Michigan coach John Beilein talks about the regular-season loss to Michigan State providing an "edge," and his team's Big Ten tournament. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Michigan coach John Beilein hoped to have redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews ready for the postseason.
It appears the chances of Matthews making his return are inching closer and closer to a possibility.
According to Beilein, Matthews was able to go through a full practice on Tuesday for the first time since he sprained his right ankle on Feb. 24. That’s the good news.
The bad news is Matthews, who has missed the last three games, is still not at 100 percent.
That means Matthews’ status remains up in the air as Michigan (26-5) enters the postseason and heads to the United Center in Chicago for the Big Ten tournament. The Wolverines will open play at approximately 9:30 p.m. Friday in the quarterfinals against the winner of Thursday's matchup between Iowa and Illinois.
“I know he's feeling a lot better than he was last week and he's anxious to play,” Beilein said Wednesday. “But I'm not going to let him play and he's not going to play if he's not feeling 90 to 100 percent.”
Matthews was a game-time decision in Saturday’s finale at Michigan State and ended up sitting out in the loss that denied Michigan a share of the Big Ten regular-season title. He went through pregame warm-ups with a black brace on his right ankle and Beilein thought there was a “realistic chance” he would play, but Matthews didn’t feel right and couldn’t go.
Beilein noted the Spartans ran a lot of backside action out of their ball-screen offense that confused several of the younger Wolverines and they didn’t know how to cover it. That's where Matthews’ importance as one of the league's best help defenders and communicators on the back line, particularly at directing and pushing players in the right position, was sorely missed.
Couple that with Matthews' experience in big-time games and his offensive production (12.8 points), it was a tough void for Michigan to fill.
“It would be a big help to have him back, defensively and offensively,” junior center Jon Teske said. “He's been playing well in practice. I'm not really sure what his status will be, but we're just going to go with it and we'll be ready whether he plays or not. But in the last couple practices he's been looking pretty good and getting back in shape. He's been doing the regular things that he always does.”
Teske said Matthews’ demeanor hasn’t changed over the past couple weeks while he has been nursing the ailment. He still has high energy and has been finding ways to provide leadership no matter if he's on the court or not.
"He's been really helpful. He's been pretty much like a coach,” Teske said. “He sees stuff that we might not see during practice or playing. Having him back here and there and trying to get him back in the rotation you can feel his presence back on the defensive side of the ball and offensive side of the ball.”
Before the injury, Matthews had never missed a single game since he suited up for Michigan. He started all 41 games last season and all 28 this season before he stepped on a player’s foot and tweaked his ankle in the first half against Michigan State.
If Matthews is able to come back this week, Beilein said he’s unsure how many minutes he would play. But with sophomore guard Jordan Poole in need of more rest and the Wolverines in need of more veteran experience on the floor, Beilein will take whatever Matthews can give.
"First of all, if we start him, that would be the first question,” Beilein said. “Who are we playing and how do they play? What's the matchup like? So, we have to go through that. How was he in practice the last couple days?
“How can we get him on the floor in any way? I love what Isaiah (Livers) gives us, Iggy (Brazdeikis) at the same time, and maybe there's a solution there as well. We're looking at all that stuff, but when you don't know whether he's going to play or not it's hard.”
Teske said several players have done a solid job “pivoting” their roles during Matthews’ absence, like freshmen David DeJulius' and Colin Castleton's extended cameos off the bench, that will only help Michigan moving forward.
That’s not to mention the job Livers, who has filled in Matthews’ spot in the starting lineup, and Brazdeikis have done stepping up and leading the next-man-up approach.
Over the last three games, Livers has made seven 3-pointers, recorded his first career double-double and averaged 9.3 points and 5.7 rebounds in 32.7 minutes, while Brazdeikis has made nine 3-pointers and averaged 20.3 points and six rebounds in 30.3 minutes.
“I think it's really good what Isaiah is giving us. I think he's really made some good plays,” Beilein said. “He's an elite shooter whereas Charles is a good shooter, so it spreads us a little bit more when people would be gapping off of Charles.
“I think that's the good thing and now I think we've learned what Isaiah can do in these situations, so we can dial him up a little bit or use his matchup a little bit differently. That's helped us a lot and we played through Iggy a little bit more during that time.”
But make no mistake, Beilein hopes the time for Matthews' return is coming soon.
“There's a lot of rising in the whole thing that's happened because of the injury,” Beilein said. “But we want him back badly.”