Colleges

JOE SULLIVAN | COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Michigan has come roaring out of the gate in college basketball

Michigan center Jon Teske (15) celebrates his basket in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Purdue at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
tony ding/AP
Michigan’s Jon Teske was pumped up in a recent win over Purdue.

Launching a few thoughts from beyond the arc while wondering if Michigan’s John Beilein is happy he didn’t take the job coaching the Pistons.

  Thinking nationally

It may be difficult to understand how it happened, but the data make it clear: Michigan is one of the best teams in the country.

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The undefeated Wolverines have been shockingly good.

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They are 8-0 and have won by an average of 21.3 points, including demolitions of Villanova (73-46), Providence (66-47), North Carolina (84-67), and Purdue (76-57).

There was no indication that this was going to happen, since the Wolverines lost two of their three double-figure scorers from last season’s national runner-up. The returnee is Charles Matthews, and he has increased his output by only 2 points per game.

There was no influx of talent, like a Duke/Kentucky recruiting class. The leading scorer is a freshman, 6-foot-7-inch Ignas Brazdeikis, but he was ranked as only the 40th-best player by 247sports.com.

Jordan Poole, a sophomore guard, has taken a step forward, as has junior point guard Zavier Simpson, but neither has become an All-American.

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The success has to be attributed to Beilein, who has been coaching for 41 years and was never an assistant. He has consistently won more games with less talent than just about any other coach.

He has this team playing great defense. The Wolverines are second in the country in field goal percentage defense (34.0) and first in scoring defense (51 ppg).

So they obviously defend well, plus they play well together and minimize turnovers.

Purdue coach Matt Painter was impressed.

“They have an unbelievable combination of having a variety of scorers all of whom also play well at the other end of the court,’’ he said. “They can beat you in the 90s. They can do it in the 60s.’’

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It’s not easy to see Buffalo on TV, but I was able to catch the Bulls playing in a tournament in Belfast, Northern Ireland, of all places.

This is a tremendous unit, with three key seniors in CJ Massinburg, Jeremy Harris, and Nick Perkins, all outstanding players. Plus, there are other good players surrounding them. The Bulls play tough defense and are unselfish on offense. They also showed a knack for making layups (not as easy as it sounds).

This will be a team to reckon with in March. They’ve already won at West Virginia and have important road games at Syracuse and Marquette coming up.

The tournament in Belfast was an eight-team affair but was divided into two four-team tournaments. Marist won the other one. Not surprisingly, Northern Ireland tourism was involved.

Radford is a low major to watch. The Highlanders upset Texas Friday night and beat Notre Dame earlier this season. They play in the Big South and have road games against Clemson and Maryland this month. They’re coached by Mike Jones, who was an assistant to Texas coach Shaka Smart at VCU.

Great to see the enthusiasm in the beautifully renovated building for the University of Houston as the Cougars beat Oregon, 65-61, Saturday. When Sully’s Court visited a few years ago, the Cougars were playing in a shabby, empty place. Totally different in 2018, and the Cougars will be a contender in the AAC.

Now they just have to start selling Phi Slama Jama T-shirts in the souvenir store. They didn’t have them when I was last there, and my old one has long worn out.

One side note: Houston has two UMass transfers, Brison Gresham (5 ppg coming off the bench) and DeJon Jarreau (who’s only played briefly in one game).

My love for Virginia Tech has been tempered by its weird behavior in a 63-62 loss at Penn State. The Hokies mucked up two possessions in the final seconds with the game hanging in the balance.

  Thinking locally

It’s all about the injuries.

Northeastern star guard Vasa Pusica will be out until conference plays begins Dec. 28 vs. Drexel. Defensive ace Shawn Occeus, who hasn’t played this season, might return this week.

Harvard’s star guards, Bryce Aiken and Seth Towns, still haven’t played this season (and the Crimson took a loss at Siena Saturday). Both are still scheduled to play this season but there’s no definitive return date.

Boston University guard Walter Whyte, who also hasn’t played this season because of a bone bruise, is getting closer. He might be ready by mid December.

 A previously unknown thought to me

Central Arkansas and Little Rock have a yearlong competition in 11 sports called the Governor’s I-40 Showdown. Central’s 78-65 victory in basketball last week was worth 4 points, and it holds an 18½ point-3½ point lead. Shows what a bad gambler I am; I would have taken Little Rock.

  Other thoughts

Murray State guard Ja Morant scored 38 in a loss at Alabama but drew some rave reviews.

From Alabama coach Avery Johnson, who compared Morant to NBA Hall of Famers Isiah Thomas and John Stockton, as well as Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook: “He’s a dynamic player. I can clearly understand why on some mock drafts he’s trending as a lottery pick.’’

Northern Kentucky is a non-power-conference team to watch. The Norse are 8-1 and have a quality big man in Drew McDonald with a big game against Cincinnati Tuesday night.

 My own stubborn thoughts

I HATE that ESPN is listing starting lineups at the bottom of the screen while the game is going on. I have to miss the action while looking at the graphic. Please stop.

Mark Whipple is an outstanding football coach with a proven record, but even he came up short trying to make UMass a winning football program at the highest level. I’ve said it before: UMass should drop football and pour all the money into other sports, especially basketball and hockey (men and women). That the men’s hockey team is ranked No. 1 in the country at 12-1 and is providing excitement in the Mullins Center only helps my point.

  Forward thinking

TUESDAY

Providence at BC: Just like the Minnesota game last week, a great chance for BC to prove itself. The Eagles can win.

WEDNESDAY

VCU at Texas: Shaka Smart welcomes his old school to Austin.

Washington at Gonzaga: This game doesn’t get played every season, but there’s lots of heat involved. Washington fans are not Gonzaga fans.

THURSDAY

Iowa State at Iowa: Another heated rivalry; this shapes up as a tossup.

FRIDAY

Nevada vs. Arizona State in Los Angeles: The Wolfpack are undefeated and mostly unchallenged. The Sun Devils are much better than anticipated, so this will be competitive.

UMass at Providence: The Friars once again are an important opponent for a team looking to improve.

SATURDAY

Lots of good rivalries on this day, all worth watching: BYU at Utah, Xavier at Cincinnati, Georgetown at Syracuse, Buffalo at St. Bonaventure, Wisconsin at Marquette, and Creighton at Nebraska.

BC at Texas A&M: Could be a landmark week for the Eagles if they could get this road win.

SUNDAY

Tennessee vs. Gonzaga in Phoenix: A top-10 matchup on a neutral court. The Vols can win this game.

Joe Sullivan can be reached at jtsullivan@globe.com.