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January 8, 2013

U-M prepares for Nebraska's grind-it-out style

Taking a second to ponder the evolution of his offensive philosophy after a 95-67 win over Iowa last weekend, Michigan coach John Beilein smiled and said, "We've always run wherever I've been, but we run a little faster now."

And that's certainly true. With a lineup bolstered with the explosive young talent of freshmen Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, the Wolverines are seventh in the country in scoring offense, pouring in 82.0 points per game.

For a frame of reference, in Beilein's previous five seasons in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines managed to score 82 or more points just 14 total times.

The Wolverines like to run, push the pace and jump on opponents, whenever they are presented with the opportunity. And it is a strategy that has paid fairly big dividends so far.

After struggling in the first 10 minutes of Iowa game, Michigan pushed the tempo after rebounds and turnovers on the other end, pushing their lead to 11 points by halftime and nearly 30 by the final buzzer.

"I think we want to get it down there as quickly as we can," Beilein said. "That's the best time to attack people, is in transition.

"I thought we ran really well with only six turnovers. That's the down side - the faster you are, the more carless you could be, and we were pretty good at that the other day. I think we still want to run hard every time. If people put five guys back, that's a little harder to run on, but you can still do it.

The Wolverines' transition game will face a new challenge Wednesday night, when they take on the grind-it-out style of Nebraska.

The Cornhuskers rank No. 324 nationally in offensive possessions per game, averaging just 62.8. But that's exactly how they want it - especially against talented, athletic teams like Michigan.

Nebraska, by slowing down the pace of the game and siphoning away potential scoring opportunities, gives itself a chance to extend games and be in a position to win, down the stretch.

By grinding it out, the Cornhuskers also drive down opponents' possessions. They rank 23rd nationally in opponent possessions per game (62.8).

"That is part of basketball," Beilein said. "You have to be able to adjust and not get frustrated. They're not the only ones who are going to do that in this league or in the country. Even right now, with some teams we play, we might want to limit possessions. If that is the strategy they use again, we have to adapt.

"No matter who they're playing, they're going to minimize possessions for both teams, and that maximizes some team's chances to win, they believe."

When the Cornhuskers are on offense, Michigan will need to stay disciplined - it's easy to lull into mistakes when an offense plays that diligently.

"You can't get too anxious," junior guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. said. "You have to really focus on defending for 37 seconds. Coach Beilein talks about that - the last two seconds are boxing out and getting the rebound. You aren't trying to gamble for steals or creating offense for that team. You have to settle down and really focus on boxing out and staying in a stance and taking what they give you."

On defense, the Cornhuskers will play tight, trying to slow it down even further.

"We're going into almost a Wisconsin-type of prep, as far as what they do defensively," Beilein said. "It's about containing - they're going to make us get tough twos and get out on us pretty good."

Fortunately, the Wolverines excel at more than just pushing the pace.

Michigan currently ranked No. 1 nationally in points per possession, scoring 1.26 points every trip. There are just five teams in the country averaging 1.2 points per possession or better: Michigan, Pittsburgh (1.23), Indiana (1.21), Notre Dame (1.2) and Saint Mary's (1.2).

Nebraska will try mightily to drive down Michigan's possessions, but if the Wolverines stick to their offensive gameplan, they should still produce.

With five freshmen playing significant minutes, that level offensive efficiency is remarkable.

"I'm definitely surprised, with Zack [Novak] and Stu [Douglass] being gone," said Hardaway of the Wolverines' offensive efficiency. "You have five freshmen coming in that have given it their all. You could see it in preseason or behind the scenes in practice. They're asking us veterans a lot of questions, and we're trying to be as efficient as possible for our team. They're doing whatever they can to help out, and it's been building on the team all season."


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