Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Wolverines look to reload after a run to the NCAA title game

Photo Credit: Scott W. Grau- Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen

Michigan Wolverines

2017-18 Record: 33-8, 13-5 Big Ten
2017-18 Postseason: NCAA Tournament National Championship runner-up
Coach: John Beilein, 248-143 (.634) at Michigan, 12th season

Key losses:

Mo Wagner, Duncan Robinson, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman

Key returning players:

Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole, Zavier Simpson

Notable games:

Nov. 14 at Viilanova
Nov. 28 vs North Carolina
Dec. 1 vs Purdue
Dec. 8 vs South Carolina
Jan. 29 vs Ohio State
Feb. 24 vs Michigan State

Change can be a tough for any collegiate program, but Michigan Wolverines coach John Beliein relishes the opportunity, especially after losing invaluable assets such, as Mo Wagner, Duncan Robinson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman off a 33-8 team that came a game short of winning the national championship with the Villanova Widcats prevailing, 79-62.

Despite the Wolverines’ 14-game win streak going into the last season’s NCAA tournament finale, Beilein wants to see Michigan start better out the gate, but recognized similar challenges to the previous team could occur.

“We knew midway through last season that we had to adapt to some things,” Beilein said. “That’s what I love in embracing change and trying to change both offensively and defensively. We have a chance to be a good defensive team again, but we are a work in progress on offense.”

If the Wolverines are to make it three consecutive Big Ten tournament championships— a feat which has yet to be accomplished since the inception in 1998, they will need players such as Jordan Poole to elevate his game to another level.

The majority of Wolverine fans remember the sophomore for his miraculous game winning three-pointer from the wing to knock off the Houston Cougars, 65-64 in the NCAA Tournament second round last season. Despite the fame from the play, Beilein has tried to re-train Poole on being a more assertive player in the first couple of weeks of practice.

“[Jordan] has got to shoot the ball a lot now and I had to stop practice to tell him like I told Duncan Robinson to shoot the ball,” Beilein said. “We need him to hunt and shoot the ball, but his idea of hunting than Duncan’s is different, but his ability to pass the ball has grown. We will play through him quite a bit.”

Poole will be one of many pieces in Beilein’s free-flowing offense predicated on floor spacing and timely player movement as Charles Matthews and Zavier Simpson will receive the majority of opportunities to run the backcourt. Matthews and Simpson struggled from the perimeter with percentages of 32 and 29, respectively, while Poole went 37 percent. For Beliein’s system to work with ease, perimeter shooting will need to have a more consistent presence across the board.

Isaiah Livers’ role will expand as he will be the primary replacement to Duncan Robinson at the power forward spot, while Jon Teske returns for his junior season at center.

Beliein’s system should create opportunities for several players to play positionless basketball by being able to fluctuate anywhere on the court with ease.

One of the players expected to be in the mix is 6-foot-7 freshman wingman Ignas Brazdeikis. Brazdeikis’ experience is not ordinary for a first-year player with an international run with Team Canada in FIBA play, to go along with an average of 29 points per game in his last two seasons of prep school basketball Orangeville Prep in Orangeville, Ontario, Canada.

With a mix of new and veteran talent, the Wolverines can go as far as the skies can take them if all of ducks fall in a row in the 2018-19 season.