We’re just a couple weeks into the new college basketball season and already, there is plenty to digest from teams across the country.
Michigan (6-1) picked up a blowout win at home on Sunday against UC-Riverside after going 2-1 in the Maui Invitational prior to Thanksgiving. Head coach John Beilein, like many in his position in college basketball, is still figuring out what sort of team he has to work with for the season.
And like him, we too have yet to full grasp the sort of team Beilein is fielding in Ann Arbor. However, there are some things we DO know for sure, things that will ultimately dictate how Michigan does this season.
CHARLES MATTHEWS CAN BALL
Charles Matthews can play, and he has established himself early on as one of if not the go-to man for Michigan.
The former Kentucky transfer through seven games for the Wolverines leads the team in scoring 16.7 points per game, averaging close to 31 minutes of action per contest. He’s started in all seven games for Michigan this season, after starting just three as a freshman for the Wildcats in 2015-16 (played in all 36 games for UK that year).
But it’s not just scoring, Matthews is doing a little bit of everything. His 4.1 assists per game also paces the team and he’s doing work on the glass as well, his 5.4 rebounds a game are second only to Moe Wagner on the team. Albeit a small sample size, some Michigan fans should seem flashes of former guard Derrick Walton Jr. when Matthews is on the floor.
Maybe it should not come as a complete surprise that Matthews is a solid player. The former 4-star recruit from Chicago was rated as a top-3 player in the state of Illinois and top-20 shooting guard from the Class of 2015. But as is the case for most Kentucky pledges, he could never quite get a stranglehold of regular playing time, and now Michigan is reaping the benefits of his decision to leave Lexington.
WHO’S RUNNING THE POINT?
Obviously one big question on the roster heading into this season for John Beilein was “who was going to replace Derrick Walton Jr. at the point guard position?”
To be honest, fully “replacing” DWJ is virtually impossible. Still, the point guard spot on the floor is probably the most important position in basketball, as it starts and ends with them on both ends.
Michigan has a clear core of four players that Beilein rolls out every night to start — Matthews, Wagner, Duncan Robinson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. At point though? Well it’s been a bit of a revolving door.
Sophomore Zavier Simpson, freshman Eli Brooks and Ohio grad transfer Jaaron Simmons are the team’s clear choices at the No. 1 spot on the floor for Beilein. All three have played in seven games and here’s how the numbers shake out early on.
|Z. SIMPSON||E. BROOKS||J. SIMMONS|
**Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference
Simpson likely should have the edge due to his playing time last year. He had the privilege of playing behind Walton last season for Michigan. This year, he’s seen his playing time more than double through just seven games.
It’s understandable for a guy in Beilein’s position with multiple point guards that are (probably) capable of the everyday job, hence why the playing time is pretty balanced out early on. But come later into the season when point guard play is of the utmost important, teams hoping to play meaningful games down the stretch need “a guy” to lean on and for now, it appears that Simpson can and perhaps should be “that guy.”
WING MAN FOR WAGNER
What really made Michigan an extra dangerous team last season was when Beilein had the luxury of playing not one, but two athletic seven-footers all over the floor that can do anything, in Moe Wagner and D.J. Wilson.
The latter has moved onto the NBA and the former opted to stick around and continue developing into an NBA-caliber player. Wagner has performed very nicely to start the season, but Beilein & Co. could and maybe should consider utilizing more lineups with multiple big men out there.
A lot of opposing defenses last season frequently struggled trying to defend both Wagner and Wilson. Even though the overall game plan for Michigan in recent years has been living and dying by the three, the option to play multiple big men created more opportunities for each other, as well as their teammates.
Michigan doesn’t really have that “other” big man to go with Wagner, at least not yet. Beilein does have multiple such players that he’s utilized at times early on, namely sophomore Jon Teske.
The 7-foot-1 Teske has seen a considerable uptick in playing time and production from a season ago and gives Beilein an option to clean up all the messes down low on missed attempts from beyond the arc. Feeding Teske down low can also help set up open shooters on the outside, which has been a staple of Beilein-led teams for years.
Obviously the struggle here is finding more time to play Teske and an noticeable difference is that he’s not a guy that can, nor should he, step out and knock down threes. But if his presence on the floor allows for more open looks for other Michigan players, then it could be a recipe for success.
Michigan next plays on Wednesday, November 29 on the road against defending champion North Carolina as part of the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge (7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN).