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March 28, 2013

Beilein takes podium, talks keys to victory and more

The Big Ten is known for its defensive prowess - guards that get into you, big man who bang with a purpose. Bill Self's Kansas team would be a great fit in the conference from that respect, Michigan head coach John Beilein said during his first NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 presser Thursday.

On top of that, their four seniors have been to Final Fours and 'seen it all,' he added.

"Looking at [Travis] Releford and [Elijah] Johnson, I'm saying, 'I just saw you two years ago. No, I saw you three years ago," Beilein said. "They didn't see any of our guys three years ago. It's really important they've had that continuity with young, talented players all the time. It takes time to learn this defense, and they really play it well."

Though they haven't played well offensively in the tournament (minus a very good second half against North Carolina) and tend to turn it over at times - sometimes unforced - Kansas is also "fundamentally sound," Beilein insisted. Seven-foot senior Jeff Withey is an eraser on the defensive end, but he's also able to score on offensive rebounds and in close.

As assistant Bacari Alexander notes, though, Withey weights 235 pounds. Each of U-M's big men is 250 or more, led by freshman Mitch McGary at 256. Putting bodies on him without fouling will be critical.

"Being a former coach in the Big East, we were playing against Connecticut centers usually with 130- to 150-block a year guys," Beilein said. "What is deflating is you run a beautiful play where it couldn't be run better, and he somehow block the shot and they're going the other way.

"I look at the other way, too, where you're playing really good defense and the ball doesn't bounce or it bounces off someone and they score a basket. You've got to come back and try [to play defense] again. He has the ability with four blocks a game that there are going to be those moments, and we've got to fight through those. That's the biggest impact I see."

Michigan will be forced to hit pull-up jumpers and must make its open threes, sophomore point guard Trey Burke said. The whole "adjusting to the dome" might be overblown (ask Glen Rice, who shot lights out in the 1989 tournament at Seattle's Kingdome, and junior Tim Hardaway Jr., who made 15 of 16 triples in one drill Wednesday), but shots will be contested.

Releford, who takes pride in shutting down standout guards, too, will also test Burke.

"He has seen everybody," Beilein said. "The comparison I make is [Indiana's] Victor Oladipo, who is 6-4 and very, very talented. People have switched different people on him.

"But Trey is talented [too]. He's had some great challenges this year and has really fared as well as could be expected. He's only a sophomore now, 20 years old. He's learning by the moment. But what a competitor. If he has that kind of competition, I think it drives him to be his best."

His leadership has blossomed, too, and it's brought out the best in his teammates. Freshman big man Mitch McGary would attest, having seen a fire in Burke prior to the win over VCU he hadn't seen before.

Some had written the Wolverines off following a poor showing against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament. Many of the same people are now back on the bandwagon given how U-M played in its first two games.

Beilein has maintained that other than a loss at Penn State, the Wolverines haven't really had a bad loss. They've grown quickly, and if they continue to blossom, they could keep playing for a few more weeks.

"I've seen considerable growth in this team," he said. "We are one of the younger teams in the country and I love how they've come after it every day with everything they have."

Notebook

  • Making the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1994 is the next step in the program's progression, one in which it's taken years to change the culture. There's a buzz on campus, Hardaway Jr. said, that's been there much of the last few months, and Beilein has seen it grow in each of his six years.

    "We fought hard to get to this point," he said. "Tommy Amaker, when he took over, it really was a very difficult situation. It got to a certain point where it set some things on the table for us. With our facilities and recruiting, now we've been able to go another step. It's been a long grind for 16 years, or 18, 19 - it's a long time.

    "But it isn't like, 'okay, we finally did it.' The direction of this program has been positive. We're selling out every game. We're getting really good recruiting classes that have come back. Next year is going to be very good, so I think we were moving in that direction anyhow. This is a little bit of a spike for us or a catalyst for us, perhaps, for the future."

    Beilein has heard from a number of alums since the win over VCU, he said, including some of the Fab Five.

    "We hear from a lot of our alums, not just those five," he said. "We get great e-mails. Many of our former alums were in just a month ago, six weeks ago when we rededicated Crisler.

    "One of our missions and one of our goals is to try to reconnect all the different eras of Michigan basketball back, and certainly that [Fab Five] era is an important one."

  • Defense will be Michigan's key to victory Friday, Beilein said, but his team will also have to knock down shots in order to knock off the Jayhawks. He's seen growth on the offensive end just in the last few weeks.

    "If we play good defense we're a much better offensive team because we can really get up and down the court," Beilein said. "When you have a point guard like Trey Burke and shooters on the wing like we have - Tim Hardaway, Jr. is a tremendous full‑court player, as well.

    "Here's what I've seen in the last couple of weeks: we sort of put in this package, and then we tweaked the package all year long and found what really is good for this team as they develop. Glenn Robinson has felt much more comfortable in the last couple of weeks with some things we would like him to do.

    Gradually, we've gotten our timing down a lot. You'd like to have these young guys playing five to ten minutes a game and in their sophomore year, they're ready. But we couldn't do that."

    They chose to throw them into the fire instead, and the result is a Sweet 16 berth.

    "We drive the ball to the basket well, I think we shoot the ball well and we do a good job on the offense boards," Beilein said. "Those three things have helped us, and the other thing that's really important tomorrow, don't turn the ball over. We're one of the leaders in the country in getting a shot up every time down the court as much as possible, and that's important against these guys, because they're going to defend you."


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