Last Friday should be a wake-up call for the Michigan Wolverines after Emoni Bates and Eastern Michigan nearly pulled off the upset in Detroit. The Wolverines showed plenty of rust, especially on defense and at the line, but still pulled out the win to start the season 2-0 before the schedule gets tough.
The first two real challenges are on the slate this week as Michigan travels to Brooklyn for the Legends Classic. This is the team’s third appearance in the event, with a fourth-place finish in 2010 and a win over Oregon followed up by a championship game defeat against Villanova in 2014.
This year’s field features the Wolverines’ first-round opponent, Pittsburgh, as well as a date with either Frankie Collins and Arizona State or Zeb Jackson, Brandon Johns Jr., and VCU on Thursday. Neutral-site wins are always important, and Michigan has a great shot at a pair of them in Brooklyn.
No. 20 Michigan Wolverines (2-0) vs. Pittsburgh Panthers (1-1)
Date & Time: Wednesday, Nov. 16, 6 p.m.
Location: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY
Learning on the fly
There is a temptation to look at two games and come up with a lot of conclusions, but truthfully this Michigan team was always going to need some time to sort itself out given the number of changes over the offseason. The good news is that there is reason to think Friday’s game was a bit of a fluke given the obvious Bates motivation and slightly surprising environment.
Still, there is no doubt that it would be great to get some more consistency out of Jaelin Llewellyn. The transfer point guard has had more struggles than successes, but his play down the stretch against Eastern Michigan was important and showed what he can bring to this team. He and Kobe Bufkin can be a dangerous back court, but both players need to step up defensively as they wait for their shots to start falling.
As always, Hunter Dickinson is going to have a big advantage down low, but the real question is how this could help out the rest of the offense too. If Terrance Williams or Joey Baker is going to be left alone, then keep the ball moving until there is an open shot. This strategy is going to work against against most overmatched rosters, and Michigan is going to be the most talented team in this tournament.
Quality but attainable
Pitt comes into the game with a meaningless win over UT Martin and rivalry loss to a quality West Virginia team. The Panthers entered the season near the bottom of the ACC preseason poll and sit right around the Kenpom top 100, making this a beatable team but also potentially a nice line on Michigan’s resume.
Where this game could get tricky is if the Wolverines again struggle to contain the opposing guards. Eastern Michigan seemingly drove through the paint whenever it wanted, and if Michigan cannot slow down Jamarius Burton and Greg Elliott then this could be another back-and-forth affair that really stretches the Michigan defense, which is not the game Juwan Howard wants to play.
Dickinson will have the clear advantage in the paint, though, and it could end up pretty ugly if All-ACC honorable mention John Hugley is not healthy yet. With Hugley missing the first two games, JuCo transfer Federiko Federiko has manned the five, and this seems like an obvious mismatch. With the rest of the roster still sorting itself out, Dickinson can anchor the action on both ends and provide some much-needed stability.