The Michigan Wolverines will not be the first team since the 1975 Indiana Hoosiers to go undefeated. They fell 67-65 to the Seton Hall Pirates in a game where Michigan held a double-digit second-half lead.
In the end, it’s Nov. 18 and this is a great time to be alerted to your weaknesses and shortcomings. Under the guidance of newly-extended head coach Juwan Howard, fans should have complete faith this team will improve and grow throughout the season.
While there are many areas of improvement available for the Wolverines, these three are the ones that stood out the most to me. Panic level: 1.5 / 10.
This shooting performance from beyond the arc felt like a Vietnam flashback of the Elite Eight; except Michigan actually shot better from deep in that game.
The Wolverines did not hit their first three-pointer of the game until just shy of halfway through the second half. Michigan finished an abysmal 3-of-15 from three, while the Pirates finished 9-of-30.
That 10% shooting difference is what kept the Pirates in the game and allowed them to bridge scoring gaps so quickly in the second half.
Outside of Eli Brooks, Michigan’s lack of confident shooters is worrisome. Caleb Houstan is still developing a consistent outside game and DeVante’ Jones is more of a shot-creating point guard than a scorer.
Terrance Williams II (Terry Two Sticks) has come a long way, but he is far from a sharp shooter. Maybe Kobe Bufkin could help fill this void or Zeb Jackson whenever he makes his season debut when he recovers from whatever he has going on.
The Wolverines will never be an Alabama-style of basketball team of strictly lay-ups and threes, but they have to be respectable from beyond the arc to open up the paint for Hunter Dickinson.
Communication on Defensive Rotations
This is an issue that will resolve itself with time, but for now, the perimeter players are struggling with communicating defensive rotations. The starting wing — true freshman Caleb Houstan — is one who is acclimating to the defensive scheme and taking his lumps along the way.
Several times, Houstan would either go with the wrong man or be slow on rotations when the Pirates would swing the ball. Coupled with DeVante’ Jones’ propensity to gamble for steals, these rotational problems were only exacerbated by their lack of communication.
Being this is only game three, this is not a surprise. Houstan and Jones played the first- and third-highest minutes respectively for the Wolverines and as the season progresses, they will better understand the scheme and, more importantly, will better understand each other and the new team around them.
Inability to Pull Away and Late Game Execution
It was hinted at against Buffalo and actualized against Seton Hall: the Wolverines struggle to put their foot on the neck and finish games.
Against Seton Hall, Michigan led by 11 points with 14:20 to go and had still yet to make its first three-pointer. Furthermore, the Wolverines led by eight with 7:16 to go before giving up an 8-0 run and would ultimately be outscored 18-8 by the Pirates to close the game.
Several things contributed to this late collapse: untimely fouls by DeVante’ Jones, four Michigan turnovers by four different players in the final seven minutes, a lack of post touches for Hunter Dickinson to close the game, and Terry Two Sticks missing a free throw with less than a second remaining.
To begin the second half, Michigan spread the floor and opened up space for ball handlers to create shots and more importantly, opened up space for Dickinson to feast up one-on-one match-ups in the post. Once their offensive sets condensed, the Pirates were able to cause havoc on the defensive end and limit the Wolverines offensively.
These schematic issues are expected of any new team adjusting to several new players expected to produce immediately. Howard is still gaining a feel for the new individual skill sets and the overall offensive identity of this team.
Once those are fully understood by Howard and the coaching staff, expect foot-on-neck performances before conference play gets underway.