Physical Big Ten could cause Beilein to adapt
Clutching and grabbing. Hacking, and over-the-backing. It's all in a night's work on many evenings at Big Ten venues, and it could very well change the way Michigan head coach John Beilein approaches conference games and other aspects of his program.
It's probably not coincidence that some of U-M biggest wins and best performances have come in the non-conference. The UConn game, for one, opened Beilein's eyes as to just how much more physical the Big Ten is compared to the Big East.
"It is tough to adjust, but will I change some views in recruiting in the future? Very possibly," said Beilein. "That and a lot of things.
"We've tried to adjust what we see. Playing the Purdues and the Michigan States, things like that, we have to continue to realize that some things we have to play through. We just have to play through."
Junior forward DeShawn Sims, for one, was openly frustrated with the perceived lack of calls in a 54-42 loss to Michigan State.
"There are times I get fouled sometimes and it's so blatant. Other times against other teams … I look at other games and I don't see things that happen in the Big Ten in other games," he said.
"Guys are really strong, and the Big Ten is a half court playing conference. If you're not strong or tough, it's kind of hard to win in the Big Ten."
Especially on the road, as U-M has found in conference play. Even Northwestern, Sunday's opponent (3:00, BTN), has been a tough out this year, winning at MSU and playing extremely tough at home. The Wildcats would be 6-5 in the conference instead of 5-7 if not for blown, double-digit leads at home to Purdue and Illinois.
The Illini came from 14 down to win in the final three seconds Thursday, a game Northwestern controlled throughout. Beilein doesn't expect the Wildcats to suffer a post-Illinois hangover.
"They are some smart kids. They will be able to deal with this," he said. "But today, if they're like us, they'll look at a lot of the little things that made a difference, not looking at the last few plays and putting the blame on anyone.
"They'll say okay, here are some things we could have done earlier in the game. But I think they should also say, 'that's a darn good Illinois team.' Everybody they've had at home so far they've either lost in the last few seconds or they've beaten. [Coach Bill Carmody] is experienced; he won't carry that too far."
His teams also don't usually beat themselves, turning it over just seven times in the loss to Illinois.
Michigan will need to play well to win, but winning on the road is more about the opponent than the venue, Beilein insisted.
"It has a lot to do with who we've played on the road," he said of his team's poor conference road record. "Michigan State has gone into Ohio State and won, but nobody else in the league has gone in there and won. Nobody's gone to Purdue except Illinois and won.
"Indiana was a young team, and we've been playing either extremely talented or extremely veteran teams on the road. I don't think it's a matter of we have to eat the same pregame meal or have the same approach … I think it was we were playing teams at the top of the league."
• Expect to see more of the 2-3 zone U-M has been showing recently in the Big Ten. It's helped change the tempo in certain games and also hides size and strength weaknesses.
"Against some teams it's almost a man to man; you're just matched up in certain areas," said Beilein. "It gives us weak side help when people clear out weak side, it gives us special areas to guide and guard the ball into certain areas.
"We're not as good at it as we'll get to be. Michigan State, I thought our defensive game plan in changing the momentum and making sure it wasn't a [transition game] worked to our advantage. We just didn't score points."
• Freshman Zack Novak didn't shoot well against Michigan State, though he exerted a lot of energy defensively. Beilein stopped short of saying Novak's defensive efforts were affecting his legs, therefore his shot.
"He was one for six but two were prayers at the end of the half," he said. "He's just a gamer. How about the plays he made down the stretch where he was making the penetration, he was making the passes, keeping balls alive, doing those things? He looks like a real keeper."
Beilein said he'd like to see a bit more of that from his freshmen as well as some of his other guards.
"C.J. [Lee] did that against Northwestern last time; he really gets in there," he said. "Zack Novak, that's how the game changed in the Michigan State game. He had three or four straight drives and laid it off to [Sims], started driving it. You can shoot it, but you can fall in love with that shot, too. Sometimes you've got to [put it on the floor]."
Beilein on his team's three-point struggles: "We're not shooting nearly as many threes as some of my teams in the past, but there's a reason for that: we're not great at it. But when we do shoot it, we've proven we can beat anybody."