Beilein to UM players: Don't let rejection get you down

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Michigan coach John Beilein had a simple message for his team heading into Sunday’s matchup at Minnesota: Don’t be weak going to the rim.

That’s easier said than done considering the Golden Gophers rank No. 2 in the nation with 176 blocked shots and lead the Big Ten at 7.3 per game.

Junior center Reggie Lynch (6-foot-10) mans the middle for Minnesota’s swat party and is one of the nation’s top rim defenders with 3.2 rejections a game. Lynch receives plenty of help as sophomore forward Jordan Murphy (6-6), junior center Bakary Konate (6-11) and freshman forward Eric Curry (6-9) average roughly a block each.

"For some reason they think getting their shot blocked is one of the worst things that can ever happen to you, so they get very shy about it,” Beilein said. “It's not going to be the end of your life if you get your shot blocked. You got to go up strong, use your shot fakes.”

Entering play Saturday, Minnesota ranked 15th nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency despite ranking 75th in scoring defense (68.3 points). The Golden Gophers are also 10th in 3-point field-goal defense (30 percent) and 16th in field-goal percentage defense (39.3 percent).

According to Beilein, Minnesota’s ability to block and alter shots is one reason why their defensive numbers are so good even though it sits in the bottom half in points allowed during Big Ten play (71.8 points, eighth).

UM goes ‘from frying pan to fire’ down stretch

"If we could block four shots a game, our defensive field-goal percentage goes from 47 (percent) to 42 just like that. Just four stops a game,” Beilein said. “Well when they have three or four more blocked shots than other teams do, there it is right there. All of a sudden bumps their numbers.

“I think in this era of the bigger circle under the basket that shot blockers are going to be really important going forward, whether you're what we call playing volleyball, just going up straight inside the arc and making people go over you, or whether you'll be able to actually get your hands on the basketball. I think the second thing would quickness, particularly on the perimeter. They really got great quickness everywhere and that helps you stay in front of people at every position."

For Michigan, staying in front of Minnesota’s guards is going to be a difficult task considering the Wolverines have struggled and suffered defensive breakdowns against teams who excel at dribble drive penetration.

Beilein said the emergence of fifth-year senior Akeem Springs (10 points) and freshman Amir Coffey (12.3 points) — whom Beilein compared to a young version of former Piston Tayshaun Prince — along with junior guard Nate Mason (15.1 points) have taken Minnesota’s backcourt to another level.

"We've played some really good guards this year, there's no question,” Beilein said. “Nate Mason, he's got some Trey Burke in him that he can rise up off the screen and hit a mid-range (shot). If you step back, he's going to hit you with a long one and then he can take it to the basket and finish or find people with touch. He's really evolved now over these two years and become one of the premier point guards.

“It's going to be a big challenge for us in this game. I think with Coffey and Springs — Coffey being one of those very few impact freshmen that you have in the league and then Springs just as a fifth-year guy — has been a huge difference for them as far as the backcourt goes. In the middle there having the shot blocker (Lynch) now, that's been a game-changer for them, as well."

Minnesota, which has won four straight, has been tough to beat at home with a 14-3 mark. The Wolverines enter the matchup on a three-game win streak and have won the past nine meetings between the teams.

But if Michigan is going to have any chance to build on its momentum, it’s going to need to do a better job weathering the storm and finishing games off on the road. In four of Michigan’s six road losses — with the exception of South Carolina and Illinois — the Wolverines led at some point in the second half before letting it slip away.

"I think that sustaining in the second half when the home team makes a run, whether it's at 16 minutes, 12 minutes or eight, the importance of a box out on a rebound, the importance of running good inbounds play up eight with 12 to go could be the turning point in the game,” Beilein said. “I think we understand that a little bit more because once the home team goes on a roll, it's hard to stop it.

“So I think we're going to have to do this again against one of the better home teams and most talented teams in the league. This team has paid its due and they've really come together. The Barn will be a loud place Sunday and in the moments that people don't think are key, we still got to believe that they're key moments in the game."

Michigan at Minnesota

Tip-off: 7 p.m. Sunday, Williams Arena, Minneapolis

TV/radio: BTN/950

Records: Michigan 17-9 (7-6 Big Ten); Minnesota 19-7 (7-6)

Outlook: Michigan has won nine straight in the series and 13 of the past 14 meetings. … Minnesota has won four in a row and leads the Big Ten in blocked shots at 7.3 per game. Junior G Nate Mason (15.1 points) and freshman G Amir Coffey (12.4 points) lead five Gophers averaging double digits in scoring.