Orion Sang Detroit Free Press
Published 9:06 PM EDT Nov 2, 2018
College basketball is back in Ann Arbor.
Michigan played Northwood in an exhibition game Friday night and won handily, 90-58.
The result won’t count. And the Timberwolves are a Division II team. Still, it was our first glimpse at Michigan since a loss to Villanova in last year’s national title game.
Here are three takeaways as the Wolverines gear up for the regular-season opener against Norfolk State on Nov. 6.
Northwood struggled immensely to score against Michigan, which ranked No. 3 in adjusted defensive efficiency last season.
The Wolverines forced the Timberwolves into turning the ball over in a variety of ways. They used their physical advantage to block and contest shots, and finished with 10 steals and seven blocks.
How’d Michigan do it? Well, it looked a lot like the formula last year. Junior point guard Zavier Simpson finished with six steals. The big men hedged hard on ball screens, and the team didn’t get lost on rotations.
Sophomore guard Jordan Poole, known more for his offensive prowess, was active on defense early with a pair of steals in the first half.
Simpson in control on offense
Simpson entered last fall as the starting point guard. But he didn’t have a comfortable lead over his competitors, and sophomore Eli Brooks took over the reins at the Maui Invitational.
Simpson eventually wrestled the job back. Now, he’s slated to open the regular season as the unquestioned starting point guard — and the heart and soul of this team, along with redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews.
Simpson looked like he knew that Friday. He looked like a confident, comfortable player.
He had several impressive successful drives to the basket. He found teammates for easy baskets working off ball screens. There were a few slick wraparound passes.
Simpson spread the ball around, and finished with seven assists to five different teammates. It was a very efficient performance for him, as he added 11 points on 5-for-5 shooting.
Early look at rotation
The starting lineup featured Simpson, Poole, Matthews, Ignas Brazdeikis and Jon Teske.
That was as expected, although you could say Brazdeikis starting over sophomore Isaiah Livers was surprising and I wouldn’t disagree.
Still, Brazdeikis has been pushing hard and Livers did have an ankle injury this fall that limited him. Too early to call that position battle in favor of Brazdeikis, though. Livers rotated in often and played 20 minutes, the same amount as Brazdeikis.
Meet Ignas Brazdeikis: ‘There hasn’t been a Michigan player like me’
Other players who played before garbage time: redshirt sophomore center Austin Davis, sophomore combo guard Eli Brooks, freshman forward/center Brandon Johns and freshman guard David DeJulius.
Johns and DeJulius didn’t play much during Michigan’s exhibition tour in Spain this past August, and didn’t play in the second half of Friday’s exhibition until late, so those two appear to be on the fringe of the rotation.
Contact Orion Sang: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang.
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