Michigan is now 7-0 under Juwan Howard after running the table in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. Michigan's three wins were by a combined 44 points and came against a good Iowa State team and two top ten squads in North Carolina and Gonzaga. Howard has his boys playing inspired basketball and look to be in for a much better season than most expected. Here's what I noticed...
1. Jon Teske is a major piece of Michigan's success
Teske grew a lot under John Beilein, but it's gone up another level in his final season at Michigan under Juwan Howard. Maybe it's Howard's way at practice, opponent specific game plans or overall approach with Teske as a former big man himself. Whatever it is, it has the 7-footer playing his best basketball. Teske has always been a game changer on the defensive end of the floor but he's much more a part of the offense now. The team routinely runs sets specifically for Teske and he's been able to take several power dribbles while backing smaller guys down in order shoot baby hooks at a high success rate. Against Gonzaga, who has a few skilled big men of their own, Teske scored 19 and grabbed 15 boards in 31 minutes. If he stays out of foul trouble he's going to be a problem for a lot of teams this year.
2. This team oozes confidence
If Michigan was confident before the tournament after blowing out inferior teams, imagine how they're feeling now after beating Iowa State, North Carolina and Gonzaga — three tournament teams. You can see it when they play, in between runs during time outs, as they help one another on both ends of the floor and, maybe most noteworthy, after wins with their head coach. This team is stacking up quality wins and, in my opinion, with a lot of room to improve still. Howard and his coaching staff are basketball lifers so you know they feel it. That kind of confidence resonates with the players and it usually shows up on the court. It's all working for Michigan right now.
3. Michigan is extremely deep
Howard appears to be very comfortable playing 10 guys depending on the situation. He actually played 11 players against Gonzaga, giving freshman Cole Bajema a few minutes late in the game, but that likely won't happen in contested games.
The starting five, with Franz Wagner now in the lineup, is going to play a lot of minutes but sophomores David DeJulius and Colin Castleton are also going to play during some key stretches. Throw in spot duty for sophomores Adrian Nunez and Brandon Johns Jr., along with an appearance by Austin Davis here and there, and you have 10 guys that Howard seems to trust.
Nunez and Davis might not play many minutes, but Nunez was starting earlier this year before Wagner was cleared, and Davis played some key minutes against Iowa State when Teske was in foul trouble and Castleton was struggling. Howard trusts his guys and they know it. That's extremely valuable.
4. Juwan Howard has weapons all over the floor
This is sort of a spin off of the previous point but it's important noting that the guys playing aren't just bodies. We all know that the starting five can score points, with juniors Eli Brooks and Isaiah Livers really taking a big leap this year, but it's the bench guys and role players that are also showing an ability to get buckets.
Sophomore David DeJulius looks like the attacking killer that routinely dropped 40 plus in high school. He's really hard to stay in front of and he's shown that he can drain threes from just about anywhere on the floor. He's also tough as nails and does a great job finishing at the rim for being just 6-0. Sophomore Colin Castleton has also shown flashes of being a weapon. He's still thin, and therefore a little timid, but he's extremely skilled and looks comfortable with the ball in his hands. He'll have a few double-digit scoring outings this year and should continue to get a lot better. Nunez isn't going to play much moving forward but he can really shoot it at 6-6 and Johns Jr. is the springiest athletes on the roster at north of 6-8. He instantly comes in and provides a burst and energy that not many else can match.
The bottom line is that the starting five can all shoot threes and get their own shot. Behind them the bench guys are coming in and getting buckets. It's an impressive group of 10 guys and really gives Howard a lot to work with.
5. There seems to be some special mojo surrounding the Wolverines
I don't know if it's the vibe surrounding a member of the Fab Five, the perfect trio of experienced leader types in Zavier Simpson, Isaiah Livers and Jon Teske or the flawless blend of an inexperienced head coach combined with a guy like Phil Martelli and a scheme that lends itself to talented players just hooping and having fun, but something special appears to be brewing for the Wolverines.
Michigan has some really good players, and Juwan Howard certainly knows basketball, but no one saw this coming. When a team loses guys like Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole and Iggy Brazdeikis, along with the best coach in school history in John Beilein, it's a guarantee that the program is going to take a step backwards. Except when it's not.
This team is fun to watch, talented and connected. It's still going to get a lot better as Howard continues to find his way as a coach and a player like Franz Wagner gets up to 100 percent and more comfortable and familiar with the scheme and his teammates. Look out Big Ten.
How impressive was Michigan's three-game run? How could can the Wolverines be this year? Comment below!!!