On Tuesday, the Michigan Wolverines faced off against the Creighton Bluejays in the 2019 edition of the Gavitt Games. The matchup looked relatively even on paper as the teams sat just one spot apart on KenPom heading into the game. It would also be an interesting look at how the Wolverines would perform under Juwan Howard against a comparable foe.
Early on, Michigan used some hot shooting from players like Isaiah Livers to jump out to the lead. However, Creighton closed things up as Michigan’s defense struggled to slow down the Bluejays. Creighton led 41-38 at halftime. In the second half, Michigan once again got off to a hot start. And while Creighton was able to close things in at various segments, Michigan was able to escape with a 79-69 win.
So, what did we learn?
What We Learned:
1. Juwan Howard passed his first test.
I hate to keep reiterating this in Michigan game recaps, but it needs to be said. Despite what some want to say, hiring Juwan Howard was a massive risk for Michigan’s program. Warde Manuel and the administration opted to hire someone with no college coaching experience to take over one of the Big Ten’s better programs of the last decade.
Well, Tuesday night was Howard’s first real test on the job. A legitimate opponent at home in a game that Michigan could win if it played well. Unlike Michigan’s first game, this wasn’t a matchup against a clearly inferior opponent.
And so far, so good.
Michigan didn’t look perfect on Tuesday night and trailed at numerous times, but when the team got into the final minutes, it elevated its play and was able to walk away with a quality win. Creighton isn’t Michigan State or Kentucky, but the Bluejays are a solid team and the program has won a bunch of games recently. This is a win that Michigan and Howard can hang their hat on going forward.
There’s still a long way to go for Howard to deliver in Ann Arbor, but Tuesday was certainly a notable moment. Fans will hope things keep rolling going forward.
2. The defense is going to need some work.
While John Beilein has always been generally regarded as an offensive-minded coach, Michigan was actually a team led by its defense in his final years with the program. In fact, the Wolverines finished in the top three nationally in each of the last two seasons in defensive efficiency.
Unfortunately for Michigan, that’s not the kind of defense fans saw on Tuesday night.
Creighton is certainly a capable team offensively, but Michigan struggled to slow down the Bluejays. Michigan couldn’t get back in transition, struggled to close out on shooters consistently, and gave up some easy buckets off screens. It was far from a perfect performance for the Wolverines. At one point, Michigan even tried breaking out a zone defense in the hopes of slowing down Creighton. It didn’t offer much better results.
It’s still too early to panic about the Wolverines and the team has more than enough time to address some of its mistakes. However, Michigan’s going to need more on the defensive side of the floor than the team offered on Tuesday night going forward.
3. Zavier Simpson came to play on Tuesday night.
With the numerous departures for the Wolverines this offseason, nobody was quite sure how Michigan’s offense would function this season. After all, Michigan lost a ton of minutes and offensive production from guys like Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole.
But Tuesday night offered a glimpse of what could lie ahead for the Wolverines.
During the course of the evening, Zavier Simpson put together a heck of a game. He found open shooters all night and was able to drive around Creighton’s defenders on numerous occasions. All told, he finished with 17 points, nine assists, and three rebounds. It was arguably one of Simpson’s more impressive performances as a Wolverine. And considering how much Simpson has played the last few years, that’s an impressive statement.
And to put his performance into perspective, just look at what he did late in the game. With the shot clock winding down with about nine minutes remaining, Simpson caught the ball on the perimeter. He opted to drive the hoop and was able to finish around a Creighton defender. The bucket put Michigan up nine in a really competitive game. He just had that kind of evening on Tuesday night. It just seemed like he could do no wrong.
Whether Simpson can replicate this kind of production remains to be seen, but Tuesday was certainly an encouraging night for what the Wolverines could do going forward.
Though Tuesday night was just a single night in a long college basketball season, Michigan fans have to be excited about what they saw. Players like Simpson and Jon Teske put together impressive performances. And when all was said and done, Michigan was able to walk away with a win against a top 40 opponent.
Michigan will return to action on Friday at home against Elon. The Wolverines will hope to keep things rolling against an inferior opponent.