November 27, 2012
Borton's Blog: More and better
The Michigan difference, as far as John Beilein is concerned these days? That's easy. It's depth, the kind that can cover for a resting point guard, or pull down rebounds that would have been heading downcourt a year ago.
Beilein knows the difference. He sees it every day in practice. It wasn't too long ago, Michigan was throwing student managers and coaches into the mix as practice players.
Now, it's all changed, right along with Crisler Center.
"Every day, it's a war out there," Beilein said of his practices. "With our scout team, when you have Caris [LeVert] at a point, Eso [Akunne] at the two, [Corey] Person is an excellent defender, and really understands what we're doing, and then Max [Bielfeldt] and Blake [McLimans]? That's a pretty good scout team. We're going against that every day.
"But we also go maize and blue, which would be the first five against the non-starters, and that's pretty spirited as well. It helps. It doesn't bring your confidence up a great deal, because you're not blowing away the other team in practice."
But iron sharpens iron, as the saying goes.
Beyond that, Michigan is suddenly a carom or two away from the top of the Big Ten in rebounding. That's like a supermodel showing off her cake-baking skills.
Extra possessions mean extra points, while the Wolverines maintain the ball-stinginess they've always demonstrated under Beilein's control. They're still around 10 turnovers a game, and with the depth and power on the front line, an early foul or two by starter Jordan Morgan doesn't sound the alarms.
Beilein just has to decide between 6-10, 250 freshman Mitch McGary and 6-10, 250 redshirt sophomore Jon Horford to sub in.
"It's a good problem to have," Beilein said of Michigan's newfound versatility. "We were concerned we hadn't given Jon Horford enough time in those first couple of games. Then all of a sudden, there he is out there, because we're in foul trouble. It does give you that latitude to play three centers if you need to.
"You can go big, you can go small. When you only have five or six players, there's not a whole lot of thinking. Maybe you're going to go zone, do different things, but now you can get different rotations, different players."
You can also not play sophomore point guard Trey Burke like he's the last ball handler on the planet. Freshman Spike Albrecht has already demonstrated enough moxie to let Burke take a break every now and then.
Beilein smiled broadly when thinking about Albrecht's effort in one of the basketball's iconic venues over the extended holiday weekend.
"It was pretty good, wasn't it?" Beilein beamed. "We hear the opposing team's coach, as soon as he goes in the game, say 'Pressure him.' I'm sure he won't go through the game without turnovers, but he plays pretty good against pressure. He's sneaky.
"I'm sure he's going to have issues at different times, against length and more speed, but he embraces the game. Playing in Madison Square Garden, that shows us a lot, what he did when Trey had the second foul, and at the end of the game, when Timmy [Hardaway] went out and we needed a couple of people out there. He handled it well."
More pieces, more talent, more competition. The Wolverines may not be the No. 3 team in the nation, but there aren't too many who will overlook them anymore.
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