The Wolverine

January 2019

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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34 THE WOLVERINE JANUARY 2019 BY CHRIS BALAS J ohn Beilein cautioned the Mich- igan fan base not to overreact to the month of November. A 10-0 start probably wasn't what he had in mind. In fact, we know it wasn't. U-M's 12th-year head coach said during media day in October that it would be "ugly" at times while his Wolver- ines navigated a challenging sched- ule that included games at preseason No. 9 Villanova, home versus pre- season No. 8 North Carolina and a pair of dangerous Big Ten tilts, home against preseason No. 24 Purdue and at Northwestern. The Wolverines also faced a tough Providence team in November at the Mohegan Sun Hall of Fame Tipoff. Frankly put, the schedule was a gauntlet, and losing one or two might have been expected. Instead, the Wolverines swept them all, and only one game — a 62-60 victory at Northwestern Dec. 4 — was by less than double digits. In that one, the Wildcats rallied from 15 down when junior center Jon Teske and redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews went out with foul trouble early in the sec- ond half. "Every other team that has played this team when they've made a push like they did to get to 15 points, every other team has laid down for them and lost by 25 to 30," Wildcats head coach Chris Collins marveled. "Our guys wouldn't do that. They stuck together, kept fighting … got it to the last two minutes against what a lot of you [in the media] feel is the best team in the country." That statement alone puts in per- spective just how incredible the Wol- verines' start has been. They were No. 5 in both national polls as of Dec. 10 following a 10th straight win, 89- 78 over South Carolina, and had rarely been tested. Beilein — as he does — remained even-keeled about his team's fast start, and though 'surprised' is a word he's said repeatedly isn't in his vernacular, it certainly seems to ap- ply this year. His response when asked, how- ever, didn't change. The veteran coach doesn't like to heap a ton of praise on his team early in the sea- son, so he chose his words carefully when he was asked to describe it. "You know I'm never surprised," he said. "I love the change I'm seeing in a positive way by a lot of peo- ple. The biggest challenge right now against really good teams is to make sure we're not beating ourselves, to understand how we got to this point." T h e y g o t t h e re b y s t a y i n g grounded, playing to their strengths (defense, first and foremost) and playing with one mission — for team instead of individual success. That's much easier said than done, but it's what they'll continue to preach and practice. Beilein proved it in a Dec. 3 press conference after Jordan Poole won Big Ten Player of the Week honors and forward Ignas Brazdeikis captured Big Ten Freshman of the Week accolades af- ter blowout wins of North Carolina and Purdue at home. He had to look to sports information director Tom Wywrot to see what a reporter was talking about when he was asked about his players' honors. "That's what it means to me, right there," Beilein said with a smile. "I won't even tell the players. "I'm happy for everybody that there's a piece of paper that says that, but I was not aware of that. [Wywrot] knows I don't care, and neither do they. But they had a good week, and it was a great week. We played two great basketball programs." They shared the wealth in both and played to the hot hands, which happened to be Poole and the fresh- man phenom Brazdeikis, who led the team with 17.0 points and ranked second with 5.2 rebounds per game as of Dec. 10. But that won't always be the case, the coach continued. "One day somebody will have 25 points, another guy six. The next day the other guy will have 25, and he's going to get six," Beilein said. "It doesn't make a bit of difference. That's case in point why we won't be talking about who is Player of the Week. We will be talking about, 'Let's go beat [the next team on the sched- ule].' "The hardest thing everyone has to do [is be unselfish]. They aren't sitting with their families afterwards, getting the tweets [if they're not the top scorers]. It's the hardest thing to do, but we'll be on it all year long." DEVELOPMENT IS THE KEY Development is how Beilein teams find continual success, after all, in a climate in which one-and-dones and five-star recruits are all the rage. He's long been an advocate of player development and grow- ing teams through improvement, and while he's had to adjust at times — his teachings were so good after the 2012-14 years that he lost guys to the pros like Trey Burke and Nik Stauskas who many projected to be four-year guys — he's winning at a high clip. South Carolina head coach Frank Martin, a close friend of Beilein's, insisted his colleague didn't receive enough praise for that aspect of his acumen. Martin relayed how he pulled ju- nior point guard Zavier Simpson aside a day before the game, in fact, to tell him how impressed he was with Simpson's and Teske's develop- ment. Two years ago, he saw both of them get overwhelmed as freshmen by his team on his turf in a blowout win. This year was a completely dif- ferent story, with Teske notching 15 points, nine rebounds and three blocks, and Simpson seven points, seven assists and three rebounds. "That's what college basketball has to be more about, kids that develop over time instead of guys that can make an impact right away and for- get about the other guys," Beilein said when told of Martin's com- ments. "That's what student-athletes Men On Fire Michigan Basketball Starts 10-0 For the First Time Since 2012-13 Freshman phenom Ignas Brazdeikis leads the team with 17.0 points per game, a clip that ranked seventh in the Big Ten as of Dec. 10. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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