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Michigan (Mostly) Survives Maui

NCAA Basketball: Maui Invitational-Michigan at LSU Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

With two minutes to go and Michigan down by three points against VCU, the Wolverines found themselves in serious danger of leaving Maui without a single Division I victory (damn you, Chaminade, and your nonsense Division II status). A long Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman 3-pointer, a Moritz Wagner and-one and a Wagner 3 gave the Wolverines the crucial 9-0 run before MAAR’s layup gave the Wolverines the victory (and the cover at -7).

Michigan should feel pretty good about a 2-1 record in Maui, and following an absolute dismantling of travel-weary UC Riverside, Michigan sits at 6-1 before its tilt against defending national champions North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels are coming off their own shellacking by in-state rival Michigan State, losing the final of the PK80 and scoring a measly 45 points. With that, let’s dive into Michigan’s accolades this week:

MVPs of the Week: Moritz Wagner and Charles Matthews

Matthews is just beginning to scratch the surface of how good he can actually be for Michigan this season. The redshirt sophomore was dominant again, averaging 19.5 points, seven rebounds and 5.5 assists in Michigan’s four games last week. The plays he’s able to make in transition, defensively and above the rim are simply things that Michigan hasn’t had in years. It’ll be a really fascinating test to see him match up against the McDonald’s All Americans on North Carolina on Wednesday, a great measuring stick for how good Matthews really is.

Wagner continues to add wrinkles to his game, mainly a concerted effort on defense and rebounding we didn’t see out of him the first two years in Ann Arbor. His averages of 16.8 points and 7.8 rebounds are nothing to scoff at either, and Wagner seems to have found his 3-point touch again after going 4-5 against UC Riverside. Wagner also should have an excellent reality check after Wednesday, especially playing a raucous and hostile environment.

Surprise of the Week: Jordan Poole and Jaaron Simmons

In seven games this season, Jordan Poole has played meaningful minutes in two of them. In those two, he’s averaging 10.5 points in 10 minutes per game, which averages out to an absurd Per-40 stat line of 42 points per 40 minutes. While it’s a small sample size against Chaminade and UC Riverside, it’s clear that Poole has major upside to his game. Will John Beilein roll the dice and let the freshman contribute more? I’d be shocked if he doesn’t at least see the floor for a few minutes in the first half against UNC and don’t be surprised if Poole comes in gunning- he’s attempted 15 shots in 24 total minutes this year.

While Poole has been a bit of a revelation, Simmons has simply put been a disaster. In the four games last week, Simmons had no points, three assists and five turnovers in 35 minutes of game action. Whatever funk Simmons is in, Beilein is intent on letting him play in every game this season until he figures it out. I suspect he will, but right now Michigan has a glaring hole at point guard until Simmons or one of the other members of the platoon steps up and wins the job.

Charles Matthews Highlight Play(s) of the Week:

While Michigan generally goes as its offense goes, they had two outstanding defensive performances against Chaminade and UC Riverside. Part of this is due to competition, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying Charles Matthews climbing the ladder and swatting this one back to Honolulu.

While there’s not one play that really stands out, this breakdown of his game against LSU shows that he’s ready to become the focal point of Michigan’s offense. He’s smooth from the elbow and in, can knock down the outside shot and is an excellent offensive rebounder. Michigan needs to continue to find Matthews in transition where he excels.

The Week Ahead

I’ve already mentioned Michigan’s daunting trip to UNC, where the Tar Heels have an insane non-conference home record. Michigan will have to play a near perfect game, and expect UNC to be extremely pissed off after getting their asses handed to them by a more physically imposing Michigan State team.

Michigan has two days off before a trip back to the friendly confines of Crisler Center await against an Indiana team that has looked dreadful at times this year. Yes, this is the same Indiana that recently lost to Indiana State on its home floor by 21 points. They have wins against Howard, South Florida, Arkansas State and Eastern Michigan, and they welcome Duke to Assembly Hall on Wednesday. That one could be ugly.

Overall, Michigan has a chance to gain two wins against marquee programs trending in the opposite direction. A win over UNC would be massive while a loss would be nothing to scoff at. A home win against Indiana would be nice while a loss could be potentially devastating on the resume.

Charles Matthews is bringing the nasty this week. Let’s hope the rest of the Wolverines follow suit.