Mar 4, 2014; Champaign, IL, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Zak Irvin (21) and Michigan Wolverines guard Caris LeVert (23) during the second half against the Illinois Fighting Illini at State Farm Center. Michigan defeated Illinois 84-53. Mandatory Credit: Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan Finds Confidence in Italy

Michigan finished their pre-season exhibition tour in Italy on Friday. The Wolverines played and defeated four teams on their trip: Perugia Select Team, Vicenza All-Stars, Petrarca Padova, and Mantova Stings.

While in Italy Michigan has an opportunity to bond as a team. In addition to the extra practice and a chance to play in some real game scenarios, the Wolverines were also able to tour the sights including the Colosseum, Venice, the Vatican, an army garrison in Vicenza, and Lake Como. The teammate bonding comes at a good time, as Michigan adds six true freshmen to their roster this season.

The competition wasn’t particularly strong, and it’s hard to gauge how impressive these games have been. Michigan blew the doors off the gym against their first three opponents, outscoring them by a total of 143 points. The Mantova Stings, a D2 professional team in Italy, were the strongest team Michigan faced and they still managed to win comfortably 96-76, although the game remained close until the fourth quarter.

That doesn’t mean that there were no challenges for the Wolverines on this trip. The games were played using the FIBA three point line, which is further back than the NCAA line, and also with a 24 second shot clock. Michigan’s young squad adjusted to these changes well.

Despite the further line the Wolverines shot 40.4% from behind the arc in their four games. Six Wolverines shot at least 33% from behind the three point line. With only 9.3 turnovers per game and an effective field goal percentage of 61.7% they hardly seemed rushed by the shorter shot clock.

 

Jan 22, 2014; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Zak Irvin (21) shoots on Iowa Hawkeyes center Gabriel Olaseni (0) in the first half at Crisler Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Much of Michigan’s high shooting percentage can be attributed to sophomore wing Zak Irvin. Irvin shot 12-18 (66.7%) from three point range during the four exhibition games, including a blazing hot 9-10 start in the first two games.

Anybody who watched Michigan last season knew that Irvin could shoot the three, but he hadn’t had the opportunity to show off his game inside of the three point line during his freshman campaign. While in Italy Irvin made 30 attempts at two point field goals and hit 21 of them, good for 70%.

Irvin’s ability to create shots off the dribble and get to the rim will be vital to Michigan’s success in the upcoming season. Irvin will see a high usage rate next season, and while John Beilein’s high power offense utilizes a lot of spot up three point shooting the Wolverines will need strong dribble penetration to keep defenses honest.

Last season Michigan would turn to Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert to attack the rim when jump shots weren’t falling, and with Stauskas gone the responsibility will be handed down to Irvin and fellow sophomore Derrick Walton Jr.

Things will get more difficult for Irvin. Big Ten defenses are much tougher than the ones seen by the Wolverines in Italy. Still, converting at such a high rate in an exhibition setting is sure to build confidence for Irvin and the rest of the team. That confidence is much needed for a squad as young as Michigan.

Michigan did what they were supposed to do in Italy. They blew out four teams which were lacking in the raw talent that John Beilein’s team has. The competition doesn’t tell us much about how strong Michigan will be in the upcoming season, but the lack of hiccups should leave the Wolverines brimming with confidence.

Irvin will have more confidence in his ability to drive the lane, the freshmen will have more confidence in their shooting stroke and ability to play in coach Beilein’s system, and the coaching staff will have more confidence in their rotations. The Wolverines will be the youngest team in the conference this year, but Michigan fans should be optimistic. The way the team handled their business in Italy the Michigan Wolverines will be confident heading into next season.

Tags: Big Ten Basketball Michigan Zak Irvin

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