Michigan not taking solace in keeping it close

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

In the midst of its worst Big Ten losing streak in four years, Michigan is trying to keep things together.

Michigan has lost three straight and four of the last five in conference play and with a young rotation, and is taking its lumps in much the same way it had been delivering losses during its recent successful seasons.

With overtime losses to Wisconsin and at Michigan State and Sunday's three-point loss at Indiana, the Wolverines are showing moxie, but the losses still count as losses, which is tough on a young team.

"When the calendar turns to February, in so many cases, we always felt you are who you are. It's a great time of year for players because they get to play games. (Coaches) just play," assistant coach Jeff Meyer said Monday on the Big Ten coaches teleconference. "We always say, in February, you have to coach your hearts anyhow.

"Depending on the season, you are who you are, and you have to coach your hearts. That's a part of that when you have a team like we've got this year that competed very hard and is doing some things very well in terms of growing (and) falling short."

Michigan (13-11, 6-6 Big Ten) had a last-second shot against the Hoosiers to try to tie the game at the end of regulation, but Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman's 3-pointer from the left corner missed. Michigan is 2-23 since 1998 at Indiana but getting close, even with a depleted roster, isn't enough consolation.

"You have to be very aware of their hearts and very aware of just trying to keep them in a good place, (just) keep the vision in front of them and keep them connected," Meyer said.

Three freshmen are in the starting lineup for the Wolverines and the growing pains are part of the development in preparing them for a potential postseason — and into next season. Abdur-Rahkman, Ricky Doyle and Aubrey Dawkins are playing bigger roles than anticipated but are growing into big contributors. That has left the few veterans, including junior Spike Albrecht and sophomore Zak Irvin, to try to lead the way.

"We've got a group that's been through this, but the freshman group has not been through a season," Meyer said. "This is all new and they're looking to us to provide a path and a way and I'm sure they're talking to Spike and Zak about where to go and move to right now."

Albrecht, the only active player who played in the national championship game two years ago, said the close losses, including Sunday's, show improvement, but Michigan doesn't want to settle in its losses.

"Everyone keeps saying 'moral victories' but there are no moral victories," Albrecht said. "It was a disappointing loss and I was proud of the way we battled but we have to start finishing these close games."