The Wolverine

February 2019

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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FEBRUARY 2019 THE WOLVERINE 41 Beilein knows his team has a lot of work still to do, but he's marveled at the growth in many of his young players. At the same time, he doesn't have time to compare them now to how they were playing in November. "This is like having your own children every day," he said. "Grandma sees them six months later and says, 'Yeah, they've really grown.' But you don't notice it as much. "We do like in games that they are showing some of the improvement. Sometimes you see it in practice, don't see it in games … Jon Teske and Zavier Simpson shooting threes, we were noticing it in practice but hadn't seen it in games. When the lights go on, it's always different." Regardless, they won't change the way they do things. There's a formula that's worked for Beilein over the years, and he's going to stick to it. "We hope our teams always improve every year. Right now like [a typical] practice will be 30 minutes of passing, dribbling, but won't be about plays," he said. "Defensively we have work we do on concepts [teams] run, not their plays … we believe that leads to this improvement." Will it be enough for a champion ship? It's too early to tell. Barring a complete collapse, however, this squad will be playing for a high seed come March, not scrapping to make the NCAA Tournament, and has extremely high upside — as long as it continues to play team ball and remember what led to the magical 170 start to the season. ❑ Though freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis was held scoreless against Wisconsin Jan. 19, that marked one of just three performances where he did not tally at least 10 points. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL The Path To A Big Ten Championship Michigan is one of a handful of teams that appears to have a legitimate shot at a Big Ten championship. While it's likely the Big Ten winner will have less than the eight losses U-M head coach John Beilein predicted it might in November, all of the favorites have plenty of tough games remaining. We handicap the race below: 1. Michigan State (8-0 as of Jan. 21): The Spartans had already won tough road games at Nebraska and Ohio State in their eight wins, and they also took care of Maryland at home. At the same time, the Spartans still had several tough games remaining, though they were fortunate not to have to travel to Minnesota or Maryland. They were playing the best ball in the conference at the end of January, however, despite missing some of their top players with injuries. Toughest remaining games: at Iowa, at Purdue, at Wisconsin, at Michigan, at Indiana, Michigan Projection: 17-3 2. Michigan (6-1): The Wolverines drew the long straw to start the Big Ten campaign, getting four of their first six games at home, and playing only Northwestern and Illinois on the road. Both teams were in the bottom four of the conference standings as of Jan. 21. U-M's schedule is back loaded with several tough games, especially on the road — the Wolverines lost the second-toughest Big Ten road game on their schedule (according to analytics site in falling at Wisconsin. Toughest remaining games: at Indiana, at Iowa, Maryland, at Minnesota, Michigan State, at Maryland, at Michigan State Projection: 16-4 3. Maryland (7-2): The Terrapins might be the league's most athletic team, and they already have some nice road wins on their résumé, having handled Minnesota and Ohio State. Their only losses were a two-point setback at Purdue, one of the Big Ten's tougher venues, and then on the road against Michigan State. Maryland has the most favorable schedule of the contenders down the stretch. If they can pull off a few upsets, the Terps could be in contention in March. Toughest remaining games: at Wisconsin, at Nebraska, Purdue, at Michigan, at Iowa, Michigan Projection: 15-5 4. Purdue (5-2): The Boilermakers started the Big Ten season with a blowout loss at Michigan, but they've picked up steam since. Their only other loss was at Michigan State (another blowout), but they've won at Wisconsin and had already beaten Maryland, Indiana and Iowa at home. Purdue also draws a favorable slate down the stretch. Toughest remaining games: at Ohio State, Michigan State, at Maryland, at Indiana, at Nebraska Projection: 14-6 5. Wisconsin (4-3): The Badgers got a huge and needed boost via their 64-54 win over the Wolverines Jan. 19, but they also have a lot of tough games remaining on the schedule. Dropping two at home to Minnesota and Purdue put them behind the eight ball and made U-M a must-win game; to their credit, they played like it and pulled one out. This team is limited athletically, but when it plays its scrappy Wisconsin type of ball, it has the ability to compete with most teams on its schedule. Toughest remaining games: at Nebraska, Maryland, at Minnesota, at Michigan, Michigan State, at Indiana, at Ohio State Projection: 13-7 — Chris Balas

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