Michigan coach John Beilein is on the brink of a benchmark.
After dropping its Big Ten opener to Iowa in overtime, 86-83, the Michigan men’s basketball team has returned home with an opportunity to give Beilein his 200th career win in its matchup against Penn State (1-1 Big Ten, 9-6 overall) on Wednesday night.
The loss to the Hawkeyes wasn’t an easy pill to swallow, as the Wolverines (0-1, 10-4) came a non-foul call and four points shy of notching their first win in Carver-Hawkeye Arena since 2011.
“We got through yesterday,” Beilein said. “Rough day after watching that Iowa game and knowing that there were moments (when) it was ours for the taking. We couldn’t finish it.
“… The same thing happened to (No. 14) North Carolina, to (No. 8) Duke, to Syracuse, to Ohio State, to Purdue. The same thing happened when you go into a game and you believe you can go in there and win a game, and you don’t. That’s exactly the message to the team yesterday, that there are 17 games left in the league and we gotta grow from it.”
The first of those 17 comes against the Nittany Lions, who have experienced an up-and-down season through their first 15 games.
While Penn State has lost at the hands of teams like George Mason and Albany, it still boasts impressive wins against St. John’s and Georgia Tech — which defeated then-No. 13 Butler and then-No. 9 North Carolina in the last week, respectively.
Guard Shep Garner leads the Nittany Lions with 13.2 points per game, and forward Mike Watkins averages the most rebounds with 8.3 per game. Still, Penn State doesn’t boast a true marquee scorer, with each member of its starting five averaging double-digits.
“They have a great mixture of two talented kids (Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens) from the same Roman Catholic high school in (Philadelphia) that really have infused them with some young talent,” Beilein said. “And then they got some holdovers that have gained a lot of experience through wins and losses over the last two or three years. So it’s going to be a very difficult game for us.”
Michigan, in its own right, seems to have enough pieces in place to notch its first conference win.
DJ Wilson, who has been emerging as a bigger threat every week, had a coming-out party against the Hawkeyes in Iowa City.
The redshirt sophomore forward scored a career-high 28 points and cleaned up the glass to the tune of 14 rebounds. Wilson is averaging 7.1 rebounds on the year, and could prove to be stiff competition for Watkins in the paint.
“The coaches kind of just told me that it was going to happen in due time and I was kind of due for a game like that,” Wilson said. “But, I don’t know, I just try to stay consistent and as confident as possible and just let things work out for themselves.”
Though senior wing Zak Irvin struggled against Iowa, finishing with 12 points on 5-for-15 shooting, he still leads the Wolverines with 13.9 points per game and will look to return to form against a Penn State team allowing 70.3 points per contest.
With Beilein’s milestone in reach, Michigan has a chance to make its first conference win a little more special. But the Nittany Lions certainly won’t roll over, and Beilein is fully aware of that.
“I’m only aware of (the milestones) when you guys say them,” he said. “…I don’t read (anything) other than the other team’s game notes. I’ll find out after the fact what happens.
“It’s just never been a thing with me in any way. I never considered it. (If) you’re in this a long time, you’re going to have some milestones, but it doesn’t mean it’s anything different the next day.”