Even with their trip to Italy this summer, the process of figuring out how all of the pieces will fit offensively is one that will take No. 24 Michigan some time to figure out. And that was the case Thursday night against Detroit, as the Wolverines shot just 34.5% from the field in the first half and trailed the Titans 28-27 at the intermission.
Michigan would turn things around in the second half, going on a 16-1 run in a game they would eventually win by the final score of 71-62. Two things stood out during game’s final 20 minutes: the many ways in which junior guard Caris LeVert can impact a game, and the Wolverines finally clamping down defensively.
LeVert finished the game with 21 points, nine rebounds and three assists, with 17 of his points coming in the second half. And in the game-changing run that turned a 52-all tie into a 68-53 lead, LeVert factored into the first six points of the run. From there, fellow returnees Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin and Spike Albrecht made plays to help the Wolverines put away Detroit.
It’s been said many times over that the junior guard will have to lead the way for Michigan, and while John Beilein has other perimeter players with experience it’s LeVert who’s most capable of affecting games in multiple ways. And with Michigan’s lack of depth and experience in the front court, that also means that LeVert will have to do more defensively and on the boards (he’s led Michigan in rebounds in two of their first three games).
As for the defense, after struggling to slow down Juwan Howard Jr. (24 points) for much of the game the Wolverines held him scoreless over the final 5:39. As the newcomers get acclimated to Beilein’s offensive system it will be the veterans and their ability to get stops that Michigan will need to rely on. It took some time for that scenario to play out Thursday night, but once it did the Wolverines were able to take care of Detroit.
Like every team in the country Michigan has plenty to work on, with Irvin’s need to become more comfortable making plays off the dribble being one of those areas that stood out Thursday. The good news for Michigan is that they’ve got LeVert, and his all-around game is something they can rely on as the other pieces fall in place.