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No. 22 Michigan vs. Eastern Michigan Preview: Friday night at the Pizza Palace

One major storyline highlights the in-state matchup.

NCAA Basketball: IUPU - Ft. Wayne at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

It was a perfect start to the Michigan Wolverines 2022-23 season, with the home team convincingly taking down Purdue Fort Wayne. A 40-minute sample can only say so much, but the positives from players like Jett Howard and Joey Baker outweigh the known limitations of the rest of the roster, and perhaps Michigan’s ceiling should be bumped up a little after game one.

Friday night brings a second opportunity for some early-season glimpses, though the competition takes a step down. The Wolverines face neighbor Eastern Michigan but travel to Detroit to bolster the intrastate affair. The Eagles may or may not be with Emoni Bates, who sat out their first game, but either way the narratives will be there.

Purdue Fort Wayne was outmatched (also missing its best player) but still has legitimate conference hopes for this season. Eastern Michigan is at a different level, however, sitting in the 300s per Kenpom (out of 363 teams). This is how most non-conference games look in college basketball, but there still is plenty to get excited about.

Eastern Michigan Eagles (1-0) vs. No. 22 Michigan Wolverines (1-0)

Date & Time: Friday, Nov. 11, 9 p.m.
Location: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, Mich.
TV/Streaming: ESPNU

Finding balance

Questions do remain, but the Wolverines made sure to remind everyone of the essentials on Monday night. Hunter Dickinson (22 PTS, 12 REB) is going to be an absolute force on both ends of the floor again, and that alone keeps this team in the conversation for something great. While Jaelin Llewellyn did not have the same type of stat line, his presence and passing made it clear that Michigan nailed yet another point guard transfer, which is a huge box to check.

The player who stole the show was Jett Howard, whose 5-of-10 shooting from deep instantly gives the Wolverines a second legit scoring option next to Dickinson and another great ball distributor (5 AST) with Llewellyn. These three players showed enough to at least start dreaming about a true bounce-back year in Ann Arbor.

What needs to happen next is some of the remaining pieces start capturing their roles on this team. Not everyone is going to be on their A game every single night, but more is expected out of Kobe Bufkin (0-for-4 from three) and Terrance Williams (2 PTS) specifically, as well as a bench unit that was fairly inefficient on Monday.

The lone exception from that group was Joey Baker, who looked the part with three long-range buckets and a seamless introduction into the squad. It would be great to see some of the other rotational players replicate this sort of effort on Friday — Bufkin is the one that Michigan really would like to show that leap into the next level.

Center of gravity

Bates is obviously the first thing that comes to anyone’s mind when it comes to Eastern Michigan this year. The Ypsilanti native famously snubbed Michigan State to attend Memphis, flamed out and wanted to come to Ann Arbor, but eventually settled on returning home. Some dropped legal charges over the summer should help him get on the court, though he did not appear in the opener against Wayne State.

Orbiting Bates is an interesting roster with some decent MAC-level pieces. Noah Farrakhan returns to point guard duties after shooting 43% from the floor and 41% from three last season with multiple 20-point games. Tyson Acuff transfers in from Duquense with strong three-point marks (39%) as well, and Colin Golson Jr. is someone who can cause problems in conference play.

While none of these players are likely to be enough to sniff an upset on Friday, the Eagles enter the year with some optimism and hopes of at least cracking the top half of the MAC for the first time in four seasons, though that is far from guaranteed. Still, Bates is going to grab the attention this Friday, and that is fine for an early matchup like this.