Ann Arbor — Michigan junior center Jon Teske knew Norfolk State was going to attack and test him on defense.
And he passed with flying colors.
Teske frustrated the Spartans all game long and made scoring in the paint a burden for anyone who crossed his path in Tuesday’s 63-44 season-opening win at Crisler Center.
“Hes not a shot blocker, but hes a big dude to score over,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “If he just goes up there, man, that used to be a foul when you jumped up like that (with arms coming down), but now hes really starting to really understand the verticality.
“I noticed it a couple years ago when I was demonstrating something with him and he was in front of me and I couldnt see anybody. Hes just a big wall for us and hes using that effectively.”
It was a glimpse at how stifling Michigan’s defense can be with the 7-foot-1 Teske manning the middle for most of the game. He finished with four blocks and a steal and played a key role in holding Norfolk State to 30.5 percent shooting from the field (18-for-59).
But his impact went beyond what shows up in the box score. His presence forced plenty of rushed shots and he altered several driving layup attempts by walling up. More importantly, he didn’t commit any “bad fouls” when contesting shots, an area he had struggles with as a freshman and sophomore.
“I consider him one of the dogs on defense, honestly. Hes just everywhere,” sophomore forward Isaiah Livers said. “He knows sometimes he can foul, but hes really good at putting his hands up and going straight up and making people score over him instead of just swatting down.
“Hes actually pretty good at moving his feet. He can guard perimeter if we need him to down the stretch. Thats what hes really worked on in the offseason.”
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The more promising development, though, was the impact Teske was able to make on offense. Last season, his role behind starter Moritz Wagner was simply to come in and defend. Any scoring he provided on offensive putbacks or free throws was a bonus.
On Tuesday, he posted the fourth double-digit scoring performance of his Michigan career, finishing with a team-high 13 points on 5-for-11 shooting. While most of his finishes came around the rim, including a couple of dunks, he also knocked down a turn-and-shoot jumper from the elbow over Norfolk State’s zone defense.
“Last year he wasnt doing that all. He wasnt looking to score,” Livers said. “He was looking to pass up wide-open shots, wide-open dunks and now hes looking to go dunk on peoples heads. Thats what he has been doing all offseason.”
And it led to a solid debut on both ends for Teske, who added eight rebounds (four offensive), tipped out several missed shots for extra possessions and logged 27 minutes while commanding a leading role for the first time.
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“You know what I like about him right now is he doesnt get tired like he used to,” Beilein said. “We can really play him through a media timeout and still keep him in there. Hes a big wall at the rim for people and that makes a big difference for us.
“Then just turn around and make a little jump shot is going to be huge and hes always somebody we can throw it up at the rim to. He has been trending in the right direction and what I do like is that I think we can get 30 minutes out of him if we needed it.”
Michigan’s 3-point shooting has left a lot to be desired in the early going. The Wolverines were 5-for-14 from long range in last week’s exhibition against Northwood and 6-for-26 against Norfolk State in Tuesday’s opener.
However, sophomore guard Eli Brooks has gotten off to a promising start from beyond the arc. He knocked down Michigan’s first 3-pointer in both games and went 3-for-4 on 3s in the two contests.
Last season, Brooks shot a team-worst 24.4 percent (10-for-41) from 3-point range.
“Thats what weve seen the whole fall,” Beilein said. “I dont think he shot it that much in Europe, but thats what weve seen. Hes got to be a guy that can combo in there and do a good job. If people are playing back off our guards, put Eli in then because he defends, he talks, he sees one play ahead. Thats really good.”
… Redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews has been named to the preseason top 50 watch list for the John R. Wooden Award, which recognizes All-America teams and the men’s player of the year.
… Junior guard Zavier Simpson, Matthews and Teske were voted team captains for the season.