Michigan has their first tough test on Wednesday, when they play Pittsburgh in the 2K Sports Classic in New York. After playing a soft early schedule at home, the Wolverines finally hit the road to face the Panthers.
Michigan has looked as good as their no. 5 ranking says they are, so far this year. They have blended an extremely talented group of freshmen with a strong returning core. Michigan’s pure talent alone has propelled them to blowout wins over lower level teams.
There has, however, been one flaw to the Wolverines’ game that more talented teams, like Pitt, can expose. First, the offense has looked stagnant at times. The ball movement has been slow, and often has not produced good shot opportunities by the end of the shot clock. This has led to players like Glenn Robinson III, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke to have to create shots with a few seconds left on the shot clock. They are good enough to do it, often making highlight plays. However, that is not going to work against better teams. Pitt won’t let you get away with that, much less good Big Ten Teams.
This is likely due to two factors.
First, there are three freshmen playing big minutes, in Robinson, Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas. It takes time for them to fully adapt to a new offensive system and feel comfortable. They will get there, with more playing time. It takes a while to make a cohesive group and this should not be a worry as the season goes on.
The bigger likely factor is the loss of Zach Novak and Stu Douglass. Both of these players were big parts of the offense for the last four years. Douglass brought a steady hand at point guard, making smart passes and timely three pointers. Novak had the ability to get his own shot if the offense was not working, often hitting tough corner threes. John Beilein’s offense is built around getting open three point shots and backdoor cuts for layups. Novak excelled at both of those. Whenever you lose two key seniors, it is going to hurt, that is the case with Michigan.
The fact that Michigan has more players geared to play inside and attack the paint, rather that three point shooters is also noteworthy. The days of having four guys standing on the three point line, ready to jack up shots looks to be over. They are more athletic and better suited to drive the ball.
Again, it is very early in the season and Michigan is averaging nearly 90 points a game, so far. This is not a huge issue and is likely to go away anyways. However, the lack of offensive ball movement is something to keep an eye on against Pitt.