The first installment of “Best of the Rest” predicted that 4 Maryland was on the verge of taking their first loss because of their tendency to start slow on offense. This prediction came true last night at Penn State as the Terrapins fell 76-69 in a big upset and an even bigger win for the improving Nittany Lions.
After finding itself down 5-0, Maryland evened the score only to find themselves on the wrong end of a 9-0 run. Thanks to the Terrapins’ staggering 20 turnovers, Penn State held the lead throughout the game and removed Maryland from the ranks of the unbeaten.
So much for the Terps. Now, on to the second installment of the “Best of the Rest.”
The Wolverines came out of Feast Week blazing hot. They scored wins over Iowa State, then-6 North Carolina, and then-8 Gonzaga. This launched Michigan into the top-5 and first-year head coach Juwan Howard into the national spotlight.
A loss to 1 Louisville brought the Wolverines back to earth a bit, but a recent conference win over Iowa allowed them to land on their feet and solidified their position near the top of the college basketball rankings.
Michigan has one of the most balanced, and high-scoring, offenses in the country. While they do not have one go-to scorer, four Wolverines, Isaiah Livers, John Teske, Xavier Sullivan, and Eli Brooks, average over ten points per game. Of course, the balance that the Wolverines have enjoyed would not be possible without Sullivan’s keen passing—his 8.6 assists per game is second in the NCAA.
On the defensive side, Michigan features an aggressive approach that works to limit their opponent’s success at scoring from the perimeter. Expect to see several steals and blocks per game when watching the Wolverine defense.
Finally, Michigan’s bench is one of the deepest in college basketball and typically makes a noticeable contribution on both ends of the court.
There is little to say about Michigan’s performance that is negative, but their games against Louisville and Iowa raised a few questions.
First, the underwhelming loss at Louisville was a stark contrast to the Wolverines’ dominance in the Battle for Atlantis. One problem was noticeable from the opening tip: Michigan could not get settled in front of the hostile crowd at the KFC Yum! Center. Thus, their potent offense could never ignite. Keep an eye out for how they perform in later road games.
Will they rise to the occasion or continue to wilt?
Second, talented big men have had great success in the paint against Michigan. Gonzaga’s Killian Tillie scored 20, Louisville’s Jordan Nwora and Steven Enoch had 22 and 13 respectively, and Iowa’s Luka Garza dropped an astounding 44 points. The majority of their points came from twelve feet in. There is no question that Michigan center John Teske is one of the best defensive centers in the Big Ten, but these big numbers inside will eventually cost the Wolverines.
There is a lot to like about Michigan. Opponents will find their offense difficult to slow down and their aggressive defense maddening. It will be interesting to see what happens when the Wolverines take the show on the road against Big Ten opponents with strong big men.
Tonight’s match-up at Illinois will be an early test. The Illini’s freshman center Kofi Cockburn improves each time he hits the court. The same goes for Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson: he will pose serious difficulties for the Wolverines.
Regardless of these weak spots, Michigan has earned the benefit of the doubt with their play this season. So, expect them to remain near the top of the polls.