The Michigan men’s basketball team’s first win of the season was … not pretty.
But maybe that was the point.
Given what this team lost — three of its top scorers from last season and the greatest coach in program history — it would be foolish to suggest that the 2019-20 season would start with the same level of success enjoyed in the past. There will be some hiccups along the way.
That isn’t to say the Wolverines are going to fall to the basement of the Big Ten. They still have an abundance of talent, and that may be the point.
At its best, Michigan can be an up-tempo, wheeling-and-dealing, offensive powerhouse that will rain 3-point shots from the heavens and post up defenders with its abundance of size.
At its worst, Michigan may stall for huge stretches on the offensive side of the floor, struggling to get a bucket. The rotation may try again and again and again to put the ball in the basket but end up looking around, lost in a new scheme with no luck coming its way.
On Tuesday, in a 79-71 win against Appalachian State, Michigan showed both sides of this coin.
The first 30 minutes had the Wolverines’ offensive capabilities on full display, led by junior guard Eli Brooks and senior center Jon Teske, who scored 24 and 17 points, respectively. The play in the post was dominant and the shots beyond the arc were open and falling, with Brooks notching five himself.
Teske single-handedly muscled Michigan to a commanding lead in the first half, scoring the team’s first 11 points. The Mountaineers didn’t have an answer for Teske’s 7-foot-1 frame, and the score reflected this mismatch. Then, due to his distracting size, the guards found open patches of the floor translating into easy buckets.
“(Teske’s) presence allowed me and other shooters to have open shots,” Brooks said, “So focused on him, but also the pace. Getting up and down the floor, not letting them get set up.”
Then, it all came crumbling apart, with a 27-3 Appalachian State run.
Whether due to complacency or the imposition of 3-2 zone on the Mountaineers’ defensive end, the Wolverines couldn’t buy a bucket if it was on Amazon Prime.
In moments such as those, everyone seemingly wants someone or something to blame. Some explanation for the dip in play. But perhaps, it’s just the nature of an offense lacking a night-in and night-out volume scorer. Someone to turn to in the face of an offensive slump.
When asked to describe this offense, one similar sentiment prevails: scoring by committee.
“I can’t predict,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “Some nights it might be Eli. There’ll be some nights where it’s Zavier Simpson. Some nights it’s gonna be Isaiah Livers. Tonight it was Jon and Eli.
“Our offense, we share the basketball, we have a lot of basketball movement. All hands on deck. You never know, it’s not just going to rely on one individual. It’s a team effort, and tonight there were three guys that stepped up offensively.”
Added Brooks: “I think we have a lot of good play making people, and we have a lot of good options. Jon, Isaiah, Zavier, myself, and just who’s going to be playing well that game. Tonight it was me and Jon, and we played through Jon a lot.”
Having options is great — so far as your multitude of options are talented and playing their part consistently. So far, Michigan twice now has battled with that consistency, also delivering a near-seven minute scoring drought in its exhibition game against Saginaw Valley State.
As the season continues on and the competition beefs up, shaking the kinks out of the new offense and finding consistent production from the rotation will make or break the Wolverines' season.
So unless Teske is prepared to command the post every game and Brooks is waiting with a hot hand, Michigan should prepare for a season with the highest of highs and whatever happened in the second half on Tuesday.