On Tuesday evening, Michigan tipped off in a key non-conference battle against a Texas squad looking to rebound after a rough first few weeks. It was an opportunity to add a respectable win to the resume and prepare for a challenging road trip to UCLA.
Michigan got off to a fast start and led by as many as 10 during the first half, but things faded for the Wolverines due to some major offensive struggles. Texas made a serious push for the win in the closing minutes, but Michigan ultimately got enough from its frontcourt to come out with a 53-50 win over the Longhorns.
Let's see what we learned from the game.
What We Learned
1. Michigan’s Defense Is Good Enough To Win Games.
The common theme for Michigan this season has been improved play on the defensive end. Although everyone can agree that the Wolverines have taken considerable steps forward on that end, there was a lot of uncertainty about how much improvement the team had made from last season’s struggles.
And most importantly, could it lead to wins?
Well, Michigan fans got their answer on Tuesday night. Michigan’s offense spent much of the night in neutral, but the defense continued to make plays all night. Whether it was DJ Wilson creating turnovers, Moritz Wagner moving well on pick-and-rolls, or Zak Irvin playing some quality on-ball defense, it was a great all around effort.
It’s unclear whether this defensive improvement will be enough to put Michigan in position to beat elite teams (like UCLA this weekend), but it’s kept the team in every game so far this season, even when the offense has gone belly up.
2. Moritz Wagner Is A Star In The Making.
During the preseason, I consistently referred to Moritz Wagner as Michigan’s x-factor. Perhaps a bit of that was hyperbole, but I have always thought that this season was going to depend on Wagner’s production. If he had a good year, Michigan would have a good one and if he struggled, Michigan would have trouble yet again.
Well, so far, so good.
There’s no debating that Wagner has seen some ups and down this season, but he’s really starting to turn the corner. He was outstanding on the defensive end and finished with an impressive 15 points, five rebounds, and two assists on the night. Shaka Smart called him “the best player on the floor” on Tuesday and he wasn’t wrong.
3. Michigan’s Bench Will Be Key In The Coming Weeks.
Another one of the offseason narratives about Michigan’s team this season was that the bench would take a significant step forward. With key returners like Mark Donnal, Duncan Robinson, and DJ Wilson and four incoming freshmen, it seemed like a safe bet that Michigan’s bench would be deeper and much better than last season.
But it’s been a mixed bag so far.
Although some of Michigan’s bench options like Donnal and Robinson have seen serious time, Michigan’s freshmen have been a bit of a concern. On Tuesday, Michigan’s freshmen saw a combined three minutes, which led to three starters (Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton, DJ Wilson) having to play 36 minutes or more.
Bench contributions can be overrated, but if Michigan is going to survive its brutal schedule stretches in Big Ten play, it will need to see more from its bench.
Texas might not be the opponent that some thought it would be before the season, but it’s still a decent group with a fantastic coach. Although Michigan had to battle, it came away with a nice win that should help boost the team’s resume.