UM enters Big Ten fray bullish after solid start
Ann Arbor — Ready or not, the real season is about to begin for Michigan.
The Wolverines put a bow on the nonconference schedule with an ugly 68-62 win over Furman on Thursday, needing clutch shots down the stretch from seniors Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. to improve to 10-3 as they await their Big Ten opener Jan. 1 at Iowa.
“Can't be too picky,” Walton said. “We took care of the games we thought we needed to take care of and wish we would've got more out of the games that we didn't get, but I think it just builds confidence that we played some great teams going forward.
“Going 10-3 into a conference like our own is a great spot to be in.”
There was a mix of good and bad over the first 13 games.
Michigan won the 2K Classic tournament with impressive double-digit victories over Marquette and SMU, set a single-game program record with 19 made 3-pointers in a rout of Central Arkansas, and took care of business against Howard, IUPUI, Mount St. Mary’s, Kennesaw State, Texas and Maryland-Eastern Shore.
The Wolverines had their chances to pick up a signature win, but couldn’t get any shots to fall at South Carolina, crumbled late against Virginia Tech and ran out of gas in the final five minutes at No. 2 UCLA. Entering play Friday, those three teams are a combined 32-3.
“You know, 10-3 isn't bad. It's a good record for us going into (Big Ten play),” Irvin said. “Obviously, we wish could have the Virginia Tech game back. That was a tough loss to swallow but we're just living in the present and we can't look back in the past.
“Could be better, could be worse but we're ready for conference play.”
As Michigan heads into holiday break and gets a chance to rest up, coach John Beilein said the biggest takeaway from the nonconference slate is his team needs to play with more confidence when things aren’t going well.
“We got to play with faith in our ability and not fear,” Beilein said. “I see that a couple of times that when we're playing in a game — this is my negative take — is that there's sometimes I got to put my around people and tell them how good they are. That's something that we got to really grow in that area.
“I think we got a group of guys that have no agendas and expect to win … We have a connected team of good kids that just need a little more grit.”
‘One of the best’
Beilein, 63 and in his 39th season, picked up the 750th win of his career and joked that the milestone victory was his favorite because it was his most recent.
It was also his 492nd win at the Division I level and 199th at Michigan. Prior to taking over at Michigan, Beilein notched 75 wins at Erie Community College (1978-82), 20 at Division III Nazareth (1982-83) and 163 at Division II Le Moyne (1983-92) before making the jump to Division I and winning 89 at Canisius (1992-97), 100 at Richmond (1997-2002) and 104 at West Virginia (2002-07).
“He's a guy that I respect as much as anybody in our business,” Furman coach Niko Medved said. “High school, small college, I mean he's a coach's coach. He's coached at all levels and had success.
“Just a terrific coach and ambassador for our game. It was great to go out, for us as a program and a coach, to compete against who I think is one of the best coaches in the country.”