The shortened non-conference schedule made it unlikely the Michigan Wolverines would suffer a loss before Big Ten play started, and the cancelation of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge game against N.C. State just about solidified the 5-0 record. Fortunately, the young team was able to work out some kinks while not killing its resume, and most arrows are trending up as the conference slate begins this weekend.
There are plenty of takeaways from the first five games, but I thought a fun way to go over some of the highlights would be to quickly review one big thing that stood out from each of Michigan’s five wins thus far.
Game 1 vs. Bowling Green, 96-82
Quick recap: The Falcons kept it close for most of the game, though Michigan stayed in control. This was the defense’s worst performance of the season at 1.11 points per possession.
The season opener was the first time we got to see Mike Smith and Chaundee Brown, and it was clear from the start that both transfers will have a huge impact on this team. Questions about fit and role adjustment were quickly cast aside as Brown’s 19 points led the Wolverines and Smith’s command of the offense was obvious right away.
Game 2 vs. Oakland, 81-71 (OT)
Quick recap: An ugly affair saw Michigan down at half and completely lackadaisical for most of the evening. The Grizzlies played decently, but it was pure sloppiness that nearly gave the Wolverines a huge loss.
The defense was not the problem, and this was actually the best performance in terms of efficiency this season. However, Michigan gave the visitors far too many possessions with its 20 (!!) turnovers, as well as a 29.6 percent mark from three, many of which were unwise or unnecessary shot attempts.
Game 3 vs. Ball State, 84-65
Quick recap: Michigan bounced back after the narrow Oakland win and had a solid outing against Ball State. Three-point shooting remained an issue, but the defense was much improved against the Cardinals.
Isaiah Livers notched his second-straight game with over 20 points and reminded everyone of just how good he can be. The senior is averaging 16.2 points per game, best on the team, and is playing about as well as he ever has. The fact that he is going a little under the radar speaks more to the quality around him on the roster — more on this in a minute.
Game 4 vs. Central Florida, 80-58
Quick recap: The Wolverines fell behind UCF 28-16 midway through the first half before going on a torrid run for the rest of the game. It was rough for a stretch, but ultimately Michigan won the game pretty comfortably in the end.
A big part of the turnaround was Hunter Dickinson, who is easily the story of the season so far. The freshman has been a mismatch for just about every opposing center, and he has scored double-digits in each game while also averaging 7.4 rebounds to lead the team. Talks of him being a one-and-done seem premature (we need to see him in Big Ten play first), but his talent is undeniable.
Game 5 vs. Toledo, 91-71
Quick recap: Ending the non-conference schedule on a high note, Michigan played its most complete game of the season against the Rockets. Though the contest was organized just a couple days prior, the Wolverines came to play, exploding for 1.32 points per possession.
One player who has been a bit reserved so far is Franz Wagner. Many expected the sophomore to take a huge step forward and lead the team along with Livers, but that has not been the case so far. His best is still yet to come — he has shot just 30 percent from three — but in the meantime he is still a solid contributor at 10.2 points per game.
There is no denying the impact of Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske, but it has to be said that this current squad is extremely deep. When Livers went out last season, the team completely collapsed and suffered its worst stretch of the year. That really does not seem like it would be the case now, as there are multiple options at just about every spot. The Big Ten is going to be a gauntlet this season, but Michigan is in great position heading into conference play.