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December 21, 2012
Preparation keeps Wolverines on the winning track
Twenty-six assists on 35 baskets.
Those were the numbers that stood out following Michigan's latest impressive win, a 93-54 victory over Eastern Michigan that improved the Wolverines to 12-0, their best start since the 1985-86 Big Ten title season.
After struggling a bit early with EMU's 2-3 zone and the Eagles' length, the Wolverines adapted as they have all season. Sophomore point guard Trey Burke found creases, worked through Tim Hardaway Jr. (and others) at the free throw line, who found cutters for easy lay-ups. The big men adjusted their finishing angles and made outstanding outlet passes that fueled the fast breaks, while the bench players - especially Max Bielfeldt and Caris LeVert - continued to prove the depth is as impressive as thought.
None of it was a surprise to head coach John Beilein, who has seen his team prepare like winners throughout the year and share the ball as though winning is the only thing on their minds.
"I thought our focus was incredible," Beilein said. "The kids had a strong desire to beat a team right down the street. We knew we'd have to play well given they'd already beaten Purdue and had five other wins besides that."
They might have won had they brought their 'B,' even 'C' game. As has been the norm, though, we didn't have to find out. They placed the distractions of going home for four days and post-exam hangover aside in playing another complete game with "passion and energy," Beilein said, impressed with the assist total.
"That was really good," he said. "Look at Trey Burke. He had eight assists and one turnover. I just saw the stat. He's like 51 and 7 the last several games.
"But that was throughout the whole team. We pride ourselves on being a good passing team, but that zone can be difficult. We had some deflections early, and turnovers. We understood the angles better that we had to play - I understood them, the whole coaching staff. You don't see them that often."
As has been the case throughout the non-conference season, they met the challenge in front of them. Earlier this year, Western Michigan coaches marveled at how well Burke adjusted to the different looks they threw at him. On Thursday, EMU head coach Rob Henry called the Wolverines the best shooting team he had seen.
High praise has yet to go to their heads, though, and Beilein doesn't expect it to.
"There's a great quote Red Berenson has used before - practice like you're in second place, play like you're in first," he said. "I stole that from him, but that's perfect for what this team needs to do. When we practice, we've got to practice like we've got a chip on our shoulders. We're trying to get there - just go out there and play like you've been there before and you know what it takes."
So far, so good.
"Sometimes less is more with all players, and he's trying to make really simple plays," Beilein said of the eight assists. "He wants to win at everything in life and he wants to be the best he can, so he understands that's a good number to have if you want to be a winner as a point guard, if you want to be a great Michigan player. That's a great number to have. Other areas he continues to improve, just day to day leadership and work habits have matured right with his game."
Hardaway Jr., meanwhile, notched a career high seven assists to go with his 17 points.
"Moving him to the two was a thing we wanted to do; at the same time, that can be some responsibility there, some passing he has to learn. There's more dribble game there, so we have a lot of agendas there trying to make him a better player, the best he can be by the time he's out of here.
"There are a lot of things we're trying to get done for him. If he does those well, it makes us a better team."
"Things happen when Mitch gets the ball," Beilein said. "Today, the second half, a lot of good things were happening when he was around the ball. Those energy rebounds he gets, we preach that all the time, the rebounding - they say it's 25 percent ability, 75 effort, and he has that effort out there. He's a work in progress, but he has the attitude, the body to be very successful if he keeps going in this direction."
"The last two weeks in practice we've seen that," he said. "He came in strong, but all of a sudden you start playing this every day and there's lot of things to remember and do.
"I got here today at about 6, heard the ball bouncing, he and Trey were in the gym. That's who that young man is. We have a lot of guys, but I compare him with that time in that gym to Zack Novak as far as getting that extra time in there. The two guys from the 614, they enjoy being from the 614, especially when they're playing for Michigan."
"I really like winning, though," he said. "It beats the alternative. But nothing. The 13th game will be 13 non-conference games. That's all we're allowed. If we could win them all, that would be really good. Then we start a whole new season with the conference schedule."