The Wolverine

February 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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FEBRUARY 2018 THE WOLVERINE 35 and out-coached in the Wolverines' eighth win in the last 15 meetings with the Spartans. "Understand when you win a game like we did at Michigan State, such a big game for both teams, a letdown is inevitable," Beilein said. "We fought through the letdown in every situation except Nebraska [a 72-52 road loss Jan. 18]. I just think we have high-character kids who get it. They don't point fingers … they just get it. "It's not always going to be easy, not always going to be perfect, and you're going to have bad games. … But you can still win. "For us to go through that stretch … I'd love people to see what these kids go through. You'd be even prouder of how they perform." The win at MSU was huge, and a big reason the Wolverines entered the top 25 (No. 23 at the time, No. 25 as of Jan. 22). U-M then fought for a big 68-67 win over the Terrapins two days later when senior Muham- mad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman made two free throws with just over a second remaining, following a perfectly thrown inbound pass by freshman forward Isaiah Livers that allowed him to take it to the rim. Michigan played a step slow days later at Nebraska, but the win over the Spartans was huge for the NCAA Tournament résumé. The loss didn't sit well with their rivals. "We've just got to get tougher. It's pretty simple," sophomore for- ward Miles Bridges said. "Teams are out-toughing us. … That's tough, especially to a school like that, that doesn't even focus on [being tough]." CHANGING DYNAMICS This Michigan team appears to be different, making up for some of its offensive shortcomings with a ded- ication to defense and rebounding unlike many of Beilein's previous teams. The Wolverines beat the Spar- tans 11-8 on the offensive glass in the win in East Lansing, and ranked 20th nationally in adjusted defen- sive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions and factored against strength of opponent) at 94 as of Jan. 21. U-M hasn't finished anywhere close to the top 20 in that category in Beilein's tenure, the closest being No. 37 in both 2011 and 2013. "I think it's growth in a couple areas, and Zavier [Simpson] and Muhammad-Ali can guard people on the perimeter and set things up," explained Beilein. "I think we understand who we are, and now we're double teaming in some areas, heading into some areas we traditionally did not do. Between [former assistant] Bill Don- lon last year and [assistant] Luke [Yaklich] this year, these nice, subtle changes are paying off." Some of the 'new' guys like Livers, redshirt sophomore wing Charles Matthews and freshman shooting guard Jordan Poole are still learn- ing how to be aggressive on defense when things don't go their way, Beilein added, but he's confident that will improve. The lineup, meanwhile, has pretty much sorted itself out. Livers (4.6 Sophomore point guard Zavier Simpson has spearheaded a U-M defense that was ranked 20th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency by as of Jan. 21. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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