John Niyo, James Hawkins and Matt Charboneau preview the Michigan State and Michigan college basketball seasons. The Detroit News, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — When Michigan took the Crisler Center court for an open scrimmage this week, coach John Beilein could only describe the performance as “The Selfie Night Defensive Massacre.”
Needless to say, he’s hoping to see a better effort in his team’s lone exhibition against Division II Northwood on Friday.
“I'm anxious to see our guys — we had selfie night (on Monday) and it was 20 minutes of no defense,” Beilein said Thursday, referring to Michigan’s annual meet and greet event with fans.
“That's how sick I am. They're going out there, they got a crowd, and I'm looking at that and I'm getting sick to my stomach watching our defense.”
It was a complete 180 of the team’s closed-door scrimmage against Toledo last weekend, one that Michigan reportedly won decisively. Beilein didn’t delve into many specifics, but said he liked the team’s defensive intensity and the defensive growth shown by sophomore guard Jordan Poole, sophomore forward Isaiah Livers and junior center Jon Teske.
That could spell unwelcome news for Northwood, who returns the majority of its players — highlighted by leading scorers Trey McBride (12.3 points) and Zach Allread (10.1 points) — from last season’s 11-17 team.
Still, Beilein hopes Northwood will provide a test with the regular season around the corner. And while he might be more willing to dive deeper into his bench depending on how the game unfolds, he’s more focused on getting key players plenty of playing time than holding auditions.
“Jordan Poole has never played 32 minutes in a game, so this is a great time to get him 32 minutes if he plays defense,” Beilein said. “Iggy (Ignas Brazdeikis) has never played the college game, let's get him as many minutes as we can. Isaiah Livers hasn't played 32 minutes in a long time, let's get him those minutes.
“That's what I think this is more about than getting everybody an opportunity."
But above all, it will be about getting the defense back on track after Monday’s lackluster showing.
“That was the disappointing part of the selfie night and the first time we went in front of a crowd,” Beilein said. “Now we go in front of a crowd, we better play defense. It will be good for us and we're looking forward to it.”
Former Fab Five member Chris Webber will make his return to Ann Arbor on Saturday to serve as an honorary captain for Michigan’s football game against Penn State.
It remains to be seen whether he’ll connect with the basketball program, but Beilein is hopeful that a meeting will take place.
“There's been some discussion on that, yeah,” Beilein said. “I don't know how much Chris wants me to say, but we hope we can get together this weekend.”
Webber has had a strained relationship with the university since his name was tied up in a $600,000-plus payment scandal with former booster Ed Martin, which led to a 10-year disassociation ban and NCAA sanctions.
Beilein said he has reached out to Webber several times since the ban ended in 2013 and reiterated his desire to reunite him with the program.
“It would be great,” Beilein said. “Since I came here 12 years ago, all of that, getting everybody back, former Michigan players to be really connected to the university again. For whatever reasons, whether they were or not, the whole idea is we’re one big great family, and let’s get everyone connected again.”
Beilein said Brazdeikis has become more comfortable at the four with Livers sidelined with an ankle injury last month but still plans to play him at the two.
“I think he's probably got to have a primary and a secondary, so you'll probably see him more — the biggest need when Isaiah was out was him playing at the four,” Beilein said. “He'll play some there, but it's really not a four. We got two small forwards and he's one of them. He'll be doing the same action on the right hand that Charles (Matthews) does on the left hand.”
Beilein added that in an effort to get freshman Brandon Johns and Livers on the floor more, the team is experimenting with Johns at the five while Livers is capable of playing either forward spot.
… Michigan will vote on team captains for the season on Sunday.
Northwood at Michigan
Tip-off: 7 p.m. Friday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
Radio: WWJ 950
Outlook: This is the lone exhibition game for No. 19 Michigan before it opens the regular season on Tuesday against Norfolk State. … Northwood lost to Western Michigan, 86-66, in an exhibition last weekend.