The Wolverine

February 2017

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 42 of 75

FEBRUARY 2017 THE WOLVERINE 43 The defensive plan had been good overall heading into Big Ten play, the coach noted. Even Virginia Tech, 13-4 overall as of Jan. 16 with a big win over Duke, was held in check before exploding in the last four minutes of the game in November, a 73-70 win in which they battled from 10 down with less than eight minutes to play. "That team had scored 80 points [a game], and with four minutes to go they were on [pace for] like a 50-point game. The last four minutes of each half were as bad defense as we've ever played ever here," Beilein said. "That costs you the game. Fatigue, distractions, I have no idea. We've just got to continue to finish and close halves." But they still haven't figured it out. Until they do, Beilein probably won't rest. It's a different game, he noted after a 91-85 win over Nebraska Jan. 14 — 30-second shot clock, less contact allowed — and outscoring teams was becoming more a norm. Regardless, he concluded, the defense needed to improve. "It will come, but hopefully it doesn't come when they're over in Europe someday or in the NBA. It's something we want them to do here at Michigan," Beilein said. "Who am I guarding … where is it? They're getting better at it and they're great kids, working at it. "We're going to work at it, and it will be really fun when we pull this all together." At this point, however, it might be fair to substitute "when" with "if." Beilein teams have improved during seasons before, but this group has a long way to go to prove it can be one of them. ❏ It's important to start, but it's more important to finish. That's why the bench depth on any basketball squad can make a difference in the final outcome. Several Big Ten crews have demonstrated substantial bench strength in the early part of the conference season, while Michigan is one crew in the back half of the pack, look- ing for better production. Here's a rundown of the Big Ten's best bench efforts thus far through Jan. 15: 1. Michigan State — The Spartans stand head and shoul- ders above the league in bench production through the first third of the season. They have averaged 27.0 points, 16.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game from the bench crew over the first half-dozen Big Ten contests. Senior guard Alvin Ellis III leads the way, averaging 9.8 points per game for head coach Tom Izzo's backups. 2. Iowa — The Hawkeyes' bench boosted their early season effort, averaging 22.0 points, 14.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists per contest. Sophomore forward Nicholas Baer stood out in a couple of games, including his 12-point, five-rebound ef- fort in Iowa's 86-83 overtime win against Michigan. 3. Indiana — The Hoosiers got off to a very rocky start in the Big Ten, but its bench has proven among the more productive in the league. Tom Crean's relief crew averaged 22.0 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists over the first five conference games. In the Hoosiers' 96-80 win over Illinois, sophomore forward OG Anunoby came off the bench to scored 12 points, grab four rebounds and record three as- sists. 4. Illinois — The Illini have gotten very solid production off their bench, averaging 21.6 points, 11.2 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game thus far. They've enjoyed several different highlight contributors in what might be the conference's deepest bench crew. 5. Purdue — The Boilermakers' bench accounted for 21.0 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game over the ini- tial handful of Big Ten efforts. Junior forward Vince Edwards gave two of the conference's best performances off the bench (see below) before moving into the starting lineup. 6. Penn State — The Nittany Lions are proving to be a tough out in the Big Ten, with their bench averaging 19.0 points, 13.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists in relief during their opening five conference contests. Several have contributed strong efforts in the early going. Michigan, through the first five Big Ten games, has not proven nearly as effective off the bench as the top groups. The Wolverines averaged 11.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists from backups through the first handful of confer- ence contests. Aside from redshirt junior forward Duncan Robinson's strong effort at Iowa (see below), the Wolverines haven't enjoyed any head-turning individual efforts off the bench. Here's a look at the top 10 games from a non-starter in the season's early going: 1. Ellis came off the bench to score 20 points and grab six rebounds in Michigan State's 75-74 comeback win at Min- nesota. 2. Ellis followed that up with a 16-point, eight-rebound ef- fort in MSU's 61-52 victory over Northwestern. 3. Nebraska senior guard Tai Webster popped off the bench to record 17 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals for the Cornhuskers in a 74-66 victory over Northwestern. 4. Edwards notched 15 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks for Purdue in perhaps the best all- around bench effort this year, helping the Boilermakers to an 89-67 win over Iowa. 5. Minnesota fifth-year senior guard Akeem Springs came off the bench to supply 18 points, three rebounds and five assists in the Gophers' 78-68 win over Ohio State. 6. Illinois senior center Maverick Morgan subbed in to score 18 points, grab a pair of rebounds and block a shot in a 96-80 Illini loss to Indiana. 7. Robinson tossed in 15 points, with four rebounds, three assists and two steals in Michigan's Big Ten opener at Iowa, but it wasn't quite enough in an 86-83 overtime loss. 8. Penn State freshman forward Mike Watkins scored 15 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and added an assist, a blocked shot and a steal in the Nittany Lions' 52-50 win over Min- nesota. 9. Illinois redshirt freshman forward Kipper Nichols scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds off the bench in the 85-69 Illini win over the Wolverines. 10. Edwards tallied 14 points and seven rebounds in the Boilermakers' 91-82 loss to Minnesota. With two-thirds of the conference season remaining, plenty can happen, including true freshmen developing, and fluctuations between starters and top backups. It's clear, though, some Big Ten teams are cashing in off the bench, while others are significantly poorer, when it comes to back- ups coming through. — John Borton Benches Boost Big Ten Squads

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