The Michigan basketball team made a statement with a 73-46 win over defending national champion Villanova on Wednesday night.
This weekend, the Wolverines will continue their northeast tour with a pair of games in Connecticut for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament.
Michigan will play George Washington on Saturday (noon, ESPN3) before playing either Providence or South Carolina on Sunday, and the Wolverines should be favored to win the tournament.
Here are three things to watch for this weekend.
Developing another option on offense
Michigan’s offense has been cut and dry thus far.
The Wolverines haven’t shot the ball from outside, averaging 22.6 percent on 3-pointers as a team. But Michigan’s been very aggressive at getting to the basket, led by freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis and redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews, who are tied for the team lead with 16.3 points per game.
The next leading scorer is sophomore forward Isaiah Livers at 8 points per game. Meanwhile, junior center Jon Teske, sophomore guard Eli Brooks, junior point guard Zavier Simpson and sophomore guard Jordan Poole all average between 6 and 4.3 points per game.
Will someone else emerge as a consistent third option? Or will Michigan continue to rely heavily on the output of Brazdeikis and Matthews?
After trailing early against Holy Cross in the second game of the season, Michigan switched to a lineup that featured Livers as a small-ball center. That lineup shut down the Crusaders.
Flash forward to Wednesday, when Beilein went back to playing small by using Livers at center for the final 10 minutes of the first half against Villanova.
With Livers at center, the Wolverines went on a 27-9 run.
Michigan appears to have developed two very good defensive options at center. Teske is averaging 3.3 blocks per game, and is the more conventional center in terms of height and play style.
Most teams go small at center when they need a player who can switch ball screens on defense. After the Villanova game, Beilein asserted that Teske, despite his size, was able to do just that.
“Jon can really move his feet,” Beilein said Wednesday night, “and that was very obvious today.”
Will Michigan continue to give Livers extended minutes at center? He’s certainly earned them. But Teske is also playing very well. It’s early in the season, which means Beilein has plenty of time to figure out the rotation and which lineups he likes the best.
The freshmen not named Brazdeikis
Aside from Brazdeikis, who is averaging 26.7 minutes per game, the rest of Michigan’s highly-touted freshman class hasn’t played much.
David DeJulius, Colin Castleton, Brandon Johns and Adrian Nunez all average fewer than 3 minutes per game, and most of that playing time has come when the outcome has long been decided.
Michigan’s rotation currently goes seven-deep. By the end of last season, the Wolverines went with an eight-man rotation. There are minutes to be had, and these early-season non-conference games are opportunities for younger players to show that they belong in the rotation.
George Washington has been abysmal this year, and has struggled to score. That’s not a recipe for success against Michigan, which is allowing the second-fewest points per game in the nation. The Wolverines should roll past the Colonials.
Providence and South Carolina don’t appear to be juggernauts, either. Off paper, the Friars should beat the Gamecocks. But however that matchup goes, it’d be hard to pick either team to win over Michigan.
Michigan 68, George Washington 55
Michigan 70, Providence 58
Contact Orion Sang: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang.