Moritz Wagner gathered the ball after he failed to convert a put-back and kicked it out to Charles Matthews for a corner 3-pointer.
The ball swished through the bottom of the net and kicked off the game’s scoring, and so began a new era of Michigan men’s basketball.
As expected, the prima facie game for the new-look Wolverines revealed no concrete expectations for what’s to come in 2017-18. But glimpses of last season’s Michigan team came to light early on in Friday’s 82-50 exhibition win over Grand Valley State.
Five different Wolverines hit treys in the first ten minutes, including familiar faces from last year’s starting lineup — Wagner and senior forward Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman — as well as senior forward Duncan Robinson. The experienced trio combined for 26 points, with Wagner also grabbing 10 boards to notch a double-double.
Michigan coach John Beilein followed through on his comments from Thursday’s media availability and rotated 11 players in the first half — an unlikely sight for the regular season. Everyone on the roster except new walk-on CJ Baird saw game time.
One of those players who will see plenty of action, though, is Matthews. Many expected the former five-star Kentucky recruit to make an early impact, but few could have predicted such an aggressive welcome party. Matthews scored 23 points on 9-for-14 shooting, including 17 of the team’s 41 points to begin the game. To say that the Lakers’ defense was swiss cheese, however, would be an insult to the dairy community.
“When I was younger no one passed me the ball and I wanted to score, so I said I’d get the rebound and go right back up with it,” Matthews said. “It’s a natural knack I have, trying to go and get the ball. The coaches are stressing that to me more.”
Added Beilein: “He’s gonna be a 32-35 minute player. He’s got a great attitude, and that could be his role on this team.”
In the backcourt, the three-way point guard battle offered more questions than answers. Just as he did in the Wolverines’ secret scrimmage against Toledo, sophomore Zavier Simpson got the starting nod for the game. Despite a newfound eagerness to drive to the basket, he often struggled to convert on the offensive end.
Fifth-year senior Jaaron Simmons and freshman Eli Brooks also found their way to the court — mostly at the same time — but suffered similar fates with limited offensive production. It was Robinson, and none of the point guards, who led the team in assists with four.
“We went a few years where that wasn’t the forte of some of the centers we’ve had passing,” Beilein said. “I like the way we’re throwing it to our big guys, and cutting we had a couple baskets. I do like that we’re getting assists out of the post men.”
The second half was far less flashy, but still par for the course: 3-pointers, similar rotations, lockdown defense, and more 3-pointers.
Perhaps the most promising display of the second half was a high pick-and-roll set that saw Brooks deliver a near-perfect bounce pass to sophomore center Jon Teske down low for an easy layup. Unlike Simmons, Brooks saw time alone with the four presumptive starters.
“Of course everybody wants to start, but I’m not about that,” Simmons said. “Eli, he’s good. He doesn’t play like a freshman. The game is slow for Eli. He’s special because he can play the one and the two. … You’ll see a lot from Eli this season.”
Overall, did we learn anything about what the Wolverines could potentially be this season? Likely not.
But did this game give fans a reason to be concerned? Absolutely not.