In hindsight, we probably should have seen this coming.
Michigan, a team full of kids that have spent their entire careers being drilled by the likes of John Beilein and Luke Yaklich, a team that has a senior stud at the point and a senior stud in the pivot, is now being coached by a man that has two NBA championship rings stemming from his time on the Miami Heat bench.
Like anyone that is 25 years removed from being on a college campus, there are legitimate questions about how Juwan Howard will adjust to the coaching in the college ranks in the longterm. In the collegiate ranks, a coach isn’t paid just to coach. He has to develop young men as people. He has to make sure that those young men that he brought to his campus make it to class on time and make grades that are good enough to keep them eligible. He has to recruit those young men to his campus in the first place. He has to be the CEO, the face of a team that spends as much time glad-handing with boosters and alumni as he does studying film.
We don’t know how well Juwan Howard can do those things because we’ve never seen him do them.
We do, however, know how well he can coach.
Which is why is probably should not be all that surprising that the Wolverines went out and won the Battle 4 Atlantis, the toughest tournament field in this year’s Feast Week.
Friday was the most impressive performance of the weekend, maybe from anyone. Jon Teske went for 19 points, 15 boards and four blocks. Zavier Simpson finished with 13 points and 13 assists and Isaiah Livers went for a game-high 21 points as the Wolverines steamrolled No. 8 Gonzaga, 82-64. This comes a day after Michigan used a 19-0 second half run to open up a 22-point lead on No. 6 North Carolina. In an event that featured four top 15 teams, it was unranked Michigan that made it out unscathed.
The win moved the Wolverines to 7-0 on the season. Their defense has been as suffocating as ever, which should be expected given their veteran anchors, but it’s been the other side of the ball that has been the difference. Entering Friday afternoon, the Wolverines were second nationally in effective field goal percentage and third in two-point field goal percentage while shooting 40.8 percent from three.
The reason this works is pretty simple, really: Zavier Simpson has proven to be one of the best ball-screen point guards in college basketball. He now has 68 assists in seen games, which isn’t bad, and when combined with the ability of the 7-foot Teske to pop and roll off of those screens, the Wolverines become near impossible to stop when they’re making threes. After hitting five on Friday, Livers is now shooting 51.2 percent from deep on nearly six attempts per game. Eli Brooks is shooting 50 percent on nearly five attempts per game. David DeJulius is shooting 47.9 percent. The only guy that has really struggled from beyond the arc is Franz Wagner, the 6-foot-9 freshman that just got cleared to play at the start of this event.
Good luck with that.
In a year where seemingly every top ten has major question marks, there’s a legitimate case to make that Michigan, despite losing their top three scorers and one of the best coaches in the history of college basketball, is the best team in the country.