The Michigan Wolverines are off to a strong start as they enter the second week of December with an 8-1 record. Currently, the Wolverines are in third place in the Big Ten conference behind Maryland and Ohio State.
Last season, Michigan finished the season with a 30-7 record and would go on to lose to Texas Tech in the Sweet Sixteen 44-63. In addition to an early exit in last year’s tournament, the program said goodbye to a legend in John Beilein.
Beilein coached at Michigan for 12 years before moving on to the NBA. However, the university found a solid replacement and a familiar face in Juwan Howard.
Howard was a significant piece and member of the historic Fab Five that played at Michigan from 1991 to 1993. Despite the program losing a legend in Beilein, the Wolverines are in great hands with Howard.
Right now, the team is coming off of a 103-91 win over Iowa. As the season continues here are three takeaways from Michigan’s hot 8-1 start.
Balanced on both ends
Clearly one of the perks of hiring Howard is his ability to motivate players to play on both sides of the ball. Throughout the first nine games of the season, the team has won by using the shot clock and playing physical defense.
Ultimately, Michigan has been able to win late games because of their ability to run their offense deep into the shot clock. Although this team possesses NBA talent everyone has bought into the selfless culture created by Howard.
Zavier Simpson (12.3 points), Jon Teske (14.1 points) and Isaiah Livers (15.1 points) lead the team on the offensive front. On the other end of the floor Teske (1.4 steals), Simpson (1.1 steals) and Franz Wagner (1.2 steals) clamp down on the opposing team’s offense. The fact that this team can control the game on either side of the floor speaks volumes considering the physical play in the Big Ten Conference.
Not to mention everyone on the roster contributes in some type of fashion. The balance on both ends of the floor will be crucial as the season continues to unfold.
Strength of Schedule
Often times after a new coach takes the helm, the team may not buy into their philosophy. But in Howard’s case, his players have bought into his system and have hit the floor running.
When March rolls around teams on the bubble normally miss out on the NCAA tournament due to a weak schedule. Nevertheless, Michigan is ranked 7.20 (15th out of 353) in strength of schedule (SOS) which will help them in the long run.
As of now, the Wolverines have defeated No.6 North Carolina and No. 8 Gonzaga. The next two ranked teams that Michigan will face are No. 10 Oregon and No.16 Michigan State.
If the Wolverines can stay above .500 and win the Big Ten championship they will be in a perfect position to qualify for a No.1 seed.
Michigan has a lot of space between ranked opponets on the schedule and teams that they should defeat. This will allow the Wolverines the ability to pad their record and build momentum.
Tonight the team will face Illinois and on Saturday they will face No.10 Oregon. Winning these next two games will help build this team’s confidence.
Wolverines New Head Coach: Juwan Howard
After an 8-1 start, it is clear that the team is connecting with their first-year head coach in Howard. He has done a great job of setting a culture in Ann Arbor.
Throughout the early season, it’s clear that Howard spends time with his players on and off the court. During every dead ball, timeout or inbound you can see the Michigan Alum coaching his players through the moment.
Despite this being his first season coaching in Ann Arbor it’s clear that his time coaching with the Miami Heat has helped.
The fact that Howard played at Michigan and in the NBA helps him identify with the players. Coaching under Erik Spoelstra enhanced Howard’s ability to develop the younger player’s games.
Similar to the NBA, college players are stepping away from the old school style of play with the high-low game. However, Howard is staying true to his roots by running a high low offense.
The former Heat Coach has Teske posting up and flashing to the top of the post. In addition to Teske, Simpson is a pure point guard. The senior guard runs the high pick-and-roll and can score or dish to the open man.
Overall Michigan has the ability to win the Big Ten conference. They will have to continue to get better with time. The team suffered their only loss to Lousiville and their offense struggled to set up.
Obviously the team played two games back to back prior to Lousiville and then had to take a quick flight back in a short amount of time.
The fifth rank Wolverines will be on the road tonight as they face Illinois tonight at 9 pm EST.