The Michigan men’s basketball team wasn’t supposed to get its first major test until it went to Hawaii.
Last Saturday, though, North Florida stayed close with the Wolverines for most of the game. Monday, Central Michigan pushed them even further. Now, Michigan (2-0) isn’t in any position to take teams lightly. Thursday, Southern Mississippi (1-0) will be the next challenger.
The Golden Eagles struggled last season, finishing with a dismal 9-22 record and placing near the bottom of the Conference USA standings. This wasn’t abnormal for Southern Mississippi, which has won a combined 20 games in its three seasons under coach Doc Sadler.
Even still, the Golden Eagles provide some things that Michigan hasn’t seen to this point.
For one, they predominantly play man-to-man defense. The Ospreys and Chippewas both employed variations of a zone, and the Wolverines had mixed results. Thursday will be the first glimpse of how Michigan will fare against a more traditional defense.
Additionally, Southern Mississippi may possess the most talented player the Wolverines have faced thus far in guard Tyree Griffin. Griffin started 15 games for Oklahoma State in 2015-16 before transferring at the end of the season. After sitting out last year, Griffin is now the focal point of Sadler’s offense – he led the team with 21 points in their season opener.
Michigan coach John Beilein is friends with Sadler, so he’s familiar with his style of play. In fact, at his press conference Wednesday, Beilein was complimentary of his counterpart.
“(His teams have) always been … very much of a containing man-to-man, fundamentally-sound teams, play from the inside out,” Beilein said. “He’s done a great job at just getting players to play fundamentally sound and just win with strong, strong, man-to-man defense.”
For its own part, Michigan will be looking to do something it hasn’t done yet this season: blow out a lesser opponent.
The Wolverines’ game against North Florida did end up looking more lopsided than it was, as they got hot from three-point range and simply overpowered the Ospreys. Against Central Michigan, though, Michigan never truly found its groove offensively, and it only won by seven points.
Perhaps the Wolverines’ first look at a man-to-man defense will allow their superior talent to shine through, as they’ll face more one-on-one opportunities. There’s also a case to be made for Michigan simply not having gelled together yet. With so many new faces, that will simply take time.
After Southern Mississippi, though, the Wolverines are essentially out of time. Maui is five days away, and with it, the first Power 5 conference teams Michigan will face. If things aren’t figured for Beilein’s team by then, there’s a far better chance their perfect record will be soiled.