Wednesday, the Michigan men’s basketball team will play its second game against a winless Big Ten team, this time in the form of Rutgers. While the Wolverines (5-2 Big Ten, 15-5 overall) have played teams at both the top and bottom of the conference, they’ve had close games against opposite ends of the spectrum: They hung in the game before falling to No. 3 Iowa and, more recently, barely hung on to beat 0-8 Minnesota.
The Scarlet Knights (0-7, 6-14) will look to replicate the Golden Gophers’ scrappy play, seeking a better result. Michigan coach John Beilein, in typical fashion, said regardless of Rutgers’ undesirable record, the Scarlet Knights will still be a challenge for the Wolverines.
“They may beat us,” Beilein said. “Our hope is that if they beat us, it’s only because they played great and we didn’t overlook anyone. That’s the message. Everyone’s a Division I player, everybody can run and dunk and (make a) 3-pointer and (with) foul trouble, anyone can win a game.”
The Scarlet Knights have played down to the wire against No. 17 Indiana, which has lost only one game in the Big Ten, but they don’t have very many other notable performances. Jan. 18, they were crushed by No. 21 Purdue, allowing the Boilermakers to score 107 points.
Guard Corey Sanders leads Rutgers with 14.1 points per game on 40.4 percent shooting, but the freshman is also averaging 3.5 assists per game. Sanders has two teammates who also average double-digit scoring, guard Mike Williams and forward Deshawn Freeman.
Rutgers has lost 22 straight games to Big Ten opponents, and it’s not likely that the streak will stop on Wednesday.
Michigan should be able to catch its breath during its next two games against Rutgers and Penn State before it returns home for a two-game homestand against Indiana and No. 12 Michigan State.
BEILEIN USES TWITTER FOR A CAUSE
Beilein helped raise funds for Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma research through the ChadTough Foundation, the rare form of pediatric brain cancer that Chad Carr passed away from in November.
Now, through ESPN’s Infiniti Coaches’ Charity Challenge, Beilein is raising money for the ChadTough Foundation again.
“We had a great first round,” Beilein said. “I did a little video message today, however, that they don’t give trophies after the end of the first quarter. We have three more quarters to play here to be able to win this.
“I personally tweeted it today as well — I’m going to tweet it, I haven’t actually tweeted it yet. I haven’t hit the send button yet. I had never heard the letters DIPG before in my life, until about a year ago. … Every week I’m hearing more. It’s something that I really want to support.”
When asked about his Twitter usage further, the 62-year-old Beilein responded that he usually drafts his own tweets, albeit with some uneasiness thanks to his Catholic-school upbringing.
“I do (tweet by myself) most of the time,” Beilein said. “Every now and then, (Associate Basketball Director Tom Wywrot) tries to do one and I end up redrafting it anyhow, so I just said, ‘I’ll just do it by myself.’ But I don’t like doing it because I’m just worried about one grammatical error, which the nuns and priests would be mad at me for, 30, 40 years later, or I’m just going to say something stupid. I’ve gotta look it over and look it over and look it over. I wish I could be like some people and send out more.”
DONNAL GETS PUMPED
As most Michigan fans are aware, forward Mark Donnal has had a breakout junior season.
Before his impressive performance against Illinois on Dec. 30, Donnal was averaging 3.9 points and 2.1 boards per game. Now, the big man is shooting 57 percent and grabbing 3.8 boards per game.
“If you look at (Donnal’s) offensive rebounding numbers right now, they’d be at the top of the league … in limited minutes,” Beilein said. “He is just working his tail off for the dirty rebounds, just for the ball that nobody else can get. He is controlling what he can control. I think he probably came in here thinking he was going to shoot a bunch of 3s, and that’s the way he was going to get on the court. Defense was just something you had to play. He likes playing defense and for a center, that is not an easy task.”
His teammates have seen a change in his play over the past year, so they aren’t surprised when they see him produce on the court.
But according to sophomore forward Aubrey Dawkins, they’re still taken aback when he diverges from his usual reserved self.
“It catches me off guard when he does (get fired up),” Dawkins said. “He’s usually really calm and just quiet, but when he gets going, you’re like, ‘Oh, OK, let’s do this.’ ”
Senior guard Caris LeVert, who is a midseason Wooden Award finalist, has missed the last six games following an injury to his lower-left leg, but it appears that the end to his time on the sideline is near. Though he won’t play Wednesday against Rutgers, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him suit up as early as Saturday for Michigan’s matchup with Penn State at Madison Square Garden.
“Caris has had more testing,” Beilein said. “Things continue to go in the right direction, but he is not ready to play yet. We hope he is very soon, but he’s moving in the right direction. … For the first time, we have a timeline that we’ve established. When you see him on the court, you’ll know what that timeline will look like.”