Michigan resumes defensive posture in return home

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Michigan guard Derrick Walton Jr., right, shoots as UCLA forward Ike Anigbogu defends during the second half.

For Michigan, the roughest stretch of the nonconference schedule has passed and it’s been a grab bag of highs and lows.

The Wolverines won the 2K Classic tournament at Madison Square Garden and beat Texas in a thrilling down-to-the-wire win, but also had a forgettable shooting performance at South Carolina and a brutal loss in the final seconds to Virginia Tech in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

With Big Ten play creeping on the horizon, Michigan closes its nonconference slate with three straight homes games — starting Tuesday night against Central Arkansas — and will shift gears after challenging No. 2 UCLA last week in a 102-84 loss.

The Wolverines will look to continue their trend of bouncing back from losses and relying on their defense, an area Michigan coach John Beilein reflected on during a Big Ten conference call Monday with reporters.

Beilein said while UCLA’s offensive firepower may have exposed some vulnerability in Michigan’s defense, he wasn’t concerned with how his team defended in the post. Rather, the challenge with UCLA was guarding out on the perimeter and staying in front of players when they drove into the paint.

“They spread us,” Beilein said. “Very rarely you have four guys out there all shooting 40 percent (from 3-point range). I mean, we have a great shooter in Duncan Robinson and they had four guys that shoot like Duncan Robinson.”

Michigan contested most of UCLA’s shots in the first half but to no avail. The Bruins shot 61.3 percent (19-for-31) before heating up and shooting a blistering 74 percent (20-for-27) in the second half.

“We wore down a little bit,” Beilein said. “In the first half we tried hard, almost got some stops and they made some incredible shots. The second half it was much easier for them. They got a lot of layups in the second half. We wore down.”

Central Arkansas won’t pose the same demanding test. It ranks in the bottom half of nearly every offensive and defensive category. But its ability to challenge all of its opponents — including Wisconsin, Oklahoma State and Butler — has Beilein on notice.

“Against Butler, it was a five-point game with 10 minutes to go and I think we all know how good Butler is,” Beilein said. “So as each team that goes through these teams that are playing a lot of guarantee games, they get better and better as the year goes on playing against teams and we’re going to have to shoot the ball really well.

“(Central Arkansas) has been playing most games 100 percent matchup zone, so every day we see a different defense, every day we got to adapt and, hopefully, we’ll be ready.”

Border battle

While Michigan’s football team has a storied past of recruiting players from Ohio, the basketball team hasn’t had quite the same success.

“What was really amazing that I think it had been some 20 years since we had an Ohio guy on our roster when Trey Burke came here,” Beilein said. “That’s hard to believe, but that was true.”

Michigan now has four players on its roster from Ohio, including freshmen Xavier Simpson, Jon Teske and Ibi Watson, and senior Mark Donnal.

Simpson and Burke were both Ohio Mr. Basketball award winners, but Simpson hasn’t taken on a large role like Burke did his first season. Simpson has appeared in all 10 games off the bench, recording 11 points on 2-for-7 shooting, 10 assists, five steals, four rebounds and a block in 87 minutes.

“Xavier is a leader,” Beilein said. “He’s been working really hard to catch up to speed at what happens in college basketball and hopefully he can continue to make good progress.

“He’s been limited in his minutes because as the game slows down, he’ll be much more comfortable out there.”

Notable

With nine points against UCLA, senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. became the 51st player in program history to reach 1,000 career points. He’s tied for 50th on Michigan’s all-time scoring list with Wayman Britt (1973-76).

Central Arkansas at Michigan

Tip-off: 9 p.m. Tuesday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor

TV / radio: BTN / WWJ 950, WTKA 1050

Outlook: Michigan (7-3) closes out its nonconference schedule with three straight home games. ... This is the first meeting between the teams. ... Central Arkansas (1-8) has lost five straight and has played all but one game on the road. ... The Bears are led by Gs Jordan Howard (17.2 points), Derreck Brooks (15.8 points) and Mathieu Kamba (11.2 points).

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