Beilein: Health, moxie, defense keys to UM's success

James Hawkins, The Detroit News
John Beilein speaks at Big Ten media day on Thursday.

Washington, D.C. – Michigan was one half away from advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons last year.

With all five starters returning from its tournament team, Michigan has a chance to do more than just duplicate that success.

But according to coach John Beilein, staying healthy and developing first- and second-year players will be critical this season.

The Wolverines were hit hard with injuries the past three years and were able to weather the storm twice with two tournament appearances.

This year, Beilein said the Wolverines have a “good blend of maturity” but they can ill afford to suffer any significant injuries.

Seniors Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin, Duncan Robinson and Mark Donnal are back to lead the team, along with junior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, contributors Moritz Wagner, D.J. Wilson and Andrew Dakich, and four talented freshmen in guards Xavier Simpson and Ibi Watson, forward Austin Davis and center Jon Teske.

Michigan opens its season with a home exhibition against Armstrong State on Nov. 4 before hosting Howard in its regular-season opener on Nov. 11.

Success doesn’t surprise Michigan players

“A better second half against Notre Dame, and we would have considered last year a heck of a year because we would have been advancing again,” Beilein said Thursday at the Big Ten men’s basketball media day. “So this one can be better if we are injury-free, we play better defense, we show more court awareness for our guys and sort of moxie when they go through slumps that they can get themselves back out, and then we coach them better. But if all those things happen, we could be a better team. Some of those things don't happen, we cannot be.

“I think you ask any of these teams in here that making the NCAA Tournament is what they want to do, because it's the only way at this level – making that tournament you're seen as having a successful year.”

Twitter @jamesbhawkins