There were a lot of things I expected when I signed on to cover the Michigan men’s basketball team this season.
But Austin Davis, I did not expect. And how could I? After three years of limited minutes off the bench and a promising backup at the big man spot in sophomore forward Colin Castleton, how could I — or anyone else, for that matter — have expected Davis to establish himself in his senior season?
And yet here we are, two months into the year, and Davis is — well, he’s doing some things.
No. 12 Michigan fell to in-state archrival No. 14 Michigan State, 87-69, at the Breslin Center on Sunday. The offense struggled to put the ball in the basket and the defense could not contain the Spartans’ top scoring threats.
Ledes that play on A Tale of Two Cities are by now long since cliched. So I’m not going to write one (though I reserve the right to use it when I can’t come up with a title for my history paper later tonight). But we’re now six weeks into the season, and it’s still seeming like there are two possible Michigan teams that could show up on any given night.
Michigan teams of years past have at times tended to rely on a few players – the Jordan Pooles and Moritz Wagners – for much of their success. But so far this season, the fourth-ranked Wolverines have been winning more on the strength of the many than the success of a few. Friday night’s 103-91 win over Iowa, their first conference matchup and Big Ten victory of the season, was the perfect example.
In the first half, Michigan shot a dismal 17 percent on their three-point attempts, and an even worse 11 percent on its layups. The Wolverines shot only 33 percent in the paint and 11 percent on second-chance scoring attempts. They just couldn't find the bottom of the net. Some of it could be attributed to the Cardinals’ defense, which was effective all night at shutting down Michigan’s ball screens — plays that have set up much of the Wolverines’ success on offense this season. But not all of Michigan’s offensive woes can be credited to Louisville. The Wolverines had plenty of scoring opportunities, and even managed to open up a few easy shots for themselves. Even then, it seemed they were only hitting rim and backboard.
Three days and three quality wins later, the Wolverines are proving that they have a lot more potential than anyone was giving them credit for. They defeated No. 8 Gonzaga, 82-64, on Friday in the championship of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas, their second win over a top-10 team in as many days, as their defense stifled the Bulldogs’ imposing transition offense.
The Michigan men’s basketball team defeated Iowa State, 83-76, in the quarterfinal game of the Battle for Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas behind strong performances from senior guard Zavier Simpson and junior forward Isaiah Livers.
Sitting next to his wife in the second row from the top in section 122 of Crisler Center, white hair shining under the lights, he looks like any one of a dozen or more men his age at a basketball game on a Friday night.