John Beilein and his five starters discussed Michigan’s upcoming challenge against Florida State.
JOHN BEILEIN: We’re really pleased to be in this situation and still be playing when so many teams have ended their season. We’re embracing this experience. We’re going to continue to with the one day at a time, try to win today’s practice, and I thought we did. Win tonight’s film session. Just all of a sudden it will be game time tomorrow.
Still a lot of prep to do on one day’s notice. You’ve got a lot of things you still have to address, and we’ll be as ready as we can be. So great kids, great culture, great attitude here on the team, but we still got to defend people tomorrow and we’ve got to make shots as well.
Q. Moe, some of your teammates encouraged me yesterday to ask you about your friends and girlfriend in Germany. Since now have you gotten a chance to talk to them yet or let them know about the news?
MORITZ WAGNER: That’s what you’ve got teammates for, I guess. Yeah, I talked to them, all of them and the friends. Obviously, they’re very happy and they support me. It’s cool to have such a big support system.
Q. Moe, did you get any reports on that watch party that happened in Berlin? What’s it like just to be playing and thriving over here and having so many people back in Germany kind of rooting for you and following your every move?
MORITZ WAGNER: Yeah, it’s a pretty cool thing. It’s pretty special for me. My mom told me the other day that there are so many people that obviously know me from being little, but I don’t know them. They call all the time. They kind of want to be part of it. They ask where to watch the games, and that’s something that makes me very proud and happy. It’s something very special.
Q. What do you think of Florida State’s self-proclaimed junkyard dog defense, and how do you work against that?
MUHAMMAD-ALI ABDUR-RAHKMAN: I think they’re a great team from what we’ve seen. Obviously they’re in this position they are in now. They have to be a good team. They propose different match-up problems and things like that. But they’re just a good team. I mean, all that’s left right now are good teams.
Q. I’d like to ask Z and Muhammad about the length and athleticism of Florida State, who they remind you of, if there’s a team you guys have played that they remind you of. It seems the deeper you get into the tournament, every time we talk about a team, it’s their length and athleticism. Give me a feel of what this team does well and who they remind you of.
ZAVIER SIMPSON: They remind us of a lot of teams in the Big Ten. It just feels like it’s going back to August when Coach was teaching us just to be the boss with the ball and make smart plays and smart passes. We feel like if we do that, we’ll be in good position. With the size they have, it’s tremendous, and we just hope to execute well.
MUHAMMAD-ALI ABDUR-RAHKMAN: Yeah, like Z said, a lot of teams that play in the Big Ten are like that, and it will be a good match-up, I think.
Q. Isaiah, Coach talked about some younger players, not just freshmen, but primarily freshmen where it takes them a while. I think the word he used was they’re in a position to help the team. Coming in as a freshman, was there a time it clicked for you or slowed down, or is it just a process you learn more every day with the Michigan system?
ISAIAH LIVERS: Yeah, it went through more like a process. Coach B took us all young guys through a process in the summer leading up to fall. Just every day he was talking about the growth mindset. Every day he was just trying to learn something new and trying to perfect it and put it into your craft.
Q. This is for any of the players that want to chime in. Do you see any or many similarities between yourselves and Florida State on defense? Obviously the personnel is a lot different, but they, like you, seem to relish and be a defensive team. Do you see anything in a mindset or attitude or just the way they play?
CHARLES MATTHEWS: I mean, yeah, they have some similar characteristics that we have. We have long players on this team, guys that like to get out in transition, and athletes as well.
I feel like it’s going be to a fun game. They’re a very well-prepared team, and so are we. So we have to come out and execute against them.
Q. Coach, the stadium was packed with Michigan fans yesterday. How does that help you in a game when the stakes are so high? Would you expect a similar atmosphere tomorrow?
JOHN BEILEIN: Yes, absolutely it helps us both ways. We’re very blessed to be at a university that has such a strong presence really on both coasts and in Michigan, as well as some other pockets around the country.
So those people didn’t travel here to see this game. They live here, and that’s what’s great about coaching at Michigan. We’re everywhere. As a result, it is a great feeling. It doesn’t win games, but it helps you win games. It helps our kids be comfortable and makes the great moments, and yesterday was a great moment when we won games and we had so many really good plays, to have somebody really rooting for you during that time.
It felt — it didn’t feel exactly like Crisler Center, but it felt very much like it did at Madison Square Garden where we have similar big crowds because we have a huge alumni base there as well.
Q. Again, when FSU was in here, they kept talking about the junkyard dog defense, and Coach explained what he meant by that and everything. When you watch the film of last night’s game against Gonzaga, how much of that low-shooting percentage was a result of FSU’s defense?
