Michigan coach talks about his team taking on Norfolk State to open the 2018-19 season. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — For some teams, preparing for the regular-season opener is like preparing for the unknown.
Take Michigan and Norfolk State for example, who the Wolverines will host Tuesday night to kick off the 2018-19 campaign — and face for just the second time in program history.
“Are they the Jackrabbits?” sophomore forward Isaiah Livers wondered aloud Monday before being told that would be South Dakota State, who Michigan last played in 2013, while Norfolk State is the Spartans.
“OK, I don't know much about Norfolk State. I know a lot about the South, one because they had a really good point guard (Nate Wolters) back in the day. I remember Michigan played them.”
It’s not uncommon for there to be a lack of familiarity with an opening foe due to player departures and arrivals, offensive and defensive changes, and, most importantly, limited film to review.
Still, Michigan coach John Beilein said he knows enough about what Norfolk State is capable of defensively — it forced 21 turnovers in an exhibition against Virginia State last week — and that it will present his team with some “great challenges.”
“They play a lot of different defenses. We have only video of last year on them right now, so we're trying to guesstimate what they're going to be doing," he said. "We have a lot of new players out there and more people that are playing different roles. We got to find out somewhere where we are and then build from it.
“They got some good quickness, they can play a variety of defenses. We got to be ready to play with both pace and space, but if we're rushing and things like that we'll dribble or pass ourselves into problems.”
While the film never lies, Livers pointed out it’s not always correct in these situations. Norfolk State returns starters and leading scorers Steven Whitley (12.2 points) and Alex Long (10.5 points) but graduated three players who started at least 14 games last season.
As a result, the Wolverines will lean on their strengths — limiting teams to one shot on defense and getting up and down the floor and attacking the basket on offense — and challenge the Spartans to stop it.
“That just kind of goes back to the basics — doing what we know we're good at, using our principles, and locking in on defense and running our offense that we know works,” sophomore guard Jordan Poole said. “Games like this are huge on execution.”
And Michigan has already had more practice and time to build chemistry than most, with the summer trip to Spain that included three exhibitions against professional players and experienced teams in addition to its closed-door scrimmage against Toledo and exhibition against Northwood.
“I think we're extremely prepared,” Poole said. “We know what we're capable of and what kind of team this will be. And being able to be playing with these guys since the end of June has a been a really long time and I feel like it's super exciting. We really have a grasp on what we're going to be like this year.”
That’ll be for Norfolk State to find out.
“I think there was a lot of things we learned from our Northwood (exhibition) and I'm sure there's a lot of things — win or lose — that we'll learn from this game tomorrow night,” Beilein said.
“We're excited to get this thing going and I know my team is as well.”
Norfolk State at Michigan
Tip-off: 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
Outlook: Michigan will hold a pregame ceremony to raise its Final Four and Big Ten tournament title banners to the rafters…Michigan coach John Beilein is one win away from his 800th at the college level…Last season, Norfolk State finished 14-19 overall — its first losing season since 2010-11 — and fourth in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with an 11-5 mark.