UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Even after Wednesday’s domination of Villanova, this weekend wasn’t supposed to be this easy.
As George Washington pulled within single digits in the first half on Saturday, you could feel the energy of a letdown game setting in. As Providence pulled within a point late in the first half on Sunday with a 3-pointer, leading to a John Beilein timeout, you could feel Michigan strapping in for a game that wuold go down to the wire.
Neither of those things happened. The Wolverines slammed the door on the Colonials, smacking them like a top-10 team should smack a mid-major that hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2014. And by the time the first half ended Sunday, their lead on the Friars was back up to 13, Providence’s best shot having come and gone.
Michigan won both games, by 23 and 19 points, respectively — and neither of them were in doubt in the second half. Nor was Wednesday’s game at Villanova, which dispatched of the Wolverines in the national title game at the end of last season.
It will come as a surprise to nobody that Michigan’s defense was stalwart across those games. But that wasn’t what made the Wolverines so terrifying. It was the offense, which looks as good as it has since Derrick Walton Jr. was manning the point.
After two dull, listless offensive performances, against two mid-majors at home to open the season, Michigan looked like a team that would have no choice but to win each game by bludgeoning its opponent to death. There was no shooting, no spacing, and the Wolverines stared at zone defenses like a kid who didn’t know the answer on a test.
Then — against far better teams, away from Ann Arbor — all of that turned on its head. Michigan played with energy. Jordan Poole shot the ball like he’s capable of doing. Ignas Brazdeikis — one of few bright spots in those first two games — has kept up the pace. Jon Teske hit his first career 3-pointer on Sunday, on top of a career-high 17 points. The Wolverines can go small, with Isaiah Livers at the ‘5.’ They can go big, with Brazdeikis at the ‘2.’
“Whether it’s zone, whether it’s man, we’re just sort of learning to make the next right play, hit the open man,” Beilein said. “And that’s difficult. … And now Jon and Iggy — Jon didn’t score last night. That’s the way our best teams have been built. Trey Burke has it one night, Tim Hardaway has it the next night, Glenn Robinson has it the next night.”
This team, in short, can score — and do so in different ways, from different sources. And that should terrify the rest of college basketball.
Michigan already has the top-ranked defense in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency. Add some offense to that, and there’s no ceiling on what it can do.
It’s three games, and as Beilein pointed out on Wednesday, it’s November. The Wildcats lost to Furman on Saturday. We don’t know how good anybobdy is right now. Take these games with a grain of salt, if you so please.
Still, John Beilein-coached teams don’t have a history of getting worse as the season goes. They have a history of getting better, last season being case-in-point, and the Wolverines look pretty good right now.
Sustaining that momentum for four months, throughout the marathon that is a college basketball season, won’t be easy. Nor will sustaining it through next week, when North Carolina comes to town.
But the past five days showed us Michigan’s ceiling. And after seeing that, any notions of another March run feel a lot less whimsical.