Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein rung in 2016 early.
Not too long after most New Year’s Eve revelers went to bed, Beilein watched film from No. 4 Maryland’s 70-64 victory over Penn State. The Nittany Lions (0-1 Big Ten, 9-5 overall) gave the fourth-ranked team in the nation a run for its money.
“We were watching the (Maryland vs. Penn State) game on the way back (from Illinois) and I ended up watching it again while you were still sleeping this morning,” Beilein said Friday morning.
Considering the Wolverines (1-0, 11-3) will take on Penn State on Saturday seeking their second conference win of the season, Beilein watched film attentively.
In it, he noticed that Penn State has multiple scorers. Leading the Nittany Lions are forward Brandon Taylor, who is averaging 16.1 points, and guard Shep Garner, who is averaging 14.9.
Beilein also praised Penn State’s defensive play, noting that it uses a mix of man-to-man and matchup zone to hold off opposing offenses.
“We’ve got a Penn State team coming in here at noon tomorrow that virtually outplayed Maryland for 36 minutes the other night,” Beilein said. “This is their best defensive team that Penn State has had, and this will be quite a challenge for us.”
Meanwhile, after junior forward Mark Donnal’s breakout performance in Champaign on Wednesday — where he scored a career-high 26 points and nine rebounds to help the Wolverines to a 78-68 victory — Beilein is reassessing his own starting lineup.
Donnal started the first three games of the season, but quickly lost his spot to sophomore forward Ricky Doyle. There’s been a steady rotation of players at the ‘5’, including redshirt freshman D.J. Wilson and freshman Moritz Wagner.
Before Wednesday, Donnal was averaging just 3.9 points and 2.1 boards and was generally the second big man off the bench behind Doyle and Wagner. After a few quick fouls, Donnal entered the game 7:38 into the first half, and the contest quickly changed.
His aggressive performance included three blocks, an and-1 and a few tip-ins, and now, Beilein says that Donnal will have a longer leash than he’s had in the past to keep up his confidence.
“Is (Donnal) better coming off the bench, or is he better starting?” Beilein said. “We’re thinking about changing, whether it’s the starting lineup or the rotation. It’s all in the mix right now.”
But now it’s Big Ten season, and the Wolverines will have to figure out their starting lineup sooner rather than later.
“It wasn’t like a 10 (points) and five (rebounds) game, it was a 26 and nine,” Beilein said. “That is an important factor for us.
“If we can get that position going, and keep improving, that makes a big change in our season.”