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Redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews talks about winning Wednesday's game against North Carolina at Challenge / Big Ten.
James Hawkins, Detroit News

Ann Arbor – In general, you do not see it so early and you often can not say it so early. But it looks like a team that knows exactly what it is and how good it can be.

The Wolverines played the defense with so much effort and energy on Wednesday night that they seemed easy and a powerful opponent looked rude. They were shot at, dumped on the floor, went to the basket and, for good measure, coached North Carolina coach Roy Williams in action.

If you thought The 84-67 march of the No. 11 Tar Talons in Michigan, Michigan, seemed familiar because it was. We saw it late last season when they won the Big Ten tournament until the national championship match. We saw it earlier this season when they crushed Villanova, the team that beat them for the title. The November games may ridicule us in a long season, but you can at least say this: Michigan has the same irresistible ingredients as it did a year ago, and maybe even more.

The Wolverines now have a first-year junior player, Ignas Brazdeikis (6-foot-7), scoring inside and out and bringing out muscle flexion after a powerful shot. He scored 24 points against the Tar Heels. They have the same trio of guards in Charles Matthews, Zavier Simpson and Jordan Poole, and they take turns doing what they do.

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From 10 points in advance to 21 points in advance, the Wolverines were a little fuzzy, but believe it or not, the 17-point margin was the closest match to their 7-0. They do not want to say that they have taken the path they had, because they lost three key players among the national finalists, including Moe Wagner. But Brazdeikis seems quite capable of playing the role of Wagner and, if possible, the defense could be even better, led by Matthews and Simpson.

"We just want to keep being who we are," said Matthews, who added 21 points. "We had a good run at the end of last year and basically said do not wait until the end of the year to be special."

Back on their heels

Make no mistake, there is still a lot to do. John Beilein has yet to develop a deeper bench and the Wolverine must absolutely solve his problem of free throws. In fact, they shot better on the 3-points (11 against 22) than the free throws (12 of 23).

But faced with a talented North Carolina team that starts two first-class rookies and brings another on the bench, Michigan was relentless. The Tar Heels were hot early in the evening, but in the second half Michigan surpassed them by 59 to 32 percent, and a team with an average of 96.6 points per game could not reach 70.

"It's very frustrating right now," Williams said. "I feel like I did the worst coaching job in 31 years. Give credit to Michigan, but it's the most frustrated I've ever been. I have nothing positive to say. My coaching is bad.

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He was frustrated by the neglected efforts of his own team, but also by the confused Michigan attack.

"They have five guys able to handle the ball, they have excellent spacing, their defense is really good," said Williams. "They have a sense of urgency on the defensive. They are difficult to filter because they fight through the screens and, if they change, they communicate. "

And when things go wrong, the Wolverines have Teske – Jon Teske (7 feet), which ignited the crowd with five shots blocked, as well as a diving stop from the ball that led to the Poole pointer at the end of the first half. Poole was five for eight on 3 points, and again embodies the boast that the Wolverines have developed.

get revenge

In the second half, they broke Tar Heels' spirit and broke their will, which led Williams to a stern assessment of his team. It is in fact a strong support of the Beilein team, which is among the best in the country in all kinds of defensive categories, giving only 48.3 points per game. Yes, we are not even in December yet and the Big Ten season begins Saturday with the arrival of Purdue in town. But this defensive disposition has been evident for over a year, led by assistant Luke Yaklich,

Testifying to Williams' comments, Beilein smiled.

"It's one of the greatest compliments I've ever had, or what our teams have ever had," said Beilein. "It's not like we're trying to frustrate you. We try to stop people from scoring baskets. Charles is possessed in defense; he and Z are the most motivated defensive players I've ever trained. "

It was Tar Heels' first visit to the Crisler Center, and you wonder if the teams are still unaware of what the Wolverines have done. They do not have future NBA stars that allow them to slide, so Beilein is always on the lookout for the loss of focus.

The word that he used – "possessed" – is good, provided the Wolverines keep everything in perspective. In a moment of exuberance after, Brazdeikis said that they were participating in a "Tour of Vengeance" similar to that of the football team. Uh, it's probably best to give up on this theme, even though the Wolverines have already beaten Villanova (73-46) and just North Carolina, which hit them early in the season.

A few days after the overwhelming defeat of the football team against the state of Ohio, we were reminded of the importance of trust and defense intensity.

"We had to win those matches and gain confidence, and I feel we are playing at a very high level right now," said Brazdeikis. "I saw in the second half all their emotions were really weak. We said to ourselves, we have to tackle that, go even harder and just put their foot on the throat, and that's what we did. "

They did it with incredible energy. In a second-half sequence, Teske hit a shot from Leaky Black, and a few seconds later, Matthews did the same to Black. Simpson quickly went the other way for a layup and a 58-42 lead, and Crisler was rarely stronger.

A year ago, the Wolverines were still searching for their identity, even their combinations. They still did not know what they were capable of and had not fully discovered before the tournament started. It's a long way from here to there, but they do not seem to have lost their training or their disposition, and may have gained a little more.

bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @bobwojnowski