Ann Arbor — In two of Michigan’s first four games this season, including the exhibition, the Wolverines’ first offensive possession has followed a similar script.
Get the ball to senior center Jon Teske on the block and let him get to work in the paint.
Coincidence? Not at all, according to coach Juwan Howard.
“Back when I watched some of the games when I was with the (Miami) Heat, I was like, 'Wow, Jon's game has improved year by year,' ” Howard recalled after last week’s win over Elon. “At that time he played a lot away from the basket, so when I got the job here I was like, well, I'd like to utilize his post presence.
“He’s embraced it. We worked on it this summer and he's gotten better and better. We're going to use him in the post, as well as on the outside."
In fact, Howard knew right away he wanted to make Teske the focal point of the offense and has wasted little time putting it on display.
In the regular-season opener against Appalachian State, Teske scored Michigan’s first 11 points and touched the ball on seven of the team’s first eight possessions.
"Our plays, specifically what I call, is for the team. There are moments within our play set where it may look like I'm going to Jon every time down the floor,” Howard said. “But Jon is a talented, skilled 7-foot big man. It's important that we look at him first before we take a shot.”
It has shown so far in the numbers. Through three regular-season games, Teske leads the team in field-goal attempts (34) and free-throw attempts (15) while averaging a team-best 16.7 points in 31 minutes per game.
More importantly, Teske has been able to take advantage of his size advantage down low as the games have worn on. Against Creighton, whose tallest starter was 6-foot-7, Teske essentially sealed the win with four consecutive baskets in the paint — two three-point plays and a pair of close-range shots.
Then against Elon, whose tallest player on the roster was 6-8, Teske helped the Wolverines pull away with four second-half baskets around the rim.
Of Teske’s 19 made field goals so far, 18 have come within the 3-point line, where he is connecting at a 66.7% clip. He’s 1-for-7 from beyond the arc, with several of his attempts coming later in halves on tired and heavy legs.
"Confidence is the main thing, as well as his conditioning," sophomore guard David DeJulius said of Teske. "He has a coach in Coach Howard that puts so much trust in him. First day, we said we were going to go through Teske before he (Howard) even really saw him.
“It's a testament to all his hard work. (Howard) emphasized that's our go-to guy. We know that and Jon knows that. I think he's got a lot more confidence this year being able to score the ball.”
It’s a drastic shift for Teske, who was the fourth or fifth scoring option on the floor last season in a starting lineup that featured former teammates Ignas Brazdeikis, Jordan Poole and Charles Matthews. As a result, Teske primarily did his damage in pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop situations and by cleaning up on the glass.
Yet, Howard has no qualms about Teske getting as many touches as possible and shouldering more responsibilities, which puts more of an onus on his decision-making to know when to attack and when to find the open teammate.
"Jon has improved each game that we've played,” Howard said. “I'm sure he has welcomed the fact that he's a part of the offense.
"One thing about Jon's skill set is his high IQ. He's very good at reading the game and situations. He’s a smart basketball player. We trust that he will always make the right play."
And Teske's usage as a primary option on offense doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon.
"Juwan is insistent on that ball going to the block," associate head coach Phil Martelli said on WTKA's "The Michigan Insider" Thursday. "I know it's different. It's really different in college basketball. Most of these offenses are built from the 3-point line in, not from inside out. And we are clearly going to be an inside-out team throughout the year."
As Michigan nears the tough stretch of its nonconference schedule and continues to develop its offensive identity under Howard — who noted attacking the paint has been “a huge plus” so far — Teske will likely remain at the center of it.
“He's accepted the challenge,” Howard said. “He knows that we need him.”
Houston Baptist at Michigan
Tip-off: 7 p.m. Friday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
TV/radio: No TV/950
Records: Michigan 3-0, Houston Baptist 0-3
Outlook: Houston Baptist ranks No. 348 out of 350 Division I schools in scoring defense, allowing opponents to score 92.7 points per game. Senior guard Jalon Gates is averaging 20.7 points per game to lead the Huskies, who were picked to finish ninth in the Southland Conference's preseason poll. … Michigan is 3-0 all-time against Houston Baptist and has won its first three home games by an average margin of 12.7 points.