No one expected Michigan to get through the nonconference schedule unscathed, not after losing three and a half starters from last year’s Big Ten Championship team. The good thing about college basketball is that an early loss or two does not prevent a school from achieving any of its goals.
In fact, Wednesday’s disappointment against Seton Hall might come with some benefits. Juwan Howard was able to see where his young team stands right now and what areas need to be addressed. The first opportunity to remedy these mistakes will be at the Roman Main Event tournament in Las Vegas this Friday night/Saturday morning.
A 12:30 am ET tip for a basketball game is ludicrous, but alas, this was the hand Michigan was dealt. Up first is a matchup against local UNLV, the No. 128 squad per Kenpom. The other side of the bracket features Arizona (No. 28) and Wichita State (No. 67), with both the finals and consolation game taking place Sunday evening.
No. 4 Michigan Wolverines (2-1) vs. UNLV Rebels (3-0)
Michigan surprisingly could have escaped with a win against the Pirates despite some ugly play, including 3-of-15 from deep, 11 turnovers (most coming in the second half), and 18 fouls (many very poorly timed). Eventually these flaws caught up with the Wolverines, and it is clear there are some real question marks at this point.
Just about every player other than Hunter Dickinson and Eli Brooks have something to prove this weekend in Vegas. DeVante Jones has shown strong flashes, but the biggest adjustment might be mentally. His costly turnovers and simply dumb fouls were exactly the opposite of what a team wants from a senior guard. This is still a transition period for the transfer, and sometimes the only solution is experience.
The same could be said about Caleb Houstan, who led the team with 39 minutes against Seton Hall. Howard clearly wants the freshman phenom to work out the kinks, but right now it has been pretty tough to watch. Houstan is shooting just 38.5 percent from the floor so far and has put up some bad misses from deep. However, his biggest struggle has been defensively, as he continually got worked by Pirates wings this week. Growing pains are to be expected and at this point just need to be endured.
To briefly touch on Saturday morning’s opponent, UNLV is not too spectacular on either end. The Rebels defense is not terrible, but there should be plenty of opportunities for the Wolverines to get on track. Two players with a chance to prove themselves are Brandon Johns and Terrance Williams, who have plenty of potential but have yet to show consistent production. There is probably one starting spot up for grabs between them, and while Johns has not looked that worthy, Williams has not done enough to take it over either.
On the other end of the floor, expect Michigan to really buckle down. Seton Hall ended up only scoring 0.97 PPP, which shows that the game was really lost on the other side of the ball. UNLV comes into the contest ranked just 164th in offensive efficiency, sitting in the 200s in two-point percentage and near the bottom of the country from behind the arc. This a game to let the defense lead the offense.