It also puts them through the most challenging portion of their out-of-conference schedule. They have home games against St. Bonaventure and Stanford remaining, but even those are home games. After playing just two home games in November, the Pack will be home for six straight games to close out the non-conference schedule in December.
For all the hand-wringing and worrying so far, the Pack is only one game off expectations. Yes, the loss to Oklahoma State was ugly and the win over UNC-Asheville wasn't awe inspiring either. But 5-2 with just two of those games coming at home and four against BCS-conference opponents isn't too terrible. Compare that to a surprising Virginia Tech team, which sits at 7-0 but has only one of those games coming away from home (at UNCG, not exactly Michigan) and two against BCS teams.
Let's take a quick look at how the team, and the players, has performed through the early part of the season. Obviously its early in the season, so things can and will change quickly, but there's still value in taking a step back and looking at how the team has played to this point and what needs to improve.
All of the stats cited below are possession-based – so for instance you'll see reference to rebounding percentage instead of raw rebounding totals or something completely context-less like rebounding margin. Instead of looking at the team as a whole lets go player-by-player, sticking to the top seven in the rotation since the rest of the team gets very limited minutes.
Lorenzo Brown - Comparing Brown's numbers so far to last season's totals isn't pretty - his assist rate is down (35% to 28%), his turnover rate is up (23% to 27%) and his shooting is down (45% to 37%). It's not been a good early stretch for the junior point guard, certainly. Plenty of time for him to turn it around, especially from a shooting perspective, but his regression in the turnover department has to be troubling for the Pack.
Richard Howell - He's always been one of the most efficient players on the court for the Pack, but he seems to have really refined his strengths and become a better finisher around the basket - morphing into perhaps the Pack's best player early on. Howell is currently seventh in the nation in field-goal percentage shooting an absurd 69% from the floor and ranks 16th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage. If he can somehow reign in his foul issues and play 30+ minutes a game, he become one of the league's best big men.
C.J. Leslie - I think every analysis on television feels the need to emphasize that Leslie is usually the most talented guy on the floor. For better or worse, Leslie has dialed back his shooting a bit this year – taking shots on just 21% of team possessions while he's on the court compared to 26% last season. Otherwise Leslie's numbers are very similar to his sophomore season.
Scott Wood - There's not much to say about Wood, he's been basically the same exact player as last year. He's a remarkably efficient shooter (45% from 3 so far this year) who doesn't turn it over. He understands his role and plays it well; expecting more out of him at this point is probably wish-casting.
Rodney Purvis - Purvis has hit over 55% of his 3-point shots so far this season and is quietly emerging as that other long-distance threat the Pack has needed to compliment Wood. He's turning it over a bit too much (22%, third-highest behind the two point guards) but that's not shocking for a freshman.
T.J. Warren – He ranks second in the conference in FG% (behind only Howell) and 18th in the nation. That's a remarkable accomplishment for a freshman as it shows both natural shooting ability and natural restraint – he's not taking bad shots. While his offense might be far advanced, his rebounding needs works – his defensive rebounding rate right now is lower than Tyler Lewis'. At 6-8, there's no excuse for such miniscule rebounding numbers.
Tyler Lewis - Lewis has played far less than his freshman counterparts, and has in fact attempted only 16 shots so far this year. He's turning it over far too much right now – a good bit more than Brown. It's no surprise that Lewis is the slowest acclimating of the three freshman and the relatively light schedule at home in December should give him more time to find his confidence and improve to the level he'll need to contribute positively during the conference season.