Redshirt sophomore forward Eric Puls has left the Michigan basketball team in order to have sufficient time to focus on his engineering degree, Michigan coach John Beilein said on Monday.
“What a magnificent young man,” Beilein said. “I thought it was the right decision for him although we’ll miss him. He’s really been a very, very important member of this team though it wouldn’t show up in the box score.”
Puls joined the team in 2007 as a preferred walk-on having already received an academic scholarship. He was not a Division-I recruit out of Alpena High School, but he averaged 18 points and seven rebounds per game as a senior and received offers from Hillsdale, Michigan Tech and Northwood.
At Michigan, Puls played sparingly after redshirting his freshman season, notching a total of 26 minutes and scoring 13 points in his career.
Beilein said he was caught off guard by Puls’ decision.
“It surprised me because of the timing,” he said. “But he said if he takes these courses now this spring, he can graduate in four years. So I say it’s the right thing to do.”
Puls’ absence opens up another walk-on spot on the roster, but Beilein said that while he could pick someone up, it’s unlikely.
“We have 15 right now, so it’s possible,” Beilein said. “We could have an injury, so you never know.”
Defense still an issue: Despite holding Kansas to just 33 points in the second half of the game on Saturday, Beilein said he is still trying to find ways to improve his defense.
“There are some areas of the defense we are really addressing right now,” Beilein said. “We’ve found what our biggest needs are defensively, and we’re addressing them every day. Hopefully, you’re going to see them pretty soon.”
It was a strange half for the defense. On one hand, Michigan’s defense kept the Wolverines in the game because they had so much trouble on offense. But at the same time, the Jayhawks actually shot a higher percentage from the field after halftime — 57 percent — than they did in the first half — 48 percent.
One explanation could be Kansas’s nine turnovers in the second half, but the number isn’t big enough to fully explain it.
In the paint, senior DeShawn Sims held AP Preseason All-American Cole Aldrich to zero field goals and just five points for the game. According to Beilein, though, stopping Aldrich was more of a team effort.
“We gave him a lot of help on defense,” Beilein said. “The double-team in the post was something that hurt us a couple times but really helped us many times as well.”
And while the 1-3-1 zone defense befuddled Kansas for a while during the game, it wasn’t exactly Beilein’s first choice because he never knows which teams are going to shred it and which teams will be confused.
“We’ve used it many times before as a last resort,” Beilein said. “Sometimes if you just change the flow, it will work.”
Beilein said the problems with the defense are two-fold.
“It’s part personnel, it’s part lack of experience,” he said. “We have to continue to find new ways of teaching it, continue to watch film on it, basically being in position.”
Coppin State coming up: There’s little chance that Michigan will be looking past their matchup with Coppin State Tuesday to their first Big Ten game. They open conference play against Indiana in Bloomington on New Year’s Eve.
But as a rule of thumb, you never want to overlook a team coached by a man nicknamed “Fang.”
“(Ron “Fang” Mitchell has) been doing this for so many years, and he’s such a good coach,” Beilein said. “This is not just a guaranteed game. He’ll come in here to win the game.”
Beilein expects to see a little bit of everything from the Eagles, including both zone and man-to-man defense.
“He’ll do all kinds of things just to stay in the game,” Beilein said. “As he’s proven many times, if he stays in the game, he’ll beat you.”