BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Freshman guard Doug McDaniel is the fastest player on the court almost every time he laces up. If he can’t go through defenders, he can just go around them – that’s how fast he is.
However, a freshman who plays fast can be a disaster. A level of recklessness can accompany speed, leading to twists and preventable mistakes that guards learn to avoid with experience. McDaniel is prone to such mistakes at times, coming up short in all of his games at Michigan. But on Wednesday night against Pitt, those concerns took a back seat and McDaniel took the wheel.
“When I keep playing games, the games tend to slow down,” McDaniel said Wednesday. “I tend to get more mature and just get used to the atmosphere, so I definitely feel like my game has slowed down a little bit.”
In an unimpressive first half, McDaniel had just one basket and one assist; he did not show anything special. His dexterity jumped as much as usual, but he didn’t turn it into an attack. However, McDaniel looked like a whole new player in the second half. Poised and accurate, McDaniel played a big role in helping the Wolverines turn a six-point halftime lead into 31 points.
McDaniel finished with a respectable eight points and five rebounds, but where he really shined was as a facilitator. With eight assists — and turning the ball over just twice in the process — McDaniel consistently found open shooters and rim runners.
“Doug is just scratching the surface,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “There’s a lot more to it, and I’m talking a lot more growth. It’s just nice to see how the whole team trusts our guards because they put in the work.”
McDaniel started to come alive after sprinting through the paint to finish a look at the rim midway through the second half. However, the series did not end there. Seconds later, he intercepted an errant pass from Panthers forward Nate Santos before flipping it to sophomore guard Kobe Bufkin for an easy layup in transition.
After that it was show time. Or he flashed into the paint before knocking it to a wide-open graduate guard Joey Baker for a three, lofting it over the top of freshman forward Tarris Reed Jr. for a finish at the rim or leading freshman forward Will Shetter perfectly to the post. — McDaniel dissected Pitt’s defense like a quarterback with too much time.
However, McDaniel didn’t just pass the eye test; his stats back it up. Finishing with a plus-26 in the box — the third most for Michigan — the Wolverines played their best basketball with McDaniel on the floor.
“Doug played a great game for us,” Howard said. “We just put in the work and he’s not shy about working. He is a competitor and he competes out there on the floor. Every player on the court is going to make mistakes, that’s part of growing up.”
Despite the second-half passing clinic, McDaniel made his share of mistakes. In the first half, he made a wayward dribble that flew out of bounds. Likewise, the ridiculous floater somehow fell despite the poor shot selection. And an inaccurate pass led to a turnover at the end of the second half. But these mistakes were limited.
With each game, McDaniel looks more and more comfortable reading defenses and using them more effectively in his game. McDaniel plays fast, and when he maintains control of the drive, opposing defenses will have a hard time keeping up.