Michigan learned about high-major college basketball and that it needs to improve
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - The Michigan basketball players sat in its locker room under the stands of Boardwalk Hall and came to a simple realization. After two games in two nights provided two losses with two sub-par second halves, the Wolverines have a long way to go.
In a 53-50 loss to No. 9 Syracuse on Friday, Michigan saw how a long, athletic team could take its entire offense away with a zone. On Saturday in a 65-56 loss to UTEP in the consolation game of the Legends Classic, the Wolverines watched saw how an aggressive man-to-man defense could suffocate passing lanes and force turnovers and mental mistakes.
Both teams played in the NCAA tournament last year and returned at least one key cog - for Syracuse, Rick Jackson, Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine and for UTEP Randy Culpepper - from those squads.
“For a young team, I think we can draw from that and see how top-level college basketball is played,” junior guard Zack Novak said. “A lot of these guys, this is their first real high-level experience. It’ll be good for them, they’ll get it.
“It’ll be something we can draw on.”
Michigan, 3-2, needs the six freshmen and redshirt freshmen the Wolverines have used so far learn quickly. The Wolverines face Clemson in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Tuesday.
And then there’s a break from high-major opponents. But what Michigan saw on the Jersey Shore will be replicated for 18 nights in America’s heartland as well.
The Big Ten, both from a size and athleticism standpoint, will look a lot like what Michigan saw in Atlantic City.
“We had a pretty easy first three games,” junior guard Stu Douglass said. “And now we know what college basketball is all about.”
While the Wolverines played well against Syracuse, they faltered in major ways against UTEP on both offense (being held without a field goal for a third of the game) on defense (losing assignments and getting hurt in transition) and mentally (bad shot selection and poor passes).
“We have to blend those things,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “The way we shot the ball at times last night was good, but I thought overall numbers weren’t great. This is a team you just have to watch grow, push through the tough times and just keep getting better.”