The Wolverine

January 2017

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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38 THE WOLVERINE JANUARY 2017 BY CHRIS BALAS T hrough 11 games, John Beilein's 2016-17 Michigan basketball team stood 8-3 and had shown growth in many areas. The starting big men, for example — redshirt sophomore D.J. Wilson and sophomore Moritz Wag- ner — had made huge strides toward becoming Big Ten players. On some nights, in fact, they looked like bona fide rising stars. But after a weekend in New York just before Thanksgiving during which the Wolverines plastered Mar- quette and SMU to win the 2K Classic, the Wolverines regressed a bit into a team with pieces but one that was still a puzzle Beilein needed to solve heading into Big Ten play. The Wolverines broke into the As- sociated Press poll (at No. 25) after starting 4-0, but then shot only 19.2 percent from the floor and 7.7 per- cent from long range in a 62-47 loss at South Carolina Nov. 23. U-M did plenty right in an ACC-Big Ten Challenge game against Virginia Tech Nov. 30, but letdowns at the ends of each half and some bad breaks led to a stunning 73-70 loss in which the Wolverines blew a 10-point lead with 7:44 to play. The bottom line — this was still very much a work in progress as of early December, and Beilein knew it. "I was thinking about that today of where we are … people talk about rebuilding, retooling, remodeling, re- everything," Beilein said heading into a Dec. 10 road game at No. 2 UCLA. "With Moe [Wagner 's] emergence right now — and he's a long ways away — that gives us another way to play. We've haven't had too many times we've gotten good backcourt play, and we're better than that. We've got to get those guys so they can per- form better in these games. "I think we're just okay. If the ball would have gone off the rim for Vir- ginia Tech and we're sitting at 8-1, we're probably where we're not that good yet. We're going to have to play much better than this in the Big Ten." In short, it's not a flawless roster, by any means, but the parts are there that it can be much better than it's shown. It's the consistency that's lacking. "We scored 50 points in one half [against both UCLA and Marquette] and we scored 53 against Texas in one game, so I think what's really key for us going forward is, where is our con- sistency?" Beilein said. Some ESPN analysts believed Mich- igan was a top-10 team after the Wol- verines won the 2K Classic in New York. Then the Wolverines shot 2 of 26 from three-point range at South Caro- lina, struggled against Texas and then made 12 of 16 triples in the first half against the Bruins before shooting 20 percent from long range in the final 20 minutes of a loss. U-M shot 50 percent in the first half against Virginia Tech and 23 percent in the second while letting a double- digit lead slip away down the stretch. However, they rebounded from the UCLA loss to set records for three- pointers made in a game (19) and at- tempts (45) during a 97-53 win over Central Arkansas Dec. 13. "We'd rather have guys go 2 for 5 every day in three-point shooting than go 1 for 6 and then 5 for 6 … we want some consistency there, and we really haven't had it," Beilein said. "We need that right now. We'll harp on that. "You can control some of that with your approach, and it's real." What's also real — this hasn't been a great second-half team. In past years under Beilein, the Wolverines have been a much better offensive team af- ter the break when playing in front of their own bench, something the coach acknowledged earlier this season. This year, it has been the exact oppo- site. In six games against RPI top-100 teams, the Wolverines had scored 81 fewer points after intermission than they had in the first 20 minutes, and in each of those contests they scored at least eight points fewer in the second half than they did in the first. That can't continue if the Wolverines hope to finish in the upper echelon of the Big Ten, and Beilein believes it won't. "This is a team I believe in, and we're going to keep working hard, but there are these times in games when we don't play as well as we can play," he said. "We've got to find a way to correct it." UPPERCLASSMEN NEED TO STEP UP THEIR GAMES There were positive signs in the 102-84 loss at UCLA, a game that was much closer than the final score indi- cated — it was a five-point game with seven minutes remaining and a 50-50 game at the half that ESPN analyst Dan Dakich called the best half he'd seen in eight years with the network. U-M also shot the ball well against Central Arkansas. But the Wolverines had been incon- sistent in the backcourt, and that's a concern given there are two seniors and a junior leading the way. On the surface, the 11-game num- bers were pretty good. Senior wing Zak Irvin was averaging 14.2 points per game while shooting 45.5 per- cent from the floor and 40.4 percent from three-point range. Senior point guard Derrick Walton Jr. was averag- ing 11.5 points and 4.0 assists per con- test, while shooting 37.9 percent from three-point range. Junior Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rah- kman, however, had been struggling. He was averaging 8.9 points per game, while shooting 37.6 percent from the floor and 30.2 percent from long range. Even redshirt junior sniper Duncan Robinson was shooting "only" 39.2 percent from long range, down from 45 percent last year. "[Abdur-Rahkman] has to be a bet- ter player than he's playing. He's got to continue to work," Beilein said after the 53-50 win over Texas Dec. 5. "He's lost a little confidence right now … SIGNS OF GROWTH Michigan Basketball Has Pieces, But Is Still A Work In Progress Through 11 games, sophomore forward Moritz Wagner ranked third on the team with an average of 11.2 points despite play- ing just 18.9 minutes per contest. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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