The Wolverine

January 2017

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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JANUARY 2017 THE WOLVERINE 41 shooting 37.7 percent from long range through 11 games, led by Wagner's impressive 54.2 percent that added an element to the Michigan offense. Defense, though, was where Michi- gan had made the greatest improve- ment through the first 11 games. As- sistant Billy Donlon was brought in to make a difference for a team that finished 70th in regular-season scoring defense last year (67.2 points allowed per game). They were 25th nationally through Dec. 13, allowing 61.7 — and that included the 102-point outburst by a ridiculously loaded UCLA team in which the defense really wasn't that bad; the Bruins were just that good, making several contested shots. Donlon doesn't let up, even when the game is out of reach. That's part of who he is, Simpson said with a laugh after the Central Arkansas game, and Beilein agreed. "Poor Brent Hibbitts," Beilein quipped of his walk-on after the win. "He allowed a basket and was get- ting yelled at. I said, 'Billy, we're up by 40, and this kid doesn't play a lot of defense in practice. He's on the scout team.' "But that's the way [Donlon] is al- ways going to be. That's a great pres- ence on our team. We were mad [Cen- tral Arkansas] got over 42 percent shooting, but the [defensive efficiency rating] was .7 or somewhere in there. We forced some turnovers … and they just played Butler last week really tough. Good showing." It was the second straight commend- able effort for the Wolverines, all things considered. Michigan was right there with one of the nation's best teams in UCLA and held a 44-39 lead after Irvin nailed a pair of triples late in the first half. The Bruins countered with ridicu- lous shot after ridiculous shot, and they needed to make them just to stay close. That's how well the Wolverines played offensively in the first half. So there's plenty on which to build. This Michigan team has shown flashes that it can contend in the Big Ten, oth- ers that it plays down to its competi- tion. If it keeps making incremental steps defensively and plays as loose as it did in the weeks heading toward Big Ten play, U-M could end up being pretty good. ❏ TOP FIVE BIG TEN TEAMS THROUGH DEC. 14 1. Indiana (8-1): The Hoosiers, ranked ninth nationally as of Dec. 14, had some nice wins on their résumé, including victories over a pair of No. 3 teams (at the time) in Kansas and North Carolina. They were one of the nation's most explosive teams, averaging 88.0 points per game and shooting 38.8 percent from long range, led by former U-M recruit James Blackmon's 16.9 points per game. Their only loss? A stunner to Fort Wayne. 2. Wisconsin (9-2): The No. 14 Bad- gers posted impressive wins over Georgetown, Syracuse, Oklahoma and Marquette, and had only lost to then-No. 22 Creighton — now No. 10 nationally — and No. 7 UNC. Bron- son Koenig, Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ form an incredibly formidable top three. 3. Purdue (8-2): The No. 15 Boiler- makers, buoyed by the return of big man Caleb Swanigan (15.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game) don't have great wins on their résumé yet, but they played No. 3 (now No. 1) Villa- nova to the wire in a three-point loss and gave No. 14 Louisville all it could handle on the road. This team is a Big Ten contender with five scorers in double figures and a huge front line. 4. Michigan (8-3): The Wolverines have been inconsistent, but so have all the other Big Ten teams not among the top three — and even that trio hasn't been consistently lights out. The Wolverines have played one of the tougher non-conference sched- ules (second, perhaps, to Michigan State) and have had moments where they've looked like a Big Ten con- tender. They've also had games in which they looked like they'd strug- gle to finish in the top half, so there's work to do. 5. Maryland (11-1): We're not sold on the Terrapins yet, but they have one of the nation's top players in point guard Melo Trimble (17.7 points per game) and put four starters in double figures. They haven't played a daunt- ing schedule, but they only have one loss — to a decent Pittsburgh team. They have three one-point wins this year: at Georgetown, versus Kansas State and against Oklahoma State. — Chris Balas Michigan needs more from junior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who is shooting just 37.6 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from three-point land through 11 contests. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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