It’s finally winter break at the University of Michigan, which means one thing to John Beilein: finals are over, so his players have more time to focus on their game.
And because his Wolverines are 6-4 entering what has become a crucial non-conference contest against SMU on Saturday, the coach knows there are plenty of challenges ahead. Before focusing on improvement, though, he’s making sure his team is aware of upcoming obstacles.
“You can’t shade the truth,” Beilein said Thursday on WTKA-AM’s Michigan Insider. “You have to tell them where we are and what we have to do and have them believe in our plan: That through daily development, we can get there.
“It’s like the stock market. If there’s a really great stock, it will go down from time to time. But if you believe in that stock, it will come back up. That’s who we are right now. We’re in a transition — that’s a great word for the type of year we’re in — and we’ll get through it. Everybody’s going to have to have a lot of patience. I’m going to have a ton of patience that we’ll get better. You don’t think we have an edge to us in practice? You’re crazy. But we’re also not jumping off a cliff right now, because we know exactly what’s in front of us.”
As he has all season, Beilein pointed to Michigan’s inexperience, explaining that junior guard Caris LeVert is the only starter this year who has been in that role, of a go-to player, before. The coach said the Wolverines “have a good component of defense every day” in practice, though he warned transition defense “is still not going to be there.” And offensively, Beilein admitted execution has been poor, particularly with setting screens and making hard cuts.
“Last year when we played Arizona, Zak Irvin did not score and played five [minutes], because he was not ready at that point to do that,” Beilein said. “Derrick [Walton] played 10 minutes when we played Arizona. Derrick’s time grew, but he had incredible leadership around him. This is a little different situation.”
Part of the Wolverines’ struggles have resulted from a lack of production by the team’s big men, Ricky Doyle, Mark Donnal and Max Bielfeldt. According to ShotAnalytics, Michigan is shooting just 46.5% on two-point attempts and 57% at the rim (8% lower than a season ago).
Beilein said the problem isn’t entirely on the centers — the team needs to make sure they get the ball on open looks, too.
“They’re making good progress in practice. What we have to do is look for them in games,” Beilein said. “They’re not open for layups that often, but when they are, we have to hit them. And we haven’t. We have to get those easy points. We’re not getting easy points. That’s a big focus of not only throwing the ball to them, but certainly when they’re open and they can just lay it in, we can’t be shooting a contested shot at that point.”
“Here’s Ricky at 18 years old — and Mark is just 19 — playing against guys that are 22 years old. It’s going to be all year long. … That’s the way it’s going to be over and over again.”
And although the Wolverines aren’t firing at all cylinders quite yet, Beilein explained he doesn’t really mind the task of navigating a rebuilding year, either.
“This might be the third one [at Michigan] as far as just rebuilding, reconstructing — whatever anybody want to call it,” he said. “We’re in the middle of that again. I actually embrace it and I love the challenge.”