JOHN BEILEIN: Their defense is terrific. There’s a couple things. They prioritize it, and they have great length to do it. They weren’t blocking shots during the year like they have in the tournament. They were averaging 7 or 8 blocked shots over the last five games. During the year, they’re 4.2, I believe. So they’ve really extended themselves and picked up their defenses even better than it was, and it was good before then.
So it’s a challenge. I think what they’re also doing, they’re forcing 12 turnovers a game. That is a pretty good number, and that’s something that we usually are pretty good at.
But if they turn us over a lot, that could be a big difference in the game. We pride ourselves in not turning it over.
Q. I know you’ve told this story before, probably multiple times. But can you take us through the email that brought Moe to Michigan, and the guy it came from, who was he, how did you know him? Why did you not read the email immediately, and what happened from there?
JOHN BEILEIN: So I had a player at West Virginia named Johannes Herber that played for Team Alba in Berlin. There was another young man that over there that worked out young players. So he had talked before about sending information on Niels Giffey from Connecticut several years ago. There was — it didn’t work out. I think we were out of scholarships or something. But he remembered, I responded to him and everything.
So when he sent me this — my email gets stacked up a little bit. Finally I was just trying to clean it up. It was maybe two or three weeks later that I watched this video, and then I called him, and then I called Moe. And on the phone, the energy on the phone was incredible.
So I just said, you know what? We can’t like sit on this. I think this kid is going to be pretty good, but nobody’s been over to see him. I’m going over to see him. Because there is no high school basketball in Europe, the NCAA doesn’t allow us go watch him play. You can only see people in scholastic. So I had to do it off film.
But I did go to visit him in his flat. I asked for a big German dinner and a beer. I got both of them. That was it. When I got in the elevator with the young man, a small elevator, and went up, by the time I got out of the elevator, we talked about elevator conversation, I said, If this kid’s good at all, I’m going to give him a scholarship, because he was so engaging. What you see right there is who he is.
Q. You went over there in the middle of the season —
JOHN BEILEIN: It was actually — probably we had October, I think, and we had a day off. So I went over in the back, in disguise, by the way. I wore no Michigan gear because I didn’t want anybody seeing me because word travels fast. Then other people would come recruit him. And lo and behold, when I came back, there was a group — obviously I was flying out of Detroit, a group saw me, and it got out there on Twitter somewhere that I was overseas. So you can run, but you can’t hide.
Q. Have you ever done anything like that before?
JOHN BEILEIN: Yeah, I’d been to Europe in a day, over and back. Johannes Herber, I did a similar thing. I went over and back just to visit with him and his family. Because I think you need to go and look them in the eye and really get to know who they are before you decide you’re going to recruit them. You just can’t do it by phone and email.
But you’re not going to do it with many. But maybe every three years I’ve made a quick trip over there and back. That’s about it.
Q. Coach, following up on that with Moe, what kind of growth have you seen from him since he first came here from Germany, and particularly since last year when he declared for the draft and came back?
JOHN BEILEIN: Yeah, the biggest thing we’ve seen is the things that he had to grow in, an area was rebounding. And I think people way underrate what he’s getting done this year as far as his rebounding. His numbers are probably double what they were last year. That’s tough to do.
The other thing is his passing right now. We all knew he could shoot, but his passing. He’s a stretch four in the NBA. But for us, that’s many times you have a center, you play that guy as a center. He’s throwing passes right now, he’s handling the ball and busting out of the break.
I can see the similarities to what we saw this time of some of our other guys that became really elite players in college and went on to the pros. These next steps, all of a sudden, it’s like wow, and you have these wow moments with them, and we’ve seen some of that.
So he started the year slowly. Methodical, great practice habits by him that pays off over time.
Q. Just watching your style over the years, it kind of mimics more of an NBA style, letting these guys be more free of the shooting the ball. Where did that come from and what sort of comfort level do you have? Because it’s high risk, high reward in college basketball?
JOHN BEILEIN: I think necessity is the mother of invention. When I was a Division II coach some 35, 30 years ago, the three-point shot line came in. We weren’t blessed with great athletes, but we had to find another way to win. Had four children to feed and had to find other ways to win. So began to really watch both the NBA, the Princeton style, the different things. Then I said, if ever I can get a job like Michigan, a place where I have better athletes, we’re still going to run the same type of system because it will work.
I think you’ve seen it with many of the pro teams that I think we were one of the first ones. But one of the biggest differences I did was took a kid at Le Moyne College named Scott Hicks, he was a two man and we made him a four man, and just like that the whole world opened up. We started playing a two-guard offense instead of a one-guard offense. Everything opened up. When we had a shooting three man, Mike Meeks at Canisius, Kevin Pittsnogle at West Virginia, the offense opened up.
So we try to recruit to that. We don’t always get it, but we try to recruit to that, and if you get there, you can do a lot of things.