The Michigan Wolverines kicked off their season taking care of business against Purdue Fort Wayne at home, beating the Mastodons 75-56.
While Purdue Fort Wayne is going to be far from Michigan’s toughest non-conference opponent, it was one of the top teams in its conference last season, With a 21-12 record (15-6 in conference), the Mastodons placed second in the Horizon League last season behind Cleveland State.
Here are some takeaways from the game.
The Wolverines are going to rely on Hunter Dickinson a lot
As we saw last season, when the Wolverines struggled to find a bucket in this one, they gave the ball to Dickinson. He looked a man against boys facing a Purdue Fort Wayne team with no one taller than 6-foot-9.
He played like how you’d expect an All-American center to play against a mid-major program. He had 22 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks and could pretty much do whatever he wanted in the paint.
This team definitely has more shooters and guys who can create their own shot compared to last year but when the going gets tough, they rely on their big man. Let’s hope he stays out of foul trouble in big games.
Jett Howard is living up to the hype as a scorer
Jett Howard has looked like the dynamic scorer the Wolverines so desperately needed last season. He was 8-for-15 from the field, scoring 21 points while shooting 5-for-10 from three-point range. He’s not purely a jump shooter though; he kept the defense honest, slashing to the rim on drives and finishing through traffic well. He’s so polished as a scorer, and seems to be much more versatile than Caleb Houstan was in his role last season.
Jett was the hot hand tonight, and Dickinson loved his teammates were able to feed him the ball in all the spots where he wanted it.
“I’m not a selfish player by any means, Jett’s somebody I’m really close with,” Dickinson said. “He’s someone always coming around the facility, all the years that I’ve been here. We’ve definitely had a relationship but that’s with any of my teammates. If you’re hot, we’re going to try to feed you every time until you get cold...If Jett’s got it going, we’re going to try to find him because it’s going to benefit us.”
As the Mastodons were starting to claw their way back in the game late in the second half, Howard put the nail in the coffin, scoring eight consecutive points and blocking a shot to give the Wolverines a 69-49 lead with 3:22 left. It was great to see a freshman have a scoring burst in a big moment like that.
“At first, Kobe brought it to my attention that on a certain play, they were helping out on Hunter (Dickinson),” Howard said. “I was in the corner and he was like ‘bro just stay in the corner, imma hit you’. That got me open on my first three, and on my second three, I was just in rhythm...on the defensive end I just tried to move my feet a little bit, didn’t want too many film sessions with (assistant coach) Saddi (Washington), so I just had to get that block.”
Granted, we’ve only seen him play against Ferris State and Purdue Fort Wayne, but Howard is looking like the offensive spark plug this team missed last year.
Baker provides much-needed three-point shooting off the bench
The Michigan offense was lethargic to start the game, as Dickinson was really the only one to get a solid footing offensively.
Duke transfer Joey Baker checked in and it felt like the whole mood changed. He made two of the first three three-pointers he took to give Michigan a spark and force a Purdue Fort Wayne timeout. He finished with nine points on 3-of-6 shooting, all threes.
“The kid knows how to play,” said head coach Juwan Howard post-game. “One of his strengths is shooting, and I don’t want him to pass up any open shots. Let it fly. Make or miss, we’ll live with the results.”
One of the Wolverines’ biggest weaknesses last year was finding consistent three-point shooting, as they were ranked 172nd in three-point field goal percentage. That is a mark that needs to be improved upon if they want to avoid being on the bubble again come March.
We’ve only played one game, but it seems like Baker will play a key role as that shooter off the bench this season. I’d imagine he’ll be on the floor at the end of a lot of games if he can stay hot from three.
Michigan still needs to establish more chemistry on offense, but there’s a lot to be excited about
Part of the reason why Michigan got off to a slow start (they were losing at the first media timeout) was because it was unable to establish a consistent flow offensively. We have to remember that patience is a virtue with this stuff.
Things did get better as the game went along, especially when the Wolverines committed to driving hard to basket off of Dickinson screens. Once they were able to find shooters off those drives, they played up to their preseason expectations.
With Howard and Baker as shooters, Bufkin getting stronger and looking more confident, and the contributions from the young players, there’s a lot to like about this year’s squad.
Last year’s team looked stagnant on offense all year long. Hopefully once more chemistry is established, this squad avoids those same problems.
Dug McDaniel is awesome
The loudest that Crisler Center got all night was when freshman point guard Dug McDaniel took the ball coast-to-coast and finished at the rim to give Michigan a 59-35 lead.
️ "They're gonna dig Dug!"— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 8, 2022
This Dug McDaniel highlight is .@AyooFlyy x @umichbball pic.twitter.com/z1BduUF7QQ
A lot of Michigan fans were upset when human firecracker Frankie Collins left for Arizona State, but with the flashes McDaniel has shown, the Wolverine fateful might not miss him too much.