UM seeks to reclaim boards during breezy stretch
Ann Arbor — The fans don't like 'em, these games against Delaware State, Northern Kentucky, Youngstown State and Bryant.
And you can't blame the fans, particularly the season-ticket holders, many of whom clearly ate their tickets Saturday when Crisler Center was barely half-full for Michigan's stomping of Delaware State.
But there might be some benefit to the schedule, far beyond just padding the win total to try and impress the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.
Michigan, coach John Beilein was saying Monday, has identified some deficiencies in losses to the likes of Xavier, Connecticut and SMU. And now it has a stretch of games where, theoretically, it can work on those, without worrying a whole bunch about defeat.
"We have taken a long look at our team and seen our strengths and seen our weaknesses," Beilein said. "We still have a lot of weaknesses.
"There are some things maybe we can find out more about ourselves during this period."
Michigan is 7-3 and isn't completely devoid of quality wins. It did put on an impressive display in winning at North Carolina State, without Derrick Walton Jr. (left ankle) for much of that game. Earlier, it beat a Texas team that could make a run in the Big 12 this season.
But against teams seemingly bound for the NCAA Tournament — except for SMU, which is impressive, but banned from postseason play — UM is 0-3.
In those games, the Wolverines learned they're not a very good rebounding team and not a great defensive team.
Those are things they now get a chance to iron out, or at least try to, during this four-game, low-key nonconference stretch that leads into the start of Big Ten play Dec. 30 at Illinois.
It's almost a chance to reboot and refine.
"We've just gotta take what we learned from our losses, and the games we played," swingman Zak Irvin said.
"But, also, we learned last year you can't take any game lightly. We've gotta respect every opponent we go against."
There's definitely some truth to that. Early last season, Michigan was feeling pretty darn good about itself after beating No. 3 Syracuse.
Then, the very next game, it lost to some school called the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and followed that up with an even uglier loss to Eastern Michigan in which Michigan managed to score a whopping 42 points.
So, no, you can't ignore any opponent, although Delaware State was pretty awful. Northern Kentucky, which tips off against Michigan at 7 Tuesday night at Crisler Center, is no dynamo — though it's better than Delaware State, enough to hang in against Xavier about as well as Michigan did.
Rebounding will be a huge focus during this stretch — the final numbers won't matter as much as the technique the players, particularly Ricky Doyle and Moritz Wagner, show during the games. Against Xavier, UConn, N.C. State and SMU, Michigan got outrebounded by an average of 14.5 a game.
"We're really having issues with some guys just rebounding, even though they're really tall, even though they're in position, it hits their hands," said Beilein, noting Michigan has had the pads out a lot during rebounding drills in practice. "Some guys, it doesn't come overnight."
But who knows?
It just might come during a four-game nonconference stretch that isn't sexy, but might be exactly what this team needs right now.
Andrew Dakich also should get an extended look this month, after burning his redshirt to take the place of Spike Albrecht (hip surgery), who's out for the season.
Beilein has talked about how Dakich "has some Spike in him," and Dakich said it's his goal to play like Albrecht.
Still, he's not feeling any pressure to fill Albrecht's shoes.
"No, there's one Spike Albrecht," Dakich said. "He left his legacy. He was kind of my idol. I remember I direct-messaged him after I finally committed to the University of Michigan, saying I really idolized him and I learned so much from him.
"Coach Beilein once said if we had 15 Spikes on our team, we'd be a better team. If I can have just a little bit of Spike in me, I'll take it every day of the week — and twice on Sunday."
By the way, how did Dakich celebrate after making his season debut and scoring four points Saturday? Outback Steakhouse, with Duncan Robinson.
This softer stretch also is big, given UM's continuing battle with injuries.
Walton, after going down Dec. 1, finally seems set to return, for at least a few minutes, Tuesday night. He was available in an emergency Saturday, but his services were hardly needed as Michigan destroyed Delaware State
He's a big boost to the team's rebounding and defensive efforts.
... Forward D.J. Wilson (right ankle), however, remains out, though the walking boot did come off. Beilein likened the injury to Walton's, and if that's the case, he could be out until right before the start of Big Ten play.
"He's walking around and he'll try to do some things," Beilein said.
... Moritz Wagner, the freshman from Germany, is getting pretty darn excited. His family is coming over for Christmas — and he's seen his family only sparingly since he came to Michigan. He's been home for just two weeks since starting at Michigan in July.
Northern Kentucky at Michigan
Tip-off: 7 Tuesday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
Records: Northern Kentucky 2-5; Michigan 7-3
Outlook: Northern Kentucky has a first-year coach in John Brannen, who got the job after spending six seasons on Alabama's coaching staff. ... Northern Kentucky is led by Jalen Billups (15.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Lavone Holland II (11.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg).