It had been 262 days since the Michigan men’s basketball team had last played a game. You wouldn’t have been able to tell though — at least offensively.
Despite a new look rotation that didn’t include veterans Zavier Simpson or Jon Teske for the first time since November 11, 2016, the Wolverines (1-0) handled their business in Saturday’s season opener beating Bowling Green (0-1), 96-82.
In the first half, Michigan was able to move the ball with ease. Simpson’s replacement, graduate transfer from Columbia, Mike Smith, had no problem operating the Wolverines’ high-ball screen offense. The Ivy League’s leading scorer a season ago showed the breadth of his offensive repertoire with 16 points and eight assists.
“Mike was big for us,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “Mike’s gonna have the ball in his hands a lot and he’s gonna have opportunities to make plays for himself and for others. Like I stated earlier, with his high basketball IQ, I trust he’s gonna make the right play to put us in the best position.”
Senior wing Isaiah Livers, who returned to Ann Arbor despite some NBA interest this offseason, also contributed 13 first-half points on 5-of-9 shooting.
Crisp ball movement and the subsequent open looks allowed Michigan to stretch its lead to double digits multiple times in the first half. The Wolverines’ defensive lapses — especially on drives to the basket — let the Falcons hang around though. At the break, Michigan only had a seven-point cushion.
The Wolverines’ crop of freshmen provided a much-needed boost throughout the game. 7-foot-1 center Hunter Dickinson showed flashes of why he was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Maryland last season scoring 11 points and collecting eight rebounds. Although Howard opted to start fifth-year senior Austin Davis, Dickinson’s offensive skill set could prove too valuable to have on the bench going forward.
“He just looked comfortable out there man,” Howard said. “Back in the NBA, we called that a seasoned vet. A guy being a young rookie looked like he belonged, he’d been there before. … Hunter has that edge about him.”
Added Dickinson: “It was super fun. I was definitely a little nervous just because it was my first game out there as a college player. Right when you get in the game it goes away though. You get locked in. It’s just a basketball game and you’re out there with four other guys you’ve been playing with for months.”
Freshman forward Terrance Williams also looked active in relief of Livers and sophomore wing Franz Wagner.
The story of the second half, though, was the emergence of Wake Forest transfer Chaundee Brown, who knocked down five catch-and-shoot threes to keep the Wolverines just out of Bowling Green’s reach. Brown shot just 46 percent from the field, and 33 percent from deep, as a junior but had big outings in the Demon Deacons’ wins over Duke and Xavier. Add his defensive ability as a 6-foot-5 guard to consistent 19-point performances offensively, and Michigan has a much higher ceiling.
“(I’ve) been in the gym all summer, just working on my shot,” Brown said. “I knew the offense that coach Howard ran and Michigan ran, I knew I had to be able to shoot the ball way better than I shot it last year.”
Ultimately, despite their woes with help defense and perimeter closeouts, the Wolverines’ offense was too much for the Falcons to overcome. Led by Brown and Livers, Michigan finished with five players in double digits and nine on the scoresheet.
The Wolverines will face much tougher defenses than the likes of Bowling Green in Big Ten play, but Howard couldn’t have asked for a better offensive performance in the team’s first test without Simpson and Teske.