For the time being, the starting point guard spot is Eli Brooks’ to lose.
Just over four minutes into Sunday afternoon’s game, UC Riverside’s Dikymbe Martin drove towards the hoop and before the basketball could grace the backboard, it was met by the hand of Brooks.
The freshman point guard corralled the ball and charged to the other end, dishing it in the corner to fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson for a transition 3-pointer.
Two possessions later, Brooks was left alone in the corner for his first shot of the game. Splash.
“He makes the other four guys better right now. It’s that simple,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “He just makes the other four guys better. … He seems to be what I call a ‘quick study,’ a guy that as we continue to go game to game to game that he can make really good changes.”
Brooks’ play was the type of smooth, intelligent performance expected from a starting point guard, as he finished with eight points and four rebounds. And the outing kickstarted the trajectory of the Michigan men’s basketball team 87-42 drubbing of the Highlanders (2-3).
“Obviously we took the loss to LSU by two. We didn’t play the game we were capable of playing,” said freshman guard Jordan Poole. “Obviously we started getting on a stretch against Chaminade and VCU. Today we were getting to play comfortable, not thinking too much. … We’re just kinda out there just flowing.
“When you get that positive energy it translates to everybody else on the court. That’s why when (Moritz Wagner) had the double-double, and then Isaiah (Livers) coming in to make a big play, and Charles (Matthews) had a double-double — it’s all starting to click right now.”
The first half was as clean of basketball as the Wolverines (6-1) have played all season. They assisted on their first 10 baskets, and held the advantage in nearly every category for a 41-17 halftime edge.
Perhaps the most promising sign gleaned from the first 20 minutes was the Matthews-Wagner pick-and-roll combination. Wagner scored the contest’s first seven points in every way he knows how: a top-of-the-key trey, a mid-range corner jumper and a spin move to the basket for an easy layup.
For Matthews, it didn’t take long for him to set a career-high in assists. After dishing out a previous best of four assists against Chaminade last Tuesday, the redshirt sophomore forward needed just over seven minutes to notch five.
The second half offered much of the same. Wagner scored Michigan’s first five points — eight of its first 12 — and Matthews had three assists in the first five minutes. Matthews’ 12 total assists and 17 points gave him his second career double-double, also his second in three games. Wagner also tallied a double-double with 21 points and 10 boards.
“When you have a good game we know that there will probably be a bad game or worse game as well,” Wagner said. “… We can see it every day. We know that with this offense and the way we play and the type of players we have, it allows us to have good players every game that are different.”
While the all-around contributions were a welcome sign for the Wolverines, it doesn’t make Beilein’s job any easier. He has consistently stressed the importance of trimming the rotation down to eight or nine players, while all 16 players saw the court on Sunday.
“I’m seeing who’s gonna grow now. I’m seeing who’s gonna grow the fastest,” Beilein said. “… That’s up for grabs, and it's still up for grabs. It will be every game. I’m just gonna go ‘Who practiced well? Alright, you practiced well. Go in.’ ”
The Wolverines can rest easy tonight about their lopsided win over UC Riverside, but they will have to put it in the past quickly. A date with No. 9 North Carolina awaits on Wednesday, and compared to the Highlanders, the two matchups are apples to oranges for Michigan.