The Wolverine

February 2019

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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FEBRUARY 2019 THE WOLVERINE 47   MICHIGAN BASKETBALL They also weren't much into mid- season records. Matthews noted that people remember how teams finish, not how they perform in the middle of the season. "There were teams — Virginia, for instance, I believe they got knocked out first round by a 16 seed — that had an unbelievable record [last year]," he said. "You don't win cham- pionships with 17 games, 17 wins. We're just trying to be winning at the end of March, beginning of April." "Probably everybody would like me to make some great statement about being 17-0," the coach added in mid-January. "It's just another game. "It's another game and we've got another one coming up at Wiscon- sin." One the Wolverines dropped to end the streak, but one Beilein in- sisted they'd learn from. — Chris Balas OPPOSING COACHES IMPRESSED BY U-M'S PLAY Michigan didn't suffer its first loss of the season until Jan. 19, when it fell 64-54 at Wisconsin. Until then, the Wolverines had only allowed two teams to play them within 10 points — Western Michigan (70-62) and Northwestern (62-60) — and ripped off 31 wins in 32 games dating back to last year. They understandably left a host of impressed opposing coaches in their wake. "When you play these guys — and we've played them twice now — you've got to figure out what are some things that you're going to live with, because they space you so well and they're really good at every po- sition," Northwestern head coach Chris Collins said after his team lost 80-60 to U-M Jan. 13. In that game, two sub-30 percent three-point shooters — junior point guard Zavier Simpson and junior center Jon Teske — made five and three triples, respectively. "We were going to live with some Simpson threes and some Teske threes," Collins added. "Give those guys credit. They went 8 for 15 from the three-point line." Collins hinted that the Wolver- ines had as good a shot at a deep tournament run as anyone, noting that when supporting scorers like Simpson and Teske are on, it makes the Wolverines, with additional fire- power from redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews, freshman for- ward Ignas Brazdeikis and sopho- more guard Jordan Poole, hard for anybody to beat. The postseason is a lot about breaks, of course, but the pieces and the desire appeared to be there for U-M, and it came together quickly. Many John Beilein teams don't jell until late in the season, and the loss in Madison proved there was still work to do and improvements to be made. There was plenty to like, though, about the team's incredible start. It's been a collective team effort on both ends of the floor. Only three guys were averaging double-digit scoring through 18 games, led by Brazdeikis' 14.8 points per game. Matthews was at 13.6 and Poole 13.4. On some nights, like in a 79-69 win at Illinois Jan. 10, everyone will get involved. All starters had 10 points or more, and sophomore forward Isa- iah Livers added nine. "It's a good basketball team when you've got just about everybody in double figures and another guy with nine," Illinois head coach Brad Un- derwood said. "So much about what they do, I like and I enjoy watching." Penn State head coach Pat Cham- bers was equally impressed after U-M handled his team 68-55 Jan. 3. "Michigan is a great team and is No. 2 for a reason," he stated after- ward. "Our team showed some real grit and incredible passion, because there were moments where Michigan could have easily gone up by 20. "I knew it'd be difficult for us to score on them, hence our 1-for-14 [shooting] from three-point range. We had some guys shooting the ball well coming in, but they just took that away and made it difficult for us to score. "Teske is one of the best defensive five-men around — he's changed his body and is long." Added up, it led to a 17-1 start through 18 games with some impres- sive plaudits from opposing coaches. — Chris Balas ZAVIER SIMPSON HAS BEEN INTEGRAL TO MICHIGAN'S SUCCESS Michigan junior point guard Za- vier Simpson might not be one of the Wolverines' leading scorers, but he's one of the most important players on the roster. Illinois head coach Brad Under- wood saw Simpson's abilities first- hand and was impressed. Against the Illini, Simpson played nearly the whole game, logging 38 minutes and scoring 16 points while only turning the ball over two times against Illinois' frenetic pressure de- fense. "Zavier Simpson, in my opinion, is the MVP of the league to this point just simply because if you took him away from their team, you saw what happened when they took him out," Underwood said after his team fell 79-69 to Michigan Jan. 10. Simpson's scoring has ticked up in conference action and he is Michi- gan's second-leading scorer at 13.0 points per game in Big Ten play. His ability to read opposing defenses has allowed him to average 5.4 assists per game in league action while only turning the ball over 1.4 times every contest. His overall assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.34 was the best in the Big Ten and ranked 12th nationally. He's stepped up his play on both ends of the court right when Michi- gan has needed him to. In a two-game stretch in January, After the first seven conference games, Michigan had five players averaging double- digit scoring against Big Ten foes, including redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews (10.9 points per game). PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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