By: Jared Greenspan
Struggles for DeJulius
No Michigan player received more preseason hype than David DeJulius, the sophomore guard. Juwan Howard consistently praised DeJulius for his offseason work ethic and re-tooled jump shot. After playing only 95 minutes as a freshman, DeJulius suddenly emerged as one of the team’s most potent offensive weapons -- he dropped 21 on 7-8 from distance in a scrimmage against Detroit Mercy, and shined again in the inter-squad game. Friday night, however, offered a blunt reality-check for the DeJulius hype. Coming off the bench, he managed just 5 points and struggled shooting, going 2-9 from the field and 0-4 from three. While only a small sample size, the poor play was not an encouraging sign, especially since Michigan will rely on DeJulius to provide scoring and strong guard play while Franz Wagner recovers from his wrist injury.
Adjustments at the Four
One of the more intriguing lineup combinations that Juwan Howard experimented with involved playing both Jon Teske and Colin Castleton on the court at the same time. Such a lineup requires Castleton to show off his versatility as a forward, stretching to the perimeter to open up the floor with Teske down in the heart of the paint. Castleton looked comfortable playing the four, not hesitant to take a jump shot and willing to spend long periods of time estranged from the paint. Much like Castleton, Brandon Johns Jr. also looked in his element on the perimeter, going 4-5 from the field and draining two three-pointers. Moving forward, pairing one of Castleton and Johns with Teske will likely become an integral part of the offense as a way to keep the forwards on the floor.
Zavier Simpson is still Zavier Simpson
To no one’s surprise, Zavier Simpson was in direct control of Michigan’s offense Friday night. On the court, Simpson registered 11 assists, including two highlight-reel lobs to Isaiah Livers. He engineered solid ball movement with crisp passes, looking in mid-season form. Shooting-wise, Simpson had his ups-and-downs -- 3-6 from the field, 1-3 from distance, 0-2 from the line. Such shooting woes, while improved from years past, have come to be the norm for Simpson. Meanwhile, as soon as Simpson checked out of the game, the Michigan offense looked like an entirely different unit. Such struggles allowed Saginaw Valley State to get back into the game, ultimately cutting the deficit to two points until Simpson re-entered and, unsurprisingly, the offense began humming again. Juwan Howard will have to find the right spots to rest Simpson during the season, as his presence is truly invaluable on the court.
A New Look Offense
Perhaps the most notable difference between John Beilein’s offense and Juwan Howard’s offense (one game in) is the pace of play. Under Beilein, Michigan often ran half-court sets and was reluctant to push the pace out in transition. Last night, the Wolverines, led by Simpson and Eli Brooks in particular, pushed the tempo to no ends, making for a frenetic and aggressive style of play. It wasn’t all pretty -- at times play grew sloppy and out of control -- yet growing pains are sure to be expected. As the season gets under way, it’ll be interesting to see how the fast-paced offense looks when the players feel totally in-sync with the new system. Of course, doing such in haste would work to Michigan’s advantage.
Strong Showing by Livers
Isaiah Livers was far and away the best player on the court last night, a welcoming sign for Michigan. With Ignas Brazdeikis, Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole all having left for the NBA, much of the scoring duties now fall on the shoulders of Livers. The junior from Kalamazoo looked ready to handle the role of leading-scorer in the exhibition, dropping 20 points in 25 minutes. He went 7-11 from the field and 4-8 from downtown, displaying a pure shooting stroke and an ability to make shots from all over the court. He also showcased his athleticism and ability to run the floor with two early transition dunks. As teams focus more of their attention on Livers and as the level of opponent increases, Livers will likely experience some growing pains as the lead guy, yet Friday’s performance certainly offers much optimism.