New coach, new system.

There was always going to be a bit of a learning curve, and an injury to freshman guard Franz Wagner, heralded as one of the most exciting players coming to Ann Arbor this year, wasn’t going to help things. 

There were signs of that in the highs and lows exposed in the offense in last week’s season-opening victory over Appalachian State, a game the Wolverines led by 30 but only won by eight.

But the first half of Friday’s game against Elon was perhaps even more convincing evidence. Michigan trailed for much of the first quarter or so of the game. The Wolverines didn’t score until two minutes in, and didn’t lead until five minutes in, a lead they quickly gave up two short minutes later.

For much of the first half, the offense just was not functioning. What limited passing was going on was sloppy and often through traffic. No matter where on the court they were coming from, the shots were not falling. Michigan could not find a rhythm on the offensive end of the court.

“Every possession matters,” said Michigan coach Juwan Howard. “You could see that tonight. Every possession counts. We fought. From start to finish. The first half – it was a slugfest.”

Some of these offensive troubles were almost expected. The departures of Jordan Poole, Ignas Brazdeikis and, most importantly, John Beilein rocked this Michigan program, and the integration of a new system with new head coach Juwan Howard was always going to be a bit of a process.

But six weeks into practice, and with increasing in-game experience for this fairly young team, these are the issues that should be beginning to smooth out.

“It’s more ball movement – more player ball movement,” Howard said. “There were shots, open shots, that didn’t go down, but we have to have that next-play mentality. We can’t start making a compound mistake where we’re thinking about our offense, and the ball’s not going in.”

If these Wolverines are going to be the competitor they say they are, the contender they believe they are, at both the conference and national levels, a moment of truth, or at least a bigger test, a bigger challenge, is not that far down the road. After a challenging trip to Atlantis over Thanksgiving, Michigan will travel to No. 4 Louisville in a little more than two weeks to start off a demanding four-game stretch in which the Wolverines will face strong Iowa and Illinois squads and a very dangerous Oregon team – all in the span of a week.

Against Elon, those mistakes were affordable, if far from ideal. Against teams of the caliber Michigan will face this season – with the likes of Michigan State looking to dominate the Big Ten – they will not be. The conference schedule is not that far off, and with the field shaping up the way it is, Michigan does not have a lot of time to find some answers – and some rhythm – on offense. 

“It’s just, as we watch film, seeing ways we can be more aggressive,” said sophomore guard David DeJulius. “Not just for ourselves, but ways we can penetrate and get it to my teammates in places where they can do something, too.”

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