The saying “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” is emblematic of most John Beilein teams.
The 2017-18 season appears to be no exception.
A 20-point win over North Florida on Saturday may have looked pretty on the scoreboard, but the game itself told another story. As several Michigan players struggled to find a rhythm on both ends, it unveiled the adjustments the Wolverines will have to make in order to be a tournament team.
“It’s good to go through a little bit of that (adversity), continue to teach and then power them for how you win at this level,” Beilein said.
Added fifth-year senior Duncan Robinson: “We’ve got to learn from this one. We have to understand that we’re not going to win games just by showing up because we have Michigan on our chests.”
Rebounding was a weak point in both the exhibition and opener that the Wolverines would like to improve on. For the matchup against Central Michigan on Monday, they could face another challenge — the Chippewas posted a 45-30 rebounding margin over Siena Heights during their 108-48 smackdown. Though Siena Heights — a member of the NAIA — isn’t the model of a top-tier college basketball team, the Chippewas’ performance on the glass is nothing to turn a blind eye to.
Central Michigan’s low-post offense differs greatly from the Ospreys’ reliance on the three. The Chippewas’ hardnose attack could pose an equally tough challenge to the Wolverines’ flimsy frontcourt defense.
After a quick turnaround to face Central Michigan, Michigan can learn a lot about itself depending on how they improve down low, especially in the rebounding department.
“I’d prefer to have two or three days before every game,” Beilein said. “Central Michigan plays differently, they’ll press the entire game and try to wear us out. … I hope we’ve done enough work up to this point to beat Central Michigan.
“You’ve gotta be fresh Monday somehow.”
After losing last season’s NCAA leading scorer Marcus Keene to graduation, the Chippewas have issues of their own as they search for a new focal point. In the game against Siena Heights, guard Kevin McKay and forward Cecil Williams looked like the early contenders to fill that void. The duo combined for an impressive 43 points on 18-of-27 shooting and nabbed 20 rebounds.
The Wolverines also revealed what their scoring distribution could look like with Robinson, redshirt sophomore guard Charles Matthews and junior forward Moritz Wagner scoring 59 of the team’s 86 points Saturday. But 12 players found minutes against North Florida — all 12 scoring points — and Beilein is looking to trim that rotation to nine.
Central Michigan will surely be a tougher threat than the Ospreys, but the Wolverines have still just begun the marathon and have no reason to be tired yet.