Ann Arbor — Michigan coach John Beilein was blunt — his team hasn’t handled success well this season.
When it seemed like the Wolverines were on the verge of turning a corner with back-to-back wins over Illinois and Indiana last month, they regressed with consecutive losses to Michigan State and Ohio State.
Heading into tonight’s matchup against No. 11 Wisconsin, Michigan finds itself in the same position — hoping to avoid another slide after winning two straight.
Michigan coach John Beilein talks about challenges of facing the No. 11 Badgers at home. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
“I think with most people — and we’re no different — good is the enemy of great,” Beilein said. “And as soon as you do some things good, you start to slack off a little bit and that’s our job as coaches to make sure they see that. You still want to smell the roses a little bit and not be so you can’t ever smile.
“That’s that point that we have to handle as coaches really well with them. I think hopefully between some of our disappointing losses this year, the Ohio State when it came after the Indiana win, hopefully they’ve learned some lessons from that.”
Beilein said the Ohio State loss was the lowest he’s seen his team this season. When he walked into the locker room after the game, every single player was facing his locker with his head down in disappointment.
Since then, Michigan has bounced back with double-digit victories over Michigan State and Indiana, and has the opportunity to record its first three-game win streak in roughly two months.
“We’re not comfortable right now where we’re at,” sophomore forward D.J. Wilson said. “I think when we did go on those stretches of winning and then dropped off, we kind of got complacent and comfortable.
“But we know that we only have a limited amount of games left and we have to win a lot of those in order to go where we want to go. As a team, we’re not comfortable and we’re going to continue to fight.”
It’s a message that resonates among all the players. With the season winding down, a date with the Badgers is one of the few remaining chances Michigan has to improve its NCAA Tournament resume.
Beilein said the key against Wisconsin — which has won 17 of the last 19 meetings — is to not beat themselves like the Wolverines did on Jan. 17, when they committed 17 fouls and squandered an eight-point lead in the second half.
More importantly, it’s about bringing that same fire and intensity it has the past two games.
“Prosperity has not been a friend to us so far this year,” Beilein said. “When we’ve played well, we have lost a little of that edge we need. So we got to come out there with that aggression that we need, that angry aggression to go and get a ‘W.’”
Cut the drama
Sophomore center Moritz Wagner leads Michigan with 65 personal fouls and each one seems to draw a reaction, from flailing arms to an array of baffled expressions.
Beilein said he hasn’t had a discussion about the way Wagner reacts to foul calls, but believes it has to do with him growing up overseas and watching European sports teams.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m being prejudiced here, it’s very European to have a lot of drama on fouls whether it’s soccer, basketball,” Beilein said.
“There just seems to be a lot of drama and we tried to scale that down, but I see it.
“He’s trending in the right direction of just playing and not getting so emotionally upset by what happens to him in the game.
“He always seemed to be tussling or something in the game and I think it’s part of the habits they form as younger players.”
Since suffering a left calf injury on Jan. 24, Wisconsin senior guard Bronson Koenig’s numbers have dipped.
In the past five games, he’s shooting 25.4 percent (14-for-55) from the field and averaging 8.8 points, well below his season average of 13.4 points and 41.8 percent shooting.
Koenig didn’t practice Wednesday and is listed as day-to-day.
“We won’t don’t want to wish any injury upon anybody, but hopefully I can contain him,” senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. said.
“And hopefully he doesn’t have Mr. Miyagi over there rub his calf.”
… In the aftermath of Wagner accidentally running over Indiana coach Tom Crean on the sidelines last weekend, Beilein said he can’t recall ever having a collision with a player.
However, he did have a run-in with an official back when he was coaching at West Virginia that ended with the ref splitting his pants.
“I think I’m better off hitting a ref or running into a ref than a player because I would not like to run into some of big guys that are out there right now,” Beilein said. “That wouldn’t have a good ending.”
Wisconsin at Michigan
Tip-off: Thursday, 7 p.m., Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
TV/radio: ESPN/950 AM
Records: No. 11 Wisconsin 21-4, 10-2 Big Ten; Michigan 16-9, 6-6
Outlook: Derrick Walton Jr. needs two rebounds to become the first Wolverine with 1,000 career points, 500 rebounds and 400 assists.