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Michigan Wolverines

Michigan starts off Big Ten play by putting the conference on notice

Take a deep breath. After a frantic start to the season with three matchups against top-20 teams according to Kenpom, the Michigan Wolverines sit at 8-0 as one of the hottest teams in the country. Saturday’s dismantling of Purdue looked very similar to wins over Villanova and North Carolina, with the Maize and Blue dominating on both ends of the floor.

The reward is a bit of a relaxed schedule, with six very winnable games before a matchup with Indiana in the beginning of January. Of course, any loss before then would put a damper on everything accomplished to date, but there is nothing but good things to say about the season thus far.

The starting five is ridiculously good

This Michigan team had some big question marks after losing three of its biggest contributors from last season, but the current starting lineup has been beyond good to start the year. The Charles MatthewsIgnas BrazdeikisJordan Poole trio is working perfectly, with at least two of them going off on any given night.

Against Purdue it was another great outing for Poole, who was a sizzling 5-for-5 from deep. His three-point accuracy now sits at 48.6 percent and the sophomore looks like a classic John Beilein guard.

Meanwhile, Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske have been excellent on defense, hounding opponents each and every possession. When these two are able to contribute on offense as well — such as the combined 27 points they posted against the Boilermakers — it makes Michigan essentially impossible to beat. Elite defense with five offensive contributors is a recipe for a special season.

The numbers are a fan

Admittedly, I like to throw around a lot of advanced metrics in these takeaways, but I think it is important to realize how good this team really is. For starters, eight games into the season, Michigan ranks as the best team in the country based on adjusted defensive efficiency. At 87.0, Kenpom estimates the Wolverines would allow just 0.87 points per possession to an average team; last year’s team ended with an adjusted defensive efficiency 90.5.

Correspondingly, Michigan is third-best in opposing effective field goal rate (38.8 percent), best in two-point defense (35.9 percent), and best in free-throw rate (19.1 percent of field goal attempts). The numbers should match the eye test: teams simply cannot score against the Wolverines.

The offense has been getting into the fun as well, now ranking 20th in adjusted offensive efficiency. Three-point shooting started out as a problem, but the team is up to 77th (37.2 percent) and is shooting 44.9 percent over the past five games. As always under Beilein, turnovers are rare, and the Wolverines are seventh-best in the country (13.7 percent of possessions).

Looking at the big picture

Add it all up and sites like Kenpom have Michigan as a top-five team. There are still plenty of games to be played, but with three impressive wins over legitimately good teams, there is enough evidence to declare the Wolverines a real threat. Every single win has been by more than 15 points. With this schedule, that feels surreal.

Beilein has always preached growth with his teams, but it is not clear how Michigan even goes up from here. The schedule does lighten up a bit over the next month, so it would be nice to see some of the freshmen get to see some extended playing time. But even if there is some heavy rotation, anything other than a double-digit win each time out will be (rightfully) seen as a disappointment.

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