They're just getting started.
That's what I can't shake in the aftermath of the first signature win of the nascent Juwan Howard era. Michigan may look at times like a team getting used to a new coach, but it hasn't looked like that coach himself is new to this at all. After Creighton took a 41-38 lead into halftime against the Wolverines, Howard's squad adjusted on both ends, came out of the tunnel with renewed energy, and ran the Bluejays off the court.
Encouraging signs abound for both the short and long term. Isaiah Livers scored a career-high 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting, rising up for jumper after jumper, flying down the court for fast break lobs, and not sacrificing the parts of his game that made him a great role player—he hit the deck following his own miss to come up with the ball amidst three Creighton players to set up a critical Brandon Johns layup down the stretch.
I was proven very wrong about the three-guard lineups featuring Zavier Simpson, Eli Brooks, and David DeJulius, all of whom played well while often sharing the court. Simpson worked his way to the basket at will, scoring 17 and dishing out nine assists; he also shut down Bluejays star Ty-Shon Alexander for large portions of the second half. Brooks had four assists himself, playing his usual strong defense and holding the offense steady when Simpson sat with a third foul. DeJulius looked more comfortable in an off-ball role than before, scoring nine points and repeatedly using the threat of his outside shot to open a lane to the basket.
Isaiah Livers scored a career-high 22 points. [Campredon]
Both teams came out of the gates moving quickly, but against a Creighton squad that needed to run to generate good looks, Michigan found a way to choke the life out of their fast break. The Bluejays have traditionally pushed the pace above 70 possessions under Greg McDermott and created much of their scoring in transition; this was a 64-possession game in which Creighton was credited with four fast break points. By only committing 11 turnovers, picking their spots to run, and getting back on defense, the Wolverines were able to control the pace of play.
They were also able to dictate where the game was played on both ends. Dropping Jon Teske into the paint against pick-and-rolls forced Creighton into a lot of midrange jumpers; when they weren't following up their misses, which was a problem particularly in the first half, these possessions were usually empty. The Bluejays attempted 25 two-point shots away from the basket; they made six.
Teske also proved critical in taking over the game on offense. He scored 12 of his 17 points in the second half by using a variety of ways to finish off the pick-and-roll—posting up after the initial action, bulling his way to the hoop, or even hitting a soft runner off the short roll. When he was done doing his offensive rampage, Creighton was cooked.
Not everything was perfect, of course; it's still the second game of the season. Adrien Nunez again struggled on defense after getting the start. Foul trouble wasn't the issue this time; he played just 11 minutes because he couldn't stay in front of his man. Colin Castleton and Brandon Johns had quiet games despite working with major size advantages. A Creighton squad working with one true big man won the offensive rebounding battle 18-4.
Those are fixable issues, however. Meanwhile, Michigan is getting everything they'd hoped for and then some from guys like Livers and Brooks, the squad is quickly establishing an identity as a tough defensive squad that can run, and Howard is pushing all the right buttons. We'll see how this win against a banged-up Creighton team holds up as a resumé-builder come March, but we don't need to wait nearly that long to feel great about it. This is exactly what you'd hope to see from a team under a first-year head coach.
[Hit THE JUMP for the box score.]