On Friday evening, Michigan tipped off its season at home against Howard. While the game wasn’t necessarily all that noteworthy nationally, it was an opportunity for the home fans to get the first look at the Wolverines in regular season action.
Michigan got off to a sloppy start, but eventually pulled out a 76-58 win. Although the game was close for much of the first half, Michigan pulled away near halftime and maintained a double-digit lead for most of the second half.
With that, let's see what we learned from the game.
What We Learned
1. Michigan’s Defense Is Far More Active.
During John Beilein’s tenure in Ann Arbor, two things have been constant: Michigan’s offense has been elite and its defense has been anything but. It’s been an dynamic that has bitten Michigan in many big games over the last few years.
It’s too early to say whether Michigan will have a good defense this season, but the signs are there of some tangible improvement. For one thing, Michigan has shown more aggressiveness on the floor and is willing to foul opponents in transition or around the hoop. This is something that hasn’t been present in years past.
Along with that, Michigan has shown more activity on the perimeter and improved isolation defense. The guards are staying low, keeping their hands on the ball and closing out when opponents take their shots. We’ll see how this progresses, but it’s hard not to like what the team has shown so far.
2. Derrick Walton Has Returned To Form.
Over the last two seasons, no player might have been more disappointing for Michigan fans than Derrick Walton. While much of this disappointment has come as the result of bad luck and injuries, there’s no debating that Walton has been underwhelming since his freshman campaign.
But on Friday night, Walton again showed that spark that had fans so excited when he first joined the roster. He was attacking in transition, doing work from long range, and continuously found open teammates. Perhaps most importantly, he looked comfortable playing off the ball with newcomer Xavier Simpson in the backcourt.
Although Walton is still going to have to prove he can finish at the hoop, there are signs that this could be a special senior season for Walton.
3. DJ Wilson Remains An X-Factor.
With only one game in the books, it’s hard to tell where Michigan sits as a team and it’s even harder to tell if Howard was even a competent opponent on Friday night. However, given how the two teams performed last season, it’s pretty easy to speculate that Howard isn’t all that great. As such, a lot of people have trouble trying to extrapolate what these games mean for a season.
While it’s not a perfect system, one thing I like to do during the “filler” games is to see who catches my eye. Who is making an athletic play? Who is making the right pass at the right time? It’s hard to gauge a team’s quality in a filler game on a play-by-play basis, but certain moments do stand out.
And on Friday night, nobody showed more spark than Wilson.
During Michigan’s exhibition, I was pretty skeptical of whether Wilson’s improved play could translate to better teams. But some of that changed on Friday night. I’m still not convinced he can be a starter on a top-end Big Ten team, but I am starting to believe he can be a rotational player on a good team.
The reason for my newfound optimism on Wilson comes from his diverse play. He wasn’t a great scoring option, but he rebounded well, showed some nice sparks on the defensive side of the floor, and made a few excellent passes. There’s still room to grow, but expect the Wilson hype train to begin building soon.
There’s not a ton to take away from this game given the opponent, but if Michigan can continue its defensive improvement and see more from Walton and Wilson, this is a team that should be capable of returning to the NCAA Tournament this season.