After a couple close losses against ranked teams, the Michigan Wolverines kicked off Big Ten play with a victory at the Minnesota Golden Gophers, 90-75. It was a dominant win, where Minnesota never had the lead and Michigan was up by double digits for much of the game.
True freshman Dug McDaniel played a big part; in his first career start following Jaelin Llewellyn’s season-ending ACL injury, he scored 15 points, dished seven assists and shot 5-of-6 from the field.
The Wolverines needed to find a replacement at the 1 and if McDaniel keeps playing like this, Michigan will be just fine.
Here’s a breakdown of McDaniel’s first start as a Wolverine.
(If you’re more of a visual learner, I highly recommend this video that Dan Plocher did for us, breaking down how McDaniel and Bufkin handled themselves at the 1 in this one.)
Confidence was key offensively
One thing we often see young players lack is confidence; we saw it last year with Caleb Houstan and Kobe Bufkin. But that is one thing McDaniel does not lack, as you can see here in his first basket of the game right before the first TV timeout.
All five Minnesota defenders are focused on the pick-and-roll between Hunter Dickinson and Jett Howard, and rightfully so. Dickinson already had seven points that that point, and Howard is Michigan’s best shot creator coming off a screen. Covering a pick-and-roll between these two should be the main priority for any defense.
Once Howard spins back and takes a few dribbles toward the lane, he sees McDaniel open near the top of the key and dishes it to him. McDaniel doesn’t hesitate at all, letting it fly from three.
Freshman Dug McDaniel had 15 points and 7 assists in his first college start yesterday. With Jaelin Llewellyn's season-ending injury, McDaniel will have a very important role for Michigan, especially with his playmaking ability. He averaged just 4 & 2 before the Llewellyn injury. pic.twitter.com/Kj4DWDG2MB— Clay (@ClayAtki) December 10, 2022
The scouting report is out on the Wolverines — Dickinson and Howard are clearly Michigan’s two primary offensive options, so players like McDaniel will need to be counted on to make plays when the defense is zeroed in like this.
McDaniel nailed another three near the end of the first half (7:46 mark of Dan’s video), which was key with the offense looking rather stagnant. McDaniel came off a screen from Terrance Williams II before waiting for another screen from Dickinson. Once he sees his defender take a half step towards the screen, McDaniel dribbles away from it before pulling up and launching a dagger to give Michigan a 15-point lead.
We saw similar action in the second half (24-second mark of video below).
Dug McDaniel had a great game last night!— JD 〽️ (@MGoJDBlue) December 9, 2022
Go Blue! 〽️ pic.twitter.com/vINEhM2aJG
As McDaniel dribbles the ball towards the top, Dickinson sets a pin-down screen on Howard’s man, giving Michigan’s best scorer the ball past his defender going towards the basket. The Golden Gophers are again lasered in on him, and he quick passes it out to McDaniel again for a deep three.
The young point guard made all three of his three-point attempts, giving the Wolverines a huge swing in momentum.
Was this a perfect performance from McDaniel offensively? Far from it; he plays a little too fast in certain sets and still has a lot to work on in terms of mid-level scoring. But at least he showed a willingness to let it fly from deep and score when called upon.
Dug was real solid defensively
McDaniel had three steals and did a great job pressuring the ball, using his quick hands and rotating over and closing out when the defense was recovering.
His anticipation defensively is what led to these takeaways, as he has very active hands and is quick enough to corral steals from the guy he’s guarding. Additionally, he did a great job getting hands in the passing lane to deny cutters while keeping his head on a swivel in help side.
One of the best examples of this came in the second half. As Minnesota moves the ball around the arc, McDaniel stays up towards the three-point line in a switch with Bufkin. The man he switches to cuts almost immediately, but Bufkin sticks his arm right away to close that window for a cut towards the rim.
This leads to McDaniel being in a prime position for a steal. With that pass being unavailable, the Minnesota big tries to back down Dickinson before McDaniel takes the ball away. After that, it’s off to the races and McDaniel gets an easy bucket in transition.
One thing that will help earn McDaniel more minutes is his defensive anticipation. He clearly has a high basketball IQ, as he always puts himself in position to make the right play.
The play of the game
If you had to go to bed to get up for work and didn’t catch all of this game, this was probably the play you saw the most on social media. And rightfully so, because it was glorious.
Dug McDaniel nice like that pic.twitter.com/GUBqXYgo4n— Dylan Jespersen (@dylanjespersen) December 9, 2022
After a quick hand off from Howard, McDaniel dribbles down to the left wing and gives Dickinson time to set up for a screen. McDaniel patiently waited for the screen to be set before splitting the defenders with a quick crossover to get the rim.
Minnesota’s Joshua Ola-Joseph was sitting at the rim waiting for him, but McDaniel hangs in the air and switches hands to get the little bit of space he needs to finish the left-hand layup.
Stuff like that is why McDaniel was a highly-touted four-star prospect coming out of high school. He can knock down the three and has quick hands, but his craftiness and finishing ability once he gets a full head of steam is pretty remarkable.
Much like Frankie Collins last season, McDaniel has had a bit of an issue with playing a little too fast as a true freshman. But if he stays controlled on drives like this, it will help his development in the long run.
We have to remember that this was just one game against one of the worst teams in the Big Ten. Don’t expect this to happen in every game for him.
But to play like this in your first career start on the road as a true freshman is still impressive and something to build off. If McDaniel can keep putting together performances like this, Michigan’s ceiling in these conference games increases dramatically.