Michigan coach John Beilein has been in this spot before.
Dec. 1, 1992, he took Canisius to Cameron Indoor Stadium to face defending National Champion Duke.
It was Beilein’s first season as a Division-I basketball coach. That Canisius squad oddly resembled this year’s Wolverines – a whole bunch of freshmen and sophomores, and just one senior.
Let’s just say he hasn’t shown any film from that game to his current team.
“It didn’t go well,” Beilein said of the 110-62 Blue Devil win.
Now, 15 years later, Beilein brings another inexperienced team into the unfriendly confines of Cameron when Michigan takes on No. 6 Duke tomorrow at 2 p.m.
This time around, the challenge may be just as daunting. Take a look at the numbers and things don’t bode well for the Wolverines, who have lost five of their past six games.
The Blue Devils have won an NCAA-best 55 consecutive nonconference home games, a span of nearly seven seasons. They’ve won 34 straight games in the month of December. And their average margin of victory this season has been an impressive 24.2 points, with wins over Illinois and Wisconsin – two teams picked to finish ahead of the Wolverines in the Big Ten.
Throw in an advantage in points, rebounds, assists, steals and field goal percentage and this looks like an easy Duke victory.
But it isn’t as if the Wolverines don’t know all this already. Michigan has seen the Blue Devils already – considering their six appearances on national television already this year.
“We’re going to go compete no matter what it says on the front of the jersey,” freshman Kelvin Grady said.
One thing Michigan (3-5) does have going for it is rest. After the Wolverines played five games in 11 days, Beilein said fatigue might have been a factor in Michigan’s disappointing 62-51 loss to Harvard last weekend. The Wolverines have had a week off to get their legs back and assimilate into a regular schedule.
It’s also given them some time to digest what has gone wrong since starting the season with two easy wins over Radford and Brown.
Beilein said he had the team go back to the basics – like handling the ball while running at full speed, getting into a proper defensive stance and pivoting correctly.
“I feel like this whole week in practice we worked hard, so I’m interested to see how we go out there and respond to the last couple games and how we lost,” freshman Manny Harris said.
The Wolverines haven’t put much thought into exactly what this year’s Duke squad brings to the table, given the amount of work they have to do on their own team. But after a down year by their standards last season, the Blue Devils are back in their usual spot atop the national conscience.
Boasting eight McDonald’s All-Americans on its roster, Duke (8-0) is led in scoring by freshman forward Kyle Singler, who likely would have declared for the NBA Draft out of high school had it been allowed. Junior Greg Paulus and senior DeMarcus Nelson provide leadership and grit for a team that has shown a killer instinct in the early part of this season.
Beilein expects the Blue Devils to pressure Michigan’s young backcourt early and often, more than likely through a full court press of some kind.
Whether his team succumbs to that pressure like his Canisius team of the past remains to be seen.
“The odds are against us,” Beilein said. “Let’s just say that.”