I’m still aboard with Duke, but, man, have you seen what Michigan is doing lately? The Wolverines, who are ranked fifth, are tossing Top 25 opponents like the trash — No. 8 Villanova by 27, No. 11 North Carolina by 17, and No. 19 Purdue by 19.
When the Wolverines play against good competition, they look like the best team in the country.
It’s a month and a half before Michigan faces another team that’s currently ranked, and the way things are going I’d expect the Wolverines to be undefeated going into an 11 a.m. game at No. 12 Wisconsin on Jan. 19.
I used to dislike John Beilein’s teams because they played a zone defense that looked a little soft, and I thought that translated to a certain softness all around. But this group is nothing like Beilein’s early Michigan teams.
Michigan is the No. 1 defensive team in the country, if you go by points allowed (51.8). The next three are Virginia, Texas Tech and Nebraska. The Wolverines are scoring 72.7 points per game, which ranks 227th, and reflects an offense that doesn’t excel in any particular area, statistically speaking.
Michigan shoots 47 percent from the field, 37 percent from the 3-point line and 64 percent at the foul line, and gets nine offensive rebounds per game. None of those figures are in the top 100.
That is a concern, but I’m going to submit that Michigan is one of those teams that plays to the level of its competition. Against Norfolk State and Holy Cross? Eh, 55-60 points’ll do.
Villanova? Here comes 73 points and 51 percent from the floor.
North Carolina? You can get 11 3s and 57 percent shooting.
And then Purdue. Well, Purdue and its All-America guard can get another 13 3-pointers and slink back to where it came from.
The key to this whole thing is a moderately graceful and delightfully cocky Lithuanian swingman named Ignas “Iggy” Brazdeikis, who went to high school in Canada.
You can’t miss him.
A freshman, Brazdeikis had 18 at Villanova and 24 against North Carolina. He’s averaging 16.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, and he’s been held under 12 just once, by George Washington.
He gives the Wolverines size, versatility and just the kind of attitude you expect from a guy with that haircut.
Senior Charles Matthews (14.6 ppg) and sophomore Jordan Poole (11.5) are the only other Wolverines in double figures, but Michigan really revolves around 7-foot-1 junior Jon Teske, who anchors the nation’s best defense with 2.3 blocks per game and throws in eight points and six rebounds as a bonus.
Before the North Carolina game, Jay Bilas told the audience Michigan was the most underrated team in the country. Michigan proved him right, but I think he may have understated the case.
It’s a veteran team coming off a loss in the national championship game. It’s an elite defensive team, and the Wolverines seem to be able to get 80 whenever they really want to.
I’m not sure Michigan is better than Gonzaga, Kansas or Duke, but it’s right there.