Michigan coach previews team's next Big Ten game ahead of Wednesday's contest. Matt Charboneau, Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Just three games into Big Ten play, Michigan is one 14-point comeback in the second half against Penn State from being winless, far from what the Wolverines were hoping for.
So heading into tonight’s matchup with Illinois, Michigan was in need of a few things to try to turn things around, and lightening the mood at the Crisler Center was among them. Consider that item checked off the list thanks to the prank played on Monday on senior walk-on Andrew Dakich, who was awarded a scholarship for the second semester but only after he thought he was going to jail.
Two university public safety officers interrupted a film session looking for Dakich, and after some tense moments, they presented him with papers to sign to receive his scholarship. On Tuesday, Dakich was laughing about it but hoped it could provide a change in direction.
“Those were tough losses against (Maryland) and Iowa,” Dakich said. “But everyone was joyful in practice and it went smooth and everyone was in a good mood. Hopefully it sparks us to get a big win against Illinois.”
While Dakich is sitting out the season as a redshirt, it will be up to his teammates to turn things around on the court, and that begins by playing much better defense than the Wolverines have in three Big Ten games. Michigan is allowing 77.3 points a game in conference play and ranks 13th in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage defense at .491, better only than the Illinois team it plays Wednesday night.
Walk-on senior was surprised when he was granted a scholarship for this semester by coach John Beilein on Monday. Matt Charboneau, Detroit News
Playing better from the opening tip is something the Wolverines have been working on, according to senior guard Derrick Walton Jr.
“A better tone set in the first half defensively,” Walton said when asked what needs to be improved. “We gave some guys the confidence to shoot shots they made in the second half. As a basketball player, you see one go in that’s all the difference for you. So guys coming into the game and aren’t shooting well make a shot or two, and that was pretty much all the difference.”
Coach John Beilein said it’s been a handful of possessions each game that have been the difference, but all of it is fixable as it’s typically the basic fundamentals the Wolverines struggle with.
“If it’s a crazy switch that only Zack Novak and Stu Douglass could understand or Tim Hardaway was great at that stuff, that’s one thing,” Beilein said. “I’m talking about fundamentals.”
Beilein and his staff have eliminated a lot of the more complex defensive plans to shore things up. However, he says some players just have a hard time understanding where they need to be on the court.
Much like a quarterback who knows when he needs to step up in the pocket, Beilein wants his players to understand where they should be to defend the best.
“I call it GPS, some players have bad GPS of where the basket is, where their man is, how far out is he on the court,” Beilein said. “You can see it. Some guys are more apt to find their way out of the forest than others. They get lost and that’s what happens in games. Some of it is trainable and some of it is innate. … Some basketball players do not feel where they are on the court and it’s a fact. They all of a sudden guard at an angle that doesn’t make any sense. So we train it and hope they find their way out of the forest.”
Doing that Wednesday night will be vital if Michigan expects to stay in the Big Ten race. After the Wolverines face Illinois, they host a Nebraska team that is 3-1 in conference play on Saturday before things really start to get difficult.
After this weekend, the next eight games include two each with Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan State. However, Beilein understands there are no simple nights in the Big Ten and they’ll be taking the same approach for each game.
“It’s early and we know this and all the games are really important,” Beilein said. “They’re all important and we’ll find out which ones are more later on. But we can’t change our focus from game to game. They are all the Super Bowl to us. We’ve got to go into it with that mindset and that’s the only mindset.”
Michigan at Illinois
Tip-off: 9 p.m. Wednesday, State Farm Center, Champaign, Ill.
Records: Michigan 11-5, 1-2 Big Ten; Illinois 11-5, 1-2
Outlook: The Wolverines are looking to bounce back from a home loss to Maryland and pick up their first true road win of the season. With 366 career assists, senior G Derrick Walton Jr. needs one assist to pass Manny Harris for sole possession of 10th place in program history. ... Illinois is led by senior G Malcolm Hill, who ranks second in the Big Ten in scoring (18.8 points).
Senior guard says Michigan has been working hard on fundamentals. Matt Charboneau, Detroit News