I probably should have pumped the brakes a bit on the hot start for the Michigan Wolverines (and probably was a little too dismissive of Maryland in football, too...), but what fun is there in being a wet blanket? Yes, the loss to Long Beach State really resets the opening stretch of the season a bit, however, there are still some positives to latch onto.
Up next is a ripe opportunity in the Bahamas. Many remember how Juwan Howard kickstarted his tenure by winning the 2019 Battle 4 Atlantis, which included upsets of No. 6 UNC and No. 8 Gonzaga on back-to-back days. While the 2023 tournament is not quite as stacked at the top, Michigan is going to face some quality opponents that could become important wins on the resume.
Up first is a Memphis team that sits 32nd in Kenpom, a few spots ahead of the Wolverines (37th). Thursday’s contest will be against either Arkansas (29th) or Stanford, who comes in a little lower at 66th but is still a Power Six school. It is tough to say who Michigan will see on Friday, but odds are it will be a top-50 team as well.
A 2-1 (or better??) record this week would be great come March and would also reinforce where this team currently sits. A worse performance would not necessarily spell doom considering the quality of opponents, but would definitely confirm that this team is indeed a bit off from where it hopes to be. Memphis is a tough opening draw, though it does represent a solid litmus test at this stage of the season.
Michigan Wolverines (3-1) vs. Memphis Tigers (3-0)
Date & Time: Wednesday, Nov. 22, 5 p.m. ET
Location: Imperial Arena, Nassau, Bahamas
Event: Battle 4 Atlantis Quarterfinals
Monday’s AP Poll saw Memphis barely miss 25th, coming in just a few points short of Mississippi State. The Tigers have started the season 3-0, including a strong win at Missouri a couple weeks ago. Kenpom has them fairly balanced with top-40 adjusted offensive and defensive numbers, which has been the case the past two seasons as well.
The Tigers have been shooting the ball very efficiently, with senior transfers Jahvon Quinerly, Jaykwon Walton, and David Jones all hitting at least 45 percent of their threes with good effective field goal rates. The Michigan defense has shown a bunch of cracks, and this offense should cause some concern on Wednesday, with plenty of players both willing to take advantage and able to do so.
Adapt or die
While Memphis did lock down the Missouri offense, scoring has not been the issue for Michigan so far. More so, untimely turnovers really hurt against Long Beach State, though the Wolverines still ended at 1.12 PPP thanks to the blistering start. While Dug McDaniel did get a little sloppy at times, the team has no choice but to roll with him given the limited alternative options at the point, and the sophomore is still a net positive overall.
I am not really sure what the cure is for the Michigan defense. Too many opposing players are enjoying uncontested shots or drives to the basket, and whether it is poor communication or low effort, the Wolverines will struggle this tournament if things do not get cleaned up quickly. Memphis has just as many transfers as Michigan, so that is not a real excuse. It might just be a familiarity thing, so this week will offer plenty of meaningful reps; hopefully the defense can put it together in time.