The Michigan men’s basketball team has a challenge ahead of it on Tuesday.
No. 5 Purdue comes to Ann Arbor in what is likely Michigan’s toughest matchup to this point. With that being said, there are plenty of things that need to go right for the Wolverines to win the game.
One in particular, though, is matching up with Boilermaker forward Vincent Edwards.
Michigan coach John Beilein made no bones about it at his press conference Monday. He believes Edwards may present even more of a problem than former Purdue forward Caleb Swanigan did for the Wolverines last season.
“(Swanigan) was a really great player,” Beilein said. “He gave us so many problems. At the same time, the way we play, with four guys that go, that presented matchup problems for them at times. Caleb’s so good, so I don’t want to say that’s why we won, but it’s different now. They have our type of ‘4’-man. … (Edwards) is that ‘4’ who can play. He can guard another tough ‘4,’ and he can guard on the perimeter as well, if you have more of a skilled ‘4.’ ”
Of course, Beilein neglected to give the scouting report on how the Wolverines plan to attack Edwards, but he did say that freshman forward Isaiah Livers, fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson or redshirt sophomore guard Charles Matthews could match up with him.
Livers is excited for the potential responsibility.
“He told me in film yesterday,” Livers said. “He said, ‘Isaiah, you have a big challenge. This guy is kinda just a replicate of you. Just, he has a lot more experience than you.’ And I was like, ‘Great, Coach. Now I can see where I’m at.’ So I’m looking forward to it.”
The freshman has perhaps improved the most of any Michigan player this season, and Tuesday’s matchup with Edwards could be the next benchmark for just how far he’s come, especially considering that the Wolverines have been hurt by dynamic ‘4’-men in the past.
In their loss to North Carolina, one of the major pitfalls was the production of the Tar Heels’ ‘4’-man, Luke Maye. Whether it was Robinson or Livers guarding Maye, they seemingly had no answer, as he lit them up for 27 points.
Livers remembers that game, but he believes the defense has come a long way since then, and he sees the game against Purdue as a potential yard stick for where Michigan stands.
“That was like an early test for us,” Livers said. “So I think that’s gonna help translate over to our game tomorrow. I’m excited to see where we are.”
Beilein and Livers will both admit the freshman has a long way to go. Beilein has taken special care in aiding Livers’ growth, because he sees his athletic ability and realizes that, with the right coaching, he could really turn into something special. Beilein has said he typically spends 15 minutes with Livers after practices to sharpen his skillset.
He says one of the next steps for Livers to take is improvement in corralling defensive rebounds. That’s another area where Tuesday’s matchup can be a barometer of progress. Edwards leads his team with 8.6 rebounds per game — 2.8 of which coming on the offensive end.
Illinois was a prolific offensive rebounding team entering its game with the Wolverines last week. Beilein thought his team did well to hold them to just 10 offensive rebounds, since three of them were late in the game.
Edwards is a different animal, though. For whoever guards him, whether it’s Livers, Robinson or even Matthews, a new level of production and focus will be needed.
“It’s gonna be tough,” Beilein said. “We talked about that a lot today, about, as the game goes on, what we do. Once again, Duncan’s done a great job for us over there. His defensive numbers the other day were really good, but Isaiah continues to be that guy that will continue to be there. And then, play Duncan more at a natural position if we feel the need to.”