Before the season started, some wondered whether Michigan would be able to generate enough offense — particularly with the loss of Moe Wagner — to emerge as the Big Ten’s best team.
Enter Ignas Brazdeikis. The No. 9 small forward and No. 40 overall player in the 247Sports Composite, Brazdeikis picked up some preseason mention as a player who was likely going to be among college basketball’s most impactful freshmen. And yet, who could have seen just how good Brazdeikis has been? He’s averaging 16.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game and is fresh off a 24-point effort in Michigan’s 84-67 thrashing of North Carolina.
Brazdeikis has been so lethal that ESPN’s Myron Medcalf called Brazdeikis “America’s MVP” when writing what he’s learned about the Big Ten so far this year.
“The Lithuanian-Canadian sensation could lead Michigan to the national title that eluded the program a year ago,” Medcalf wrote. “Somehow, John Beilein lost Mo Wagner, a first round pick by the Los Angeles Lakers who averaged 21.2 PPG and 10.3 RPG last year, and improved. OK, it’s a little early and the sample size is a bit small to suggest the Wolverines with Brazdeikis, the 6-foot-7 combo forward who scored 24 points in Michigan’s 84-67 win over North Carolina on Thursday, is definitively better than last year’s dominant group.
“But consider this from hooplens.com: Michigan has made 40 percent of its 3-pointers and 53.4 percent of its shots inside the arc while committing turnovers once every 10 trips up the floor and generating a 1.17 points-per-possession offensive rate with Brazdeikis on the floor,” Medcalf wrote. “With Brazdeikis on the bench, the Wolverines have made just 20 percent of their 3-pointers and nearly doubled their turnover percentage. Also, the team hovers around a ridiculous 0.70 PPP defensive efficiency with or without Brazdeikis.
“The Wolverines, right now, are the Cleveland Cavaliers with LeBron James when Brazdeikis is on the floor and the Cleveland Cavaliers post-LeBron James when he’s on the bench,” Medcalf wrote. “If Brazdeikis maintains this production and impact throughout the year, Beilein could cut down the nets in Minneapolis.”
Brazdeikis always figured to play a major role for this year’s Wolverines, and Beilein seemed the right coach to get the most out of another skilled post-sized player who could help space the floor and attack the gaps of a defense when he saw an opening. Multiple times against the Tar Heels, Brazdeikis used his strength to power into the lane and his skill to finish creatively at the rim. And the Tar Heels were just the latest victims to his game.
If Brazdeikis can continue to play at that kind of level and provide a second option next to Charles Matthews (or, for that matter, Matthews a second option next to Brazdeikis), Michigan should have enough offense to ride the nation’s best defense to postseason glory.