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December 28, 2012Michigan head coach John Beilein has coached a number of freshmen in his 30-plus year career, but this year's crop is coming along as well as any he's ever coached, he said Friday before Saturday's game with Central Michigan.
U-M will look to improve to 13-0 in the non-conference portion of the schedule, and the freshmen are a big reason why.
"This is a freshman group that has showed us great progress, probably as good as any we've ever had," he said. "The Central Michigan game and Big Ten will provide more an more challenges to them, and they've just got to keep adjusting. It's not a surprise - but anything a freshman does is unexpected."
Big man Mitch McGary's recent double double, for example, that helped him earn Big Ten freshman of the week honors last week.
"He as improved greatly, just like all the rest of our freshmen," Beilein said. "The learning curve is different for them. He is getting better and better. The habits you form to make the right decisions, they all take time. We work extra with him - in fact, we just completed a film session now to enhance his learning curve.
"That [award] was really good for him. Five rebounds at half, five more and 10 points in second half - it's always good for him right now to have that type of feedback. When you look at freshmen, it's very rare for a big man as a freshman that he's outstanding from beginning to end. Guards are more ready to play the college game - a big man may be better at the end, but it takes so much time because they get so much attention."
Horford still out
Michigan big man Jon Horford suffered his latest setback in a win over West Virginia, reinjuring his knee. He won't play Saturday.
"He's progressing well, but he will not be playing," Beilein said. "He's not ready yet. I'll just defer to the trainers. I don't ask them what date until they tell me when he's getting closer.
"He does drills and shoots on his own, does things based on what they trainers think he can handle. Getting him in shape is between pool workouts, things like that. He's keeping his cardio up."
Beilein said he wasn't sure if Horford would be in line for surgery at season's end.
"I can't answer that. I really don't know," he said.
Others on the team have bumps and bruises, Beilein said, but the coach wasn't sure if anyone would miss tomorrow's game as a result.
CMU a different challenge
The Chippewas (7-5) should be a small bump in the road to a perfect non-conference season, but Beilein said his team wouldn't take them for granted.
"They've got some cagey veterans and some really talented, young players who have not played like freshmen. They will really stretch us," Beilein said. "They have five shooters out on the floor. That's going to be different, something we've not seen. We'll have to make adjustments and just change things we do defensively to try and counter their really innovative attack.
"This game is about being perfect in non-conference play. That's how we frame this game up. We've got other ones we framed up, a neutral game just like NCAA tournament game would be, playing West Virginia being like a second round, third round NCAA game. The preseason NIT was its own little championship."
The Michigan offense, meanwhile, has continued to evolve because of the different looks it's seeing on defense.
"We saw a predominantly zone team against Eastern, and we had not seen that," Beilein said. "We had never gone through practice where didn't do a man to man play for two three days before that. It's a similar situation today with Central, though they could play man so we have to be prepared for both. Every game there is preparation you don't just do for every other game because of the philosophies of differing teams."
"He's been terrific," Beilein said, noting he told Vogrich, Blake McLimans, Eso Akunne and Corey Person to keep working hard. "They are in there getting extra time just to make sure they get tuned up. Who knows? It could happen we need them very quickly, maybe for a long period of time."
"Almost all the grades are in, and we did very well," he said. "The kids have really worked hard.
"I'll let you know at the end of the year [if it's good]," he said. "We've got two gaps in our schedule, some cluster scheduling, some gaps we haven't had before. We thought we'd make sure we had enough home games on Saturday in the first semester that would be good for us. With that Arkansas game on Saturday, I thought that was a good day."
The layoff was good for the Wolverines, Beilein said, noting he didn't have to spend the first practice back getting anyone in game shape.
"I did watch that," Beilein said. "Coming from a guy who shoveled his driveway for a long time, that would be me - not the driveway, the backyard. That's hard to do. That was impressive."
"We've watched it lately, especially our freshmen - there are so many things coming at them, but we've seen really good progress," he said. "We'll have our challenges with CMU. All five guys are shooting the ball from three deep, running things for big men you see with some teams, but not a lot. There are some guys that really spread things out."