With three games against teams currently ranked in the AP Top 10, including an 18-point victory over No. 1 Gonzaga, and eight matchups against KenPom top 50 teams already on its resume this season, No. 11 Michigan is as battle tested as any team in the country.
The Wolverines possess considerably less experience in the not-so-big games. Prior to its 86-44 win over Presbyterian, the 336th-best team in the country according to KenPom advanced statistics, Michigan had not faced a team outside of the top 100 since Nov. 22, and only three such teams on the season.
Getting a team up or these less-strenuous contests is a different kind of challenge for a head coach, but a challenge none-the-less—especially on the heels of a gut-wrenching one-point loss to No. 6 Oregon a week earlier.
“My job is to remind them what we’re playing for, what our goals are and what habits were trying to build,” Michigan head coach Juwan Howard said about making sure his squad did not look past the Blue Hose. “We’ve worked on Monday and Tuesday, seeing how we can improve on our championship habits, continue to keep improving on some areas where we can get better as a team.”
“We talk about defensively, how we can improve. Having the next shot mentality. Competing hard from start to finish and not letting mistakes become compound mistakes. Fighting through adversity.”
There wasn’t much in way of of adversity for the U-M to overcome against PC, but there were observations on ‘championships habits’ that could be made in a game that was essentially over before the second media timeout.
Defensively, Michigan limited Presbyterian to just 28.3% shooting from the field, a season-low by a Maize and Blue opponent. Howard’s squad also blocked six shots and stockpiled seven steals.
The Wolverines started fast, building a 17-4 lead heading into the second media timeout, and finished strong, outscoring the Blue Hose 48-29 in the second half. They never trailed and the lowest probability for a U-M victory was 99.2% when the score was tied 0-0, according to KenPom.
After turning the ball over twice in the first two minutes, both by senior point guard Zavier Simpson, Michigan regrouped and committed 10 turnovers in total—the third-lowest number of turnovers it's committed in a game this season and 2.3 below its season average.
It was a rare opportunity for Howard and his squad to work on the correction of bad habits and the continued growth of good habits against an over-matched opponent. One area of concern that seemed to persist against Presbyterian, however, was the Wolverines struggles on the offensive glass. The Blue Hose grabbed 13 offensive rebounds to U-M’s 12, the seventh time the Maize and Blue have been out-rebounded on the offensive glass in it's last eight games.
Here is a look at a few other quotes from Coach Howard’s press conference prior to his team’s matchup with the Blue Hose, and how they translated onto the court.
On how he would assess senior point guard Zavier Simpson’ offensive performance this season:
“He’s been great on offense. Zavier’s one of my best players, he’s our leader. Offensively, I want him to be aggressive. He’s in the gym working every day on his game, on shooting the ball, free-throws, finishing at the basket, making the right decisions on pick-and-rolls. Unfortunately, he has a coach that has put him in bad situations and has messed up his assist to turnover ratio with a new system that he has to learn and pick up—which he has embraced.
“I have to do a better job of putting him in better situations where he can not have those turnovers that have happened this year. It will come. It’s a part of the growing and figuring it out. He’s a smart enough player where he will.”
It’s not only a new system that Simpson is adjusting to, but also an increased responsibility in the offensive that extends beyond facilitating others.
Simpson logged a team-high 24.0 Percentage of Possessions Used (%Poss) against Presbyterian, and has paced the Wolverines in the metric five times. On the season, he has team-best 25.3%Poss, which is six percentage points higher than his 19.3%Poss as a junior. He has never finished better than fourth on the squad in the metric in his collegiate career.
With increased usage has come and increased reliance on the senior, with his offensive efficiency numbers being closely tied to U-M’s overall success on the court. He recorded a 131.0 Offensive Efficiency Rating (ORtg), 62.5 Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%), assisted on nine baskets and hit his only three-point attempt against the Blue Hose, numbers that are fairly typical for him in Maize and Blue victories this year.
Michigan is 8-0 when Simpson boasts an ORtg of 100.0 or more, and 1-3 when he does not. The Wolverines are 7-0 when his eFG% is above 50.0, and 2-3 when it is sub-50.0. U-M has not lost a game in which the senior makes at least one three-pointer, but is 2-3 in contests where he is shut out from beyond the arc.
One of the negative effects of this increased usage and encouraged aggressiveness has been elevated turnover numbers that have lingered. Simpson committed four turnovers against PC, the fourth time in five games that he has turned the ball over at least four times and the seventh time this season. While his 25.4 Turnover Rate (TORate) ranks 86th out of 90 qualified Big Ten players, there has not been a strong correlation between Simpson’s ball security issues and Michigan’s odds of victory. He is averaging 3.0 turnovers in losses this season, and 3.8 per game in wins.
On what he saw watching film on Presbyterian, and how it would influence Michigan’ game plan:
“I’ve seen a team that can shoot the ball from the outside. Especially from three, they play with a lot of fight and intensity.
“It's a very competitive group so we have to be ready to match their energy especially an afternoon game where we can come in here sleepwalking. We have to come in here ready to compete start to finish.”
Presbyterian didn’t come into its contest against Michigan on a hot-streak from three by any means, ranking 307th in the country in hitting just 28.6% of three-point attempts on the season. The Blue Hens also haven’t been particularly competitive in many games this season, with seven losses by double-digits and five by at least 20. The better team still has to show up, though, no matter how overmatched its opponent.
The Wolverines started fast and sustained their energy wire to wire, yielding just 15 first half points and relentlessly extending its 19-point halftime lead into a 42-point victory. U-M out-rebounded Presbyterian 44-30, blocked six shots and stole seven passes—all statistics that can be directly influenced by the level of energy a team brings to the court on a given night.
Aside from a sluggish opening 10 minutes against Elon earlier in the season, Michigan has looked attentive and prepared in the three times it has played against teams ranked in the bottom third of the country by KenPom. In these three contests, the Wolverines are averaging 89.0 points per game and a 35.0 point victory margin.
Were you able to take anything away from Michigan's win over Presbyterian, or was it simply an easy win over a bad team? Comment below!!!