The No. 20 Michigan Wolverines took care of business in the first round of the Legends Classic Wednesday night, beating the Panthers 91-60. After getting off to a slow start offensively in that first half, Michigan went on to outscore Pittsburgh, 40-19, to earn the blowout victory.
Here are a few takeaways from the win.
A tale of two halves from three
The 2021-22 Michigan team had a lot of problems offensively, and one of those problems was being overly reliant on the three-ball to stay in games with high scoring teams.
This Michigan team has more versatile scoring, and despite shooting poorly from three in the first half (2-for-11), the Wolverines were still able to score consistently and made a lot of shots.
Michigan’s top perimeter scorers in Jett Howard (17 points in 19 minutes), and Joey Baker and Kobe Bufkin (14 points each) were able to get to the rim and finish through contact. Michigan didn’t need to rely on its best player as much tonight, with Hunter Dickinson having 11 points to go along with seven rebounds. And while he didn’t have a lot of blocks, Dickinson’s presence near the rim forced a few Pitt turnovers.
Michigan did shoot the ball a lot better in the second half from three, as it hit 8-of-19 attempts and 58.3% from the field as a whole. Shooting the ball well from deep certainly helped turn this game from a tight matchup to a blowout, but that wasn’t the only reason Michigan won the game.
A lot of teams in college basketball live and die by the three and, thankfully, Michigan isn’t one of those teams.
Jett Howard is such a versatile scorer
Howard has proved he can score in different ways, finishing at the rim and hitting jumpers inside the arc to help Michigan score on a consistent basis.
A key stretch of the game came midway through the first half — from the 12:27 mark to the 8:07 mark, Michigan made all eight of its field goals and went from being down one to up five, with Howard scoring three of those field goals.
To open the second half, Howard had seven straight points for the Wolverines off two threes, one of which was an and-one. The Wolverines used this scoring burst as momentum to carry them to a near double-digit lead, and they never looked back.
Even when’s he’s in foul trouble like he was tonight, Howard has a huge impact on the game and is far from just a three-point marksmen; he’s a versatile scorer who takes what the defense gives them and makes them play. If he can keep this up when Michigan moves into conference play, he’s a lottery pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
2nd Half run seals the deal
College basketball is a game of runs, and the Wolverines used a big one to secure the victory. After the aforementioned scoring burst from Howard, they went on an 8-1 run in just under two minutes, ultimately leading 62-44 with just about 12 minutes to play.
This run came with Howard on the bench with four fouls, as Bufkin and Dickinson were able to put a few more nails in Pitt’s coffin. Michigan never really looked back from there and ended up winning this one by 30. Michigan dominated in that second half, and the bursts to start the half were a big reason why.
Joey Baker is the scorer this team needs off the bench
Baker’s play in this one was crucial, as he helped wake up the offense after a slow start, scoring 14 points off the bench, including four made threes off five attempts.
He’s exactly what this team needs off the bench; a veteran presence who can shoot the three but can also drive to the basket hard and facilitate in the lane (he had a nice feed for Tarris Reed for an easy bucket in that first half). Baker is bound to have a few games where he leads the Wolverines in scoring, and I’m excited to see it.
What’s next for the Wolverines
Michigan will take on Arizona State Thursday night, after Frankie Collins and the Sun Devils defeated Brandon Johns Jr., Zeb Jackson and VCU, 63-59. The game will tip-off at 9 p.m. or later.