It might be only two games into the season, but Michigan coach Juwan Howard has already learned a lot about his team.
Most of those lessons came Friday in a hard-fought win over neighboring school Eastern Michigan in a game that was played in front of a raucous atmosphere at Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena.
With that experience behind them, the 20th-ranked Wolverines will face another neutral-court challenge when they face Pittsburgh on Wednesday at the home of the Brooklyn Nets, Barclays Center in New York.
Against Eastern Michigan, the Wolverines had to withstand an inspired underdog that actually held the lead for most of the game and was still on top with five minutes to play.
However, thanks to 31 points from All-America candidate Hunter Dickinson, Michigan made the winning plays down the stretch to earn an 88-83 victory.
“Our guys did an amazing job of having mental stability when the runs were in Eastern Michigan’s favor,” Howard said. “When we were down, we could have easily folded to them. We didn’t.”
Dickinson will be a fixture for Michigan all season, but it will be the play of the team’s new guards that might determine how far the Wolverines will go.
Freshman Jett Howard had a terrific debut in the season opener against Purdue Fort Wayne when he scored 21 points, but he came back down to earth a bit against Eastern Michigan, scoring nine points and sinking just 2 of 8 shots.
Guard Jaelin Llewellyn, a transfer from Princeton, has had his shooting struggles, but he contributed big free throws and a layup in the final minutes against the Eagles.
Junior forward Terrance Williams II is glue player who gives the Wolverines a bit of everything, while sophomore guard Kobe Bufkin is expected to take a big leap this year after averaging just three points per game last season.
Howard said following the game in Detroit, “Yeah, I learned a lot. You can learn a lot just from a win instead of just a loss.”
The next challenge for Michigan is a Pittsburgh team that enters 1-1 following a season-opening, 80-58 win over visiting UT Martin and an 81-56 home loss to West Virginia.
The Panthers feature a guard-heavy lineup led by Nelly Cummings, Jamarius Burton, Nike Sibande and Greg Elliott.
Dior Johnson could be in the rotation as well at some point, but he is currently serving a suspension after being arrested and charged with aggravated assault last month.
The Panthers also have one of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s best frontcourt players, John Hugley IV, but he has missed the opening two contests due to a knee injury.
Pitt coach Jeff Capel said Hugley is likely to make his season debut against the Wolverines, though the 6-foot-9 junior will be watched closely in the leadup to the game.
Hugley could help the Panthers slow Dickinson.
“In order to play against a guy like (Dickinson), you need bodies because he’s a gigantic body,” Capel said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s very good — he’s skilled, physical and he’s proven it, so he’s established. He’s their best player so everything goes through him.
“For us, without John our whole frontcourt is inexperienced at the college level. They have two games, but they haven’t faced anything like this. So it gives us a guy that has some experience to go up against, but it’s certainly still an unbelievable challenge for us.”
–Field Level Media