Michigan looking to spread pressure shots around

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Michigan guard Zak Irvin (21) gets ready for the next drill during Michigan practice.

New York — Almost all season, Michigan didn't need to hit the "big" shot in crunch time.

The Wolverines either won big or lost big, so the games were typically decided well before the final minute.

That's why many wondered, and fairly so, if this young Wolverines roster, without an active senior, could rise to the occasion when the going got tough.

So far, so good — pulling out two nail-biters in the Big Ten tournament to get them into the NCAA Tournament, and then holding off Tulsa in a "First Four" game in Dayton, Ohio, on Wednesday.

Most impressively, it's been a host of different guys coming up big in the heat of the moment, with Zak Irvin hitting the buzzer-beater against Northwestern, Kam Chatman with the buzzer-beating 3-pointer against Indiana, Irvin again against Tulsa, and Duncan Robinson, Moritz Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman hitting big ones, too.

"So few of these guys have been in this situation before," coach John Beilein said.

"It's good to not have just one guy that can carry us."

Irvin has had his number called by Beilein lately with the game on the line, because, even though he misses a lot of shots, he seems to hit the big ones. His teammates call him "Mr. Big Shot."

But if Michigan plays on in this NCAA Tournament, Irvin might not be an option, as teams zero in on him.

And Beilein is comforted knowing he has other guys for whom he can draw up plays.

Michigan (23-12) was meeting Notre Dame (21-11) in a first-round NCAA Tournament game on Friday night.

"It's crucial to have as many weapons as possible," Mark Donnal said. "It's just huge. "It kind of throws whoever's defense it is through a loop, figuring out who they're going to go through in crunch time."

Irvin's gotten the fanfare, and for good reason.

Robinson has hit some of the biggest shots, even if not in the final seconds.

Against Northwestern and Indiana, he hit huge 3s with 46 seconds left, and in the second half against Tulsa, Robinson hit one, too, to put Michigan ahead at a critical juncture.

It's been a tough go for Robinson, especially in Big Ten play, when the bodies were bigger and thicker and tougher than he was used to -- in nonconference play at Michigan, and at Division III Williams.

Beilein said he hit a wall in conference play; he seems to have broken through that wall at the right time.

"I've always believed that confidence comes from repetitions," Robinson said. "I definitely have no shortage of reps. A lot of credit goes to my coaches and teammates.

"They instill a lot of confidence in me. That's really big, of course."

The unthinkable

Who would've thought?

Michigan was alive in the NCAA Tournament longer than Michigan State. Heck, Michigan even won an NCAA Tournament game, while Michigan State didn't.

The Wolverines all watched the Spartans shocking loss to Middle Tennessee State at the team hotel in Manhattan before heading over to Barclays Center.

Michigan players didn't all watch the game together, but the game was on in all their hotel rooms.

Asked if he saw any interesting reactions, a UM spokesman smiled and said he did not.

Class act

Classy scene at Barclays on Friday. Despite a tough, overtime loss to Iowa, Temple coach Fran Dunphy showed his good side when asked a question by a young reporter for "Sports Illustrated for Kids."

The kid asked Dunphy about his seniors.

Dunphy's response, in part: "I feel great about them. Just like I feel great about you, Max. You're a cool kid. And the fact that you asked your question the way you asked them. I love these guys."