Early-season non-conference games are often blowouts, and often purely due to physical ability. That came in the form of Jon Teske for the Michigan men’s basketball team against Norfolk State on Tuesday.
All night, the Spartans (0-1) tried to drive the paint, and all night they were met by Teske, who affected shot after shot as the Wolverines (1-0) cruised to a 63-44 win. Teske, whose eight rebounds, four blocks and a steal buoyed a defensive effort that saw Norfolk State score all of 13 first-half points, has always been a defensive force. This looked a tad different than what we’ve seen from him in the past.
Teske moved his feet. He wasn’t just tall — the 7-footer whose presence alone does something on defense — but agile, managing to affect shots, yes, but also hold his own on switches. He stayed out of foul trouble, using verticality in the way Michigan coach John Beilein has preached.
“He’s not a shot-blocker, but he’s a big dude to score over,” Beilein said. “So, if he just goes up there, man, that used to be a foul when you jumped up like that. And now, he’s really starting to understand the verticality. And I noticed it a couple years ago when I was demonstrating something with him and he was in front of me and I couldn’t see anybody. He’s just a big wall for us, and he’s using that effectively.”
When Teske got on the floor last year, it was often for shorter bursts. That was in part because of Moritz Wagner, part because of Teske getting into foul trouble and part because Teske simply got tired.
Wagner is gone, off to the NBA. Teske, if Tuesday is any indication, is making big steps in terms of verticality. And when asked, Beilein was quick to note that he no longer gets tired, instead being able to play through media timeouts. This bodes well for a Michigan defense that ranked third in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency last year.
“We like his feet,” Beilein said. “He’s very unique for a 7-(foot)-1 guy who has a size-13 shoe. He really can move his feet, so we’re not hesitant about switching a ball-screen late.”
The junior center is soft-spoken and quick to credit teammates, the way you’re supposed to do. When asked about his assertiveness, Teske said that yes, he feels better in that area than last year, then added, “Austin (Davis) did that as well.”
But having a 7-foot-1 center patrolling the paint has its perks, especially one whose defensive prowess goes beyond being 7-foot-1.
“Ah man, it’s gonna change up their gameplan,” Isaiah Livers said. “They’re not gonna go after a 7-footer that can move his feet and doesn’t foul. You wouldn’t be a smart coach to go at Jon Teske, I would say.”
Indeed, the Spartans kept going at Teske, and it kept going badly. He didn’t try too hard to affect shots, instead walling up and reaping the rewards.
The Wolverines saw on film that the Spartans would attack the paint, but it quickly became clear that battle was futile.
“We don’t have a 7-footer, so he (was) a big challenge for us,” Norfolk State coach Robert Johnson said. “So you know, we won’t see that much size like that down the road especially, even on non-conference opponents, there’s not a lot of (7-foot-1) guys right around that we’re gonna play, so it’s okay for that. It was good to see so hopefully things like that, when we play shorter guys we’ll be able to finish.”
On Tuesday, Norfolk State got no such reprieve.