The Wolverine

November 2016

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 46 of 83

NOVEMBER 2016 THE WOLVERINE 47   MICHIGAN BASKETBALL despite playing just 258 total minutes, and while he spent his offseason bulk- ing up, he also concentrated on de- fending without hacking. "It's really not about how much you weigh; it's about how you feel — if you feel stronger, if you feel more explo- sive, if you're able to battle down there under the basket," said Wagner, not- ing he might not maintain his weight all year. "So I've put some weight on, yeah, but that's not my main focus when I'm out there." The second tallest man on the U-M roster (to seven-foot freshman Jon Teske) went back to Germany, his homeland, during spring, but returned early so he could get another four weeks of work- outs in. He'll battle with red- shirt junior Mark Donnal for the right to start, though he in- sists that's not his focus. "That's something as a player you can't really worry about that early, just because that hinders you from playing your best ball," Wagner said. "So I'm just looking day to day. The most important thing for me today is to practice today and just make daily improve- ments, and we'll see." Donnal looks forward to the competition and to making each other better. "He's definitely taken a lead- ership role, and we're both try- ing to do a good job of mentor- ing the new freshmen coming in, knowing we were in the same position they were a few years ago," Donnal said. "We both have the ability to shoot outside and play inside, but it's good to kind of mix those things up." MICHIGAN LOOKING TO TIGHTEN DOWN ON D John Beilein left no room for misinterpretation. He did not like the way his team played defense a year ago, and one statistic in particular kept him awake at night when looking back on the season. Michigan finishing 14th in the Big Ten — dead last — for field goal defense in conference play (47.4 percent) last season certainly drew the head coach's attention. He committed to changing the numbers. When two assistants found head coaching jobs elsewhere, one of Beilein's moves involved attracting to Ann Arbor a former head coach and Michigan's new acting defensive co- ordinator in Billy Donlon. The former Wright State head coach is responsi- ble for plenty, including Michigan's guards. He won't face a bigger responsibility, though, than helping change the 47.4 percent. At the other end of the spectrum in conference play stood two of the con- ference's best teams. Michigan State limited foes to shooting 39.4 percent, best in the league. Maryland wasn't far behind, at 40.2 percent. Beilein has long been recognized as an offensive genius, a man with a spe- cially designed table in his office featur- ing checkers on a basketball court. He can move the pieces as well as anyone. He's long taught defense without fouling, maybe to an extreme, he ac- knowledged at Michigan's basketball media day Oct. 3. Donlon's influence could change the look for the Wolver- ines, Beilein stressed. "He is a head coach that is now an assistant coach," Beilein said. "He's got a lot of the head coach quali- ties already. He's strong with his command. He's just got to take those 12 inches over on the bench and still put that to- gether. "I love that command he has. I can tell by our kids' eyes they are learning from him and they love listening to him." Beilein still doesn't want his players in foul trouble. He sees the possibility for middle ground, though, between foul- ing too much and not causing opponents enough discomfort. He readily admits the 47.4 gave him discomfort. Donlon — whose 2013 Wright State squad rose to the No. 16 spot nationally for de- fense — insists there's plenty of room to work within Beilein's big-picture parameters. "There's always a balance, I believe, with fouling," Donlon noted. "You don't want to foul too much; you don't want to get guys in foul trouble. "But you have to have a mentality for physicality when you play defense. We want to find the proper balance with fouling. Sometimes, there's a really good foul." Donlon pointed out that fouling on another team's fast break, so as not to give up transition points, came to the U.S. via European players. He stressed the situation has to be right, with a team not al- ready in foul trouble, and he's enhancing the teaching Michi- gan players have gotten on the whens and wheres of taking a smart foul. Athlon said in its college basketball preview magazine that Wagner "might have as high of a ceiling as anyone on the roster." PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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