The Wolverine

February 2017

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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FEBRUARY 2017 THE WOLVERINE 47   MICHIGAN BASKETBALL start to come together — one a game, not one every three games — then it's, 'Maybe they can get to two a game.' "That's a big difference for us, and as you see it opens the whole offense, everything up." ASSISTANTS FINDING THEIR ROLES Michigan assistant coach Billy Don- lon was hired to help improve the Wolverines' defense, but U-M has struggled on that end of the floor this year. Head coach John Beilein said he was still encouraged by his new as- sistants' interactions over the season's first several months. "I think there's a good mix of being demanding and giving [players] a big hug as well through all those things," Beilein said of Donlon and fellow first-year assistant Saddi Washington. "Billy has done a lot to assist us, even though it doesn't look like it on some occasions. Maybe we have to think a little bit more and that's been some delay, but in the long run we hope it all works out." Junior guard Muhammad-Ali Ab- dur-Rahkman has been hot and cold on the defensive end, but he said the relationships between the new assis- tants and the players were growing as the coaches got more comfortable holding guys accountable. "I think they're willing, more so than a couple of weeks ago or at the beginning of the season," he said. "As the season goes on, they'll be more willing to call people out." And the Wolverines will likely be better for it, he added. On defense, especially, the principles are sound, Beilein explained. It's just a matter of repetition and breaking old habits. "It's not hard [to learn], but in the heat of the moment, you probably go back to what you've known more so than the new concept, like with anything in life," Abdur-Rahkman noted. ❏ Record From Dec. 14-Jan. 16: 4-3 Season Record: 12-6 overall, 2-3 Big Ten Best Win — 91-85 over Nebraska, Jan. 14: This one quali- fies for a couple of reasons. One, it stopped the bleeding af- ter the Wolverines lost three of their first four Big Ten games, including a home loss to Maryland and a near home loss to Penn State. Two, Nebraska had gotten off to a strong 3-1 start in the Big Ten, including road wins at Indiana and Maryland. Michigan never trailed in this one, lead- ing by as many as 10 at the 15:41 mark of the second half. The Cornhuskers made it scary down the stretch, pulling within two at the 4:43 mark, but the Wolverines finished them off, dominating at the free throw line. U-M hit 26 of 30 at the charity stripe, compared to Nebraska's 4 of 5, giving Cornhuskers' head coach Tim Miles plenty to shake his head over on the way out of town. Meanwhile, a key trio for Michigan combined for 64 of the Wolverines' points. Sophomore center Moritz Wagner led the way with a career-high 23, while senior forward Zak Irvin (21) and senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. (20) lit it up for the Wol- verines as well. "It was big," John Beilein said afterward. "We had a nice crowd again. This is a great bunch of kids who deserve to have a good season. They've worked really hard. Are we missing a few things? Yeah. But they've worked really hard, and it's going to be one of the happiest fight songs I've sung in a long time." Worst Loss — 85-69 at Illinois, Jan. 11: It's tempting to list Michigan's home loss against Maryland Jan. 7 as the worst in this stretch, but the Terps absolutely shot the lights out at Crisler Center, connecting on 66.7 percent of their three-point attempts (10 of 15). At Illinois, the defeat proved so thoroughly dispiriting the home team felt free to take a swipe or two. Among the postgame comments from the Illini was one involving Michigan playing "white-collar basketball." Irvin retorted that the Wolverines will see the Illini again, but the assessment had to sting. The Wolverines were in this one for much of the first half, but Illinois closed out the period on a 17-2 run, going into the locker room up 49-36. A key foul and subsequent techni- cal foul on Walton for slamming the basketball down helped fuel the explosion. Michigan made a run early in the second half to close the margin to single digits, but the Illini poured it on to go up 70-50 in the closing moments before making their uncharitable postgame assessments. Breakout Performer — D.J. Wilson: Michigan's redshirt sophomore forward hasn't taken a step back since the Big Ten campaign began. Over five conference games, Wilson paced the Wolverines in scoring and rebounding, averaging 16.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. He also recorded seven assists, six blocked shots and three steals over that span, in addition to shooting 62.3 per- cent from the field and an incredible 61.1 percent from three-point range. He also knocked down six of his seven free throw attempts. Wilson began the Big Ten season with a bang, scoring 28 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in Michigan's near-miss over- time loss at Iowa. He also held up well on the road at Illinois with 19 points and scored in double figures in Michigan's first five conference games. Freshman Impact — Xavier Simpson: Simpson isn't see- ing the extensive minutes a number of U-M freshmen have enjoyed the past several years, but he gave the Wolverines an average of 11 minutes per game in the opening handful of league contests. In Big Ten play, he's averaged 1.4 points and 0.4 rebounds per game, with six assists and three steals. Simpson is still looking for his shooting touch against Big Ten defenses, going 2 of 10 from the floor and 1 for 7 from three-point range during Michigan's 2-3 Big Ten start. — John Borton Basketball Rewind: Dec. 14-Jan. 16 Redshirt sophomore forward D.J. Wilson has posted double-digit points in all five games from Jan. 1-14, and in nine of the last 11 contests, after doing so just once in the first seven tilts of the campaign. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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