BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Freshman guard Dug McDaniel is the fastest player on the court just about every single time he laces up. If he can’t go through defenders, he can simply go around them — he’s that quick.
A freshman who plays fast, though, can be a recipe for disaster. A level of recklessness can accompany speed, leading to turnovers and preventable mistakes that guards learn to avoid with experience. At times, McDaniel is prone to these mistakes, notching turnovers in all of his games at Michigan so far. But on Wednesday night against Pitt, those concerns took the backseat, and McDaniel took the wheel.
“As I keep playing games, the games tend to slow down,” McDaniel said Wednesday. “I tend to get more mature and just get more used to the atmosphere, so, I definitely feel like my game slowed down a little bit.”
In an unimpressive first half, McDaniel made only one basket and dished a lone assist; he showed nothing special. His agility popped as much as it usually does, but he wasn’t turning it into offensive production. When the second half came, however, McDaniel looked like a completely new player. Poised and precise, McDaniel played a large role in helping the Wolverines turn a six-point halftime lead into a 31-point blowout.
McDaniel finished with a respectable eight points and five rebounds, but where he really shined was as a facilitator. Racking up a game-high eight assists — and turning the ball over just twice in the process — McDaniel consistently found open shooters and rim-runners.
“Dug is just scratching the surface,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “There’s a lot more of that in him, and there’s a lot more growth that I’m speaking of. It’s just nice to see how the entire team has trust in our guards because they put in the work.”
McDaniel started to come alive after skipping through the paint to finish a look at the rim midway through the second half. The sequence didn’t end there, though. Seconds later, he intercepted an errant pass from Panther forward Nate Santos before bouncing it to sophomore guard Kobe Bufkin for an easy layup in transition.
After that, it was showtime. Whether he was flashing into the paint before kicking it out to wide-open graduate guard Joey Baker for three, lofting it over the top to freshman forward Tarris Reed Jr. for a finish at the rim or leading freshman forward Will Tschetter perfectly to the rack — McDaniel picked apart the Pitt defense like a quarterback with too much time.
McDaniel didn’t simply pass the eye-test, though; his stats back it up. Finishing with a plus-26 in the box score — third highest for Michigan — the Wolverines were playing their best basketball with McDaniel on the floor.
“Dug played a great game for us,” Howard said. “We’re just putting in the work and he’s not shy about working. He’s a competitor, and he competes out there on the floor. Every player on the floor is going to make mistakes, that’s a part of the growth.”
Despite his passing clinic in the second half, McDaniel did make his fair share of mistakes. He produced a wayward dribble in the first half that strayed out of bounds. Likewise, a ridiculous floater somehow dropped in spite of his poor shot selection. And an inaccurate pass resulted in a turnover late in the second half. But those mistakes were limited.
Every game, McDaniel looks more and more comfortable reading a defense, and more and more effective exploiting them with his playmaking. McDaniel plays fast, and if he maintains control of the wheel, opposing defenses are going to struggle to keep up.