A week ago, the Michigan men’s basketball team squared off against a Virginia Tech squad that head coach John Beilein said would “push (the ball) up the floor right down our throat.”
The Wolverines (6-2) held serve for most of the game against the up-tempo Hokies, but ultimately faltered down the stretch, losing in overtime, 73-70.
Michigan will get another chance to face an up-tempo team at home against Texas (4-3) on Tuesday night, in the front end of a home-and-home series that matches the teams up again next year in Austin, Texas.
The two teams also met last season in the Bahamas at the Battle 4 Atlantis, where the Wolverines were victorious, 76-72.
Coached by Shaka Smart, the Longhorns push the pace of the game not through their offense, but their defense, a strategy that led to much of Smart’s success at Virginia Commonwealth before he moved to Texas.
“Shaka has more than he had last year, when we played them, of the havoc full-court defense,” Beilein said. “They’re playing some zones, and they have a lot of good action going on, and our players will have to play well.”
Because of Texas’ up-tempo defense, the Wolverines will have to work harder and rely on bench players, especially freshman guard Xavier Simpson, who will have to give senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. a break.
“We’re going to need (Simpson) to help Derrick,” Beilein said. “Not only to beat the press or attack their defense, but also to give (Walton) a rest.”
Added Simpson: “I feel like I can handle it. I’m being worked on every day in practice and getting better and just learning the pace of the game.”
But besides the fact that Michigan is about to face a high-energy team, Tuesday night’s bout will also be the Wolverines’ third game in seven days.
“(It’s) something we see a lot of in the Big Ten, so it’s been good for us to go through that type of schedule this week,” Beilein said.
Most recently, Michigan is coming off an 82-55 win over Kennesaw State that saw sophomore forward Moritz Wagner score a career-high 20 points and redshirt sophomore DJ Wilson grab his second career double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
The duo, though, will have a much tougher time trying to repeat their feats against Texas.
Inside, the Longhorns start 6-foot-11 forward Jarrett Allen at the ‘5’ and athletic forward Shaquille Cleare at the ‘4.’ Both will provide challenges for Wagner and Wilson at both ends of the court.
“They’re a great post-up team,” Beilein said. “They’re going to play out of the post like crazy, so post defense has to be important.”
Texas also features guard Tevin Mack, who leads the Longhorns in scoring with 14 points per game despite starting in only one game this season thus far.
But while Michigan understands that Texas will bring something different to the table, the Wolverines still want to play their own game, which is something they haven’t been able to do in their two losses this season.
“We just want to stick to our style of play,” said senior forward Zak Irvin. “We like to get up and down, too. We don’t want to do things uncharacteristically. The turnovers we had, we want to limit those.”
Michigan is looking to build on its momentum from its win over Kennesaw State. Another win over a Texas team that has bounced in and out of the top 25, would be a nice springboard before the Wolverines play at No. 2 UCLA on Saturday.
But right now, the Wolverines aren’t looking ahead. They have to take care of business on Tuesday first.