Sure it is an improbable rise, going from an unranked program one week to a consensus Top 5 program the following week. However, if you look at the overall body of work, this rise is more about miscasting this Michigan team to start the year as they only received 1 AP preseason vote for ranking.
That is no surprise, AP voters do not like the unknown, and Juwan Howard was unknown. Not to mention, Michigan lost a lot of the 2018-19 team, including their top 3 scorers (both Ignas Brazdeikis and Jordan Poole were drafted) as well as their coach to the Cleveland Cavs. This showed Michigan returning only four players who averaged over 5 minutes per game and no one who averaged over 10 points per game. With no Top 100 players coming in with recruiting, to say there were questions about this team would be an understatement.
Well, a lot of those questions have been answered already. They have raced out to start the season 7-0 with an average win margin of 15.9 points, including 3 of the 7 wins coming over Power 7 programs, which include a 9 point victory over then #6 UNC and an 18 point win over then #8 Gonzaga. The depth has been impressive to this point as well. Through 7 games, with 5 players averaging 9 or more points, Michigan has had 14 players to score a basket in a game, with 7 players having scored in double figures for a game, and 3 players scoring over 20 in a game.
How has Michigan found this type of success? Well, it looks like its a mix and match type of system with a roster filled with guys buying in. It is no secret that Beilein liked skilled guys who could pass and shoot for the most part. Within what he did he would use constant cutting and movement to create lanes to penetrate. Juwan Howard has brought in a more pro-style offense, which is heavy with ball screens and pick and rolls. In merging Beilein’s personnel with Howard’s system, it has almost been seamless. Why so easy, because of Zavier Simpson and his ability to read the pick and roll so well.
Known as a noted ball hawk, Simpson’s ability to deliver pinpoint passes this year has been the real catalyst to what this team is doing offensively. Simpson is averaging 9.7 assists per game, while the team is shooting 42.5% from 3, as a whole. There have been 4 players on this roster who have started all 7 games of the year, Isaiah Livers, John Teske, Eli Brooks, and Zavier Simpson, Livers and Brooks are both shooting over 50% from 3 and Simpson is shooting 44%. In fact, Michigan is currently in the Top 10 in team 3P FG% and number 2 in overall team FG% nationally. Through their first 7 games, Michigan is averaging 82.4 points per game, which is up from last year’s 69.6.
As a team, you can go even deeper with Michigan’s offensive numbers, looking at the analytics, as they are scoring the ball at a highly efficient rate. They are a balanced scoring team as they are scoring 37.4% of their points from 3, 52% from 2 and 10.6% from the free throw line. They are currently Top 25 in offensive efficiency and Top 10 in assists per game
However, Michigan has held its opponent under 70 points scored in 5 of their 7 games played. 163 of the 353 D1 teams average over 70 points per game, so this is interesting in their ability to do so. This also should come as no surprise as Juwan Howard was the “Defensive Coordinator” for the Heat. Many times, in basketball it is not about your defense, but how you defend. What are you giving up and what are you limiting for your opposition. In this day of analytics, NBA teams are trying to shoot 3s offense, while they try to limit 3s on defense. Rim protection is also huge in the NBA right now.
Howard, like the pick and roll heavy offensive system, brought this same type of pro mentality to Ann Arbor with him on defense. Michigan is currently in the Top 5 in the country in opponents 3s given up per game and in the Top 25 in the country in blocks per game. Michigan is only allowing 66 points per game against them.
Looking at the raw numbers, Michigan is also Top 25 in point differential, if you score 82.4 points per game (Top 15 in the country) and give up only 66 points per game, you are going to win a lot of matchups. In the most recent AP poll, Michigan is now ranked #4. From unranked to #4, improbable, but not impossible …