The Wolverine

March 2019

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE MARCH 2019 J ohn Beilein's heart issues kept him from traveling to Spain with his team in Au- gust. From then on, it's been all heart, and all hands on deck. The Wolverines came off a na- tional championship game ap- pearance dramatically changed, but undaunted. The Moe Wag- ner-less crew strode out talking about taking no steps back. Well, that's nice, many thought. Not going to happen, but it's good to remain positive. The skepticism melted away during Michigan's 17-0 start, extending a 31-1 streak dat- ing back to midway through 2017-18. At 23-3 overall and 12-3 in the Big Ten through Feb. 20, they've been one of the bright- est stories in college basketball. Of course, sitting pretty in Feb- ruary during a college basketball season is like leading the Boston Marathon at the 20-mile mark. It's all about the finish. The finish lies dead ahead, and the Wolverines appear primed. Despite an ugly loss at Penn State Feb. 12 — featuring a Beilein ejection, no less — and some wondering aloud if Michigan features enough offense for a deep NCAA run, it's go time. By the way, that's one ejection for Beilein since 1981. It still puts him in the lead in that category against Michigan State's Tom Izzo, who in more than 800 college games has never been ejected once. The mark stands despite Izzo acting like a combination of Heath Ledger's The Joker and a more animated Hanni- bal Lecter from the opening tip. But we digress … Beilein sat in a side room off the locker room in State College, when the Wolverines stormed in following that missed opportunity. The words flew from his players — furious, fired-up and fulminating. The head coach liked it. He knew they'd be ready to come out hard in the next game, against a strong Maryland team. They did just that, locking down defensively, pushing out to a 21-6 lead and then protecting a 65-52 win. These Wolverines draw their grit from their guards — junior Zavier Simpson and redshirt junior Charles Matthews. The will to win boils over in both. Matthews caught fire at the end of their win against then-No. 19 Wisconsin, gunning U-M to a home victory Feb. 9. Against then-No. 24 Maryland Feb. 16, he stepped up with 14 points, while Simpson scored 12 with eight assists, dazzling when the Terrapins dared draw near. But the Wolverines, to a man, were ready after the pratfall at Penn State, Simpson assured. They just don't like losing. "It messes with us," he said. "It doesn't sit well. It ticks us off." His team would do well to carry an angry edge into the home stretch. It enters the final five Big Ten con- tests as one of three (Michigan State and Purdue are the others) leading the league with only three losses. Two of those five remaining contests are against Izzo's Dark Knights of the northwest, an hour away. The Spartans just absorbed a bad break. Big man Nick Ward, averag- ing 15.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, fractured his hand near the end of a win over Ohio State Feb. 17. He's undergoing sur- gery and is out indefinitely. There's no joy in seeing Ward, a fierce competitor, depart from MSU's lineup. You'll certainly never hear Beilein saying any- thing like what Izzo did back in 2015, after Caris LeVert's foot injury. "Here's where I have changed, too, over the last three or four years — in my base- ment, when the best player on somebody else's team went down, I'm not different than a fan," Izzo said. "Hell, I'm happy as hell because I've got to win games. "When you go through a bunch of injuries yourself, I wouldn't have wished this [on them], I am not happy." At least Izzo (purportedly) changed. Whoever is or isn't on the floor, Simpson insists Michigan's rules stay the same — through the final five, the Big Ten Tournament and yet another March Madness. "There are three things we stress — playing hard, playing smart, and playing together," he said. "We hold our teammates accountable every single day. We're still working like it's a summer practice. "We're competing for our spot. We're competing for a national championship. That carries over. Those have been great brotherhood habits and a great championship foundation. "When you do those things, you're always in a great position to win." They're in one now. Beilein's repaired heart stands ready for another big run. From the 7-1 Jon Teske to the 6-0 Simpson — with Matthews, freshman Ignas Brazdei- kis, and sophomores Jordan Poole and Isaiah Livers in between — heart hasn't been in short supply. Let the madness begin early. ❏ Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB _ Wolverine. WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON It's All There For John Beilein's Crew Junior point guard Zavier Simpson and his teammates are focused on winning the national championship. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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