UM’s Irvin wants to excel back home again in Indiana

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Zak Irvin, an Indiana native, has admitted it.

He wants to play well against his home-state schools — notably, Indiana and Purdue — and he puts pressure on himself to play well in games in Indiana.

So, might coach John Beilein be a bit concerned that, with the season on the line, the Big Ten tournament is in Indianapolis?

“Not until you just said it,” Beilein said Tuesday, laughing. “He prides himself in being a gamer, and sometimes that’s his biggest enemy sometimes because he wants to take the big shots.

“I’d rather have that than somebody who doesn’t want the ball.”

It’s been an up-and-down season for Irvin, the junior guard who was shut down July-September because of back surgery.

He’s had huge games, like in one of Michigan’s signature wins over then-No. 3 Maryland, when he shot 8-for-14 and scored 22 points.

But he’s had his bad games, like the loss in the finale to Iowa, when he shot 4-for-13 and scored 11.

Overall, he is shooting 41.9 percent, down from 43.4 percent as a freshman.

On free throws, he’s shooting 59.7 percent, down from 71 percent.

“If he was standing here, he would say he’s as healthy as he can be,” Derrick Walton Jr. said. “That’s all he can control.

“I trust him. The rest of the guys trust him, totally. He’s putting in the proper work. Sometimes, just, the ball doesn’t go in.”

Michigan (20-11) would be thrilled if Irvin gets the ball to go in when it opens the tournament at noon Thursday against Northwestern (20-11) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The Wolverines, losers of four of five down the stretch, likely need to win two tournament games — maybe three — to get an NCAA Tournament bid.

Expect the unexpected

The conference tournaments already have provided some crazy results, with a host of regular-season champions going down in upsets.

Beilein made sure to point that out to his eighth-seeded Wolverines.

“We did that,” he said. “A couple years ago (2011), Penn State went and made the NCAA Tournament. They had a terrible ending of the year, and all of a sudden they were in the championship game.

“These things can just happen.”

Said Walton: “I expect our guys to play a little (ticked) off. We’re not happy with how some of the games turned out.”

If Michigan has visions of making a run like Penn State in 2011, it should take comfort in knowing four teams seeded eighth or higher have reached the tournament final — Illinois (10) in 2008, Ohio State (8) in 2003, Iowa (9) in 2002 and Illinois (11) in 1999.

Getting closer

Defense hasn’t been Michigan’s strong suit but Beilein made an interesting point.

“Our overall defensive field-goal percentage is the exact same number from the year we won the Big Ten championship (in 2014), 44.5,” he said. “We’re talking five or six possessions a game, changes that to 40, and we have never been able to get to that area.

“Some of it is directly personnel, some is just experience overall. There’s very few freshman and sophomores out there that can make an impact defensively in games.”