The Wolverine

February 2019

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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40 THE WOLVERINE FEBRUARY 2019 to the season's midway point. Sophomore Isaiah Livers, U-M's sixth man, missed two games — home wins over Northwestern and Indiana — due to injury in January, but no other Wolverine had missed a game due to an ailment. Michigan's bench is short, and an injury to any of the top six players could have a devastating effect on Big Ten title and postseason hopes. As of Jan. 21, Michigan's scoring production was balanced at the top (freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis, redshirt junior guard Charles Matthews and sophomore guard Jordan Poole were all averaging at least 13.4 points per game), and nobody outside of the top three was averaging more than 8.8 per game. "There are a few guys right now who need to step up with confidence and be consistent for us," Beilein admitted in early January. "There are some guys who have had a bad game here and there, but they need to grow with swagger and confidence and get things done in crunch time. "I'd love to get 10 or 12 points out of everybody, as opposed to the up-and- down yo yo we've had so far." They took steps toward that when junior point guard Zavier Simpson scored a career-high 24 in the home win over Northwestern and junior center Jon Teske added 17, all in the first half. At the same time, Matthews struggled to five points at Wisconsin and Brazdeikis — U-M's leading scorer at 14.8 points per game — didn't score. Though it's too early to say he'd hit the freshman wall, Brazdeikis had shot only 37.5 percent from the floor and was 2 of 13 from three-point range in his last five games culminating with the loss in Madison. Player will always have their ups and downs during the course of a long season, of course, but it will take more consistency from the top down to win a championship. STAYING THE COURSE Those titles obviously aren't easy to come by. Sometimes it's the bounce of a ball — 2013 comes to mind, when the Wolverines missed free throws down the stretch and a tip-in attempt by center Jordan Morgan just rimmed off at the buzzer in a loss to Indiana — that prevents a championship. As he always does, Beilein has ingrained in his team that looking ahead and not paying attention to what's right in front of them is the quickest way to get beat. His Wolverines talk like they get it. "We don't play like we're the No. 2 team in the country," Brazdeikis said. "We play like we have something to prove every night. We can't let anything get in our heads, because it's important to stay focused, humble and confident. We've proven we're the hungrier team each and every night. "It's all about the scrappiness we have and the will to win — we never want to lose. We all believe we can win every game, and that's the mentality we have in practice. The intensity level hasn't changed in practice for us over the last few months, and that's another big key for us." He said that after a 20-point win over Northwestern. U-M lost many of the 50-50 battles in the loss at Wisconsin and will have to regain its edge to have a chance at a championship. The Spartans were playing incredible basketball heading toward February, while teams like Maryland, Purdue and even the Badgers were right in the hunt, along with U-M. Sophomore guard Jordan Poole led Michigan with an average of 14.6 points per contest in the team's first seven Big Ten games. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL Freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis "We don't play like we're the No. 2 team in the country. We play like we have something to prove every night. We can't let anything get in our heads, because it's important to stay focused, humble and confident."

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