up until last week. Head coach Juwan Howard would wind up starting Mike Smith and Eli Brooks at guard, Franz Wagner and Isaiah Livers at forward and Austin Davis at center. If the amount of different lineup combinations he would use the rest of the way were any indication, they still are far from set in who their five best players are.

With that said, starting the game is nowhere near as important as the amount of minutes played and who is in down the stretch. transfer guard Chaundee Brown and freshman center Hunter Dickinson were the first two players off the bench, subbing in for Mike Smith and Austin Davis. Brandon Johns Jr. was the eighth man off the bench and true freshmen Terrance Williams and Zeb Jackson made it 10 players getting action in the first half.

All in all, I counted 11 lineup combinations throughout the game:

  1. Smith-Brooks-Wagner-Livers-Davis (started both halves)
  2. Brooks-Brown-Wagner-Livers-Dickinson
  3. Smith-Brown-Livers-Johns-Dickinson
  4. Smith-Brown-Wagner-Livers-Johns
  5. Smith-Brooks-Wagner-Livers-Williams
  6. Brooks-Jackson-Wagner-Livers-Williams
  7. Brooks-Jackson-Livers-Williams-Johns
  8. Smith-Brown-Wagner-Livers-Dickinson
  9. Brooks-Brown-Livers-Johns-Dickinson
  10. Smith-Brooks-Brown-Livers-Dickinson
  11. Smith-Jackson-Brown-Williams-Johns

Based on what we saw in this first game, any lineup combination that has Brown and Wagner at the same time, especially with their length and athleticism on defense, is probably the best look Michigan has right now with Dickinson at the five. Smith also looks more than capable of running the offense, which probably makes lineup No. 8 the one I’d like to see more of moving forward.

There were some negatives, namely when Johns and Williams were out there playing the five in the smaller lineup. Johns has flashed an ability to play there in the past, but he often disappears. I like the look with him there if he can hold his own, but want to see more of it. In year three, it would be nice to see a little more consistency from him. As far as Williams goes, he was not as ready to get looks at the five as his classmate Dickinson was, but this is also probably a lineup we will not see a ton of unless Michigan wants to go super small. He was the only player on the floor for them in this game with a negative plus/minus.

Early in the season is a perfect time to tinker with lineups and roll guys in and out in different looks and Howard did just that. They have to be pleased with how they moved the basketball in all of these combinations, as they finished the night with 23 assists on 33 made baskets.

Chaundee Brown’s impact

From the looks of the season opener, Wake Forest letting Brown escape from the program is something they might be kicking themselves for this season. Brown led all Michigan scorers on Wednesday with 19 points, 18 of which came in the final 20 minutes of play. Even when the offensive portion of the stat sheet was not being filled up in the first half, he was active on defense and as a rebounder.

“He gave us a big spark tonight,” Howard said after the game. “He’s another experienced guys coming from a Power Five conference. Well-coached by Danny Manning. I went out and got him. When I saw that he was in the transfer portal, I jumped on it right away, because I knew he was gonna help us. He’s the type of guy — he’s embracing, just by being here and doing whatever it takes to help the team. (He’s the kind of guy) that’s all-in and Chaundee’s the definition of a guy that’s all in.”

Brown’s offensive game was impressive and he looked in command of himself all night long. It remains to be seen if he will keep coming off the bench or not, but he emphatically stated with his play on Wednesday that he might be one of the best five players on the roster.

Mike Smith can quarterback a high-major offense

There were warranted and legitimate concerns about whether Smith — an undersized guard from an Ivy League school — could fill the shoes of Zavier Simpson at point guard. While we will have to wait until Big Ten play to see if he can pass that test, this was about as good a debut as anyone could have imagined for Smith. He finished the night with 16 points on 4-of-6 shooting and led the team in assists with eight.

“I watched a lot of film on Mike,” Howard said. “I hadn’t had a chance to watch him in-person, but I trust my eyes.”

The man trusts his own eyes, and he certainly passed the eye test for the rest of us.

Sure, it was a MAC opponent, but Smith looked as cool, calm and composed as any point guard Michigan has had in recent memory and it looks like he’ll be able to keep scoring while being more involved as a distributor than he was at Columbia. This was really great to see.

Hunter Dickinson is ready

Dickinson as of now is not a “starter,” but there is absolutely zero doubt that he is the best five on the roster and he showed that immediately. Dickinson played 18 minutes on Wednesday and finished the game with 11 points and 8 rebounds and also flashed his ability to be a strong distributor as a big man.

Dickinson is older than more traditional freshman (Wednesday was his 20th birthday), but he looks the part physically and from a talent standpoint of someone who is going to make an impact right away. He told the media after the game that he had suffered a setback recently, but he was able to show in game action how good of a player he is right out of the box.

If there are any concerns about his game right now, it might be defensively. That’s a team problem right now, but Dickinson had three fouls when he was on the floor and it might still take some time to adjust to the speed of the game, especially on defense.

Concerns defensively

Bowling Green made some extremely tough shots in this game, which has become a staple at Crisler Center in recent years, but the defensive performance from Michigan left a lot to be desired. When you play so many different lineups, chemistry on that end of the floor and in communication might be hard to develop, but this also does not have the look of a team that will necessarily win with defense, either. The Falcons are good and might be one of the teams to beat in the MAC, but 82 points is a tough pill to swallow tonight.

KenPom had BGSU as the 81st-fastest team in the country in terms of tempo last year and they rated out even high at 69th coming into this year. Michigan found itself in a bit of a track meet and thankfully was able to hit the accelerator and run away late. However, they will have to get better talking to each other on that end of the floor in order to be a contender in the Big Ten.

Quick hits

  • Isaiah Livers probably had 17 of the quietest points I’ve seen him have in a Michigan uniform, but that might have something to do with the fact there were not any fans in the building and his teammates around him are much improved from last year. Still, he looked healthy and also came down with nine rebounds in the game.
  • Franz Wagner’s physical transformation is apparent and he certainly flashed his improved game a few times on Wednesday, but did roll his ankle at the end of the first half and had 9 points and six rebounds. There are going to be nights where he leads the way because he is too talented not to, but the opener was not his day to shine.
  • Eli Brooks also underwent a bit of a transformation and it looks like he will be handling the ball more this year. He finished with 11 points and four assists.
  • Adrien Nunez and Jace Howard were the only scholarship players who did not see action on Wednesday. All 17 players were present and accounted for during pregame warmups.

Next up for Michigan is a game on Sunday afternoon against the Oakland Golden Grizzlies at 6 p.m. ET from Crisler Center.