Even though the season has yet to begin, the Big Ten already shapes up like something that precedes most card games: a shuffle.
With Ohio State and Purdue replacing last year’s talent and four new coaches in the conference, multiple teams believe they have a stake on this season’s conference championship.
“The competition is extremely competitive, and it’s up for grabs this year,” new Illinois coach Jolette Law said. “You’ve got so many different changes, you don’t know what to expect.”
Law and Michigan coach Kevin Borseth have each acquired a full slate of returning starters. But unlike the Fighting Illini, the Wolverines finished 10th in the conference compared to Illinois’s fourth. With that in mind, Borseth knows he has a ways to go.
“Based on the hand that’s been dealt, from an outsiders’ standpoint, Michigan is probably the team (that will have the toughest time with a new coach) because they haven’t done anything,” Borseth said. “But that doesn’t mean anything. Yesterday is gone.”
To Borseth, yesterday has gone much faster than normal, implementing a new philosophy and system in just the past week. But with an experienced coaching staff, the Wolverines aren’t losing any ground.
Michigan’s main focus has been on offense. Coming from a Wisconsin-Green Bay team that boasted one of the top-three assist-to-turnover ratios in the nation, Borseth makes taking care of the ball a priority for his squads. A few days ago, Borseth pitted five of the most suspect ball-handlers against a press defense.
But the problem is also putting it up. Michigan seeks to overcome last year’s dismal .364 shooting percentage. As much as Borseth has been teaching plays to his team, he said skill is essential.
“You can lead the horse to the water, but you can’t make him drink,” Borseth said. “When you get to the end of it, you have to make the shot. I believe we’ll be able to make the end, the question is whether we’ll make shots.”
The focus on offense has led to several holes on defense. With a closed scrimmage against Cleveland State and an exhibition against Borseth’s alma mater, Lake Superior State, looming, Michigan looks to close those gaps as fast as it can.
But the holes may shut faster than one might expect from a new coach. Ohio State coach Jim Foster said former Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett left the Wolverines with a good defensive presence. With a newfound offense, Foster said the Wolverines will be a good team.
Not only can Michigan be a good team, but it can also gain a greater understanding of the game. Part of Borseth’s philosophy isn’t about just passing the ball, but learning why you do it.
“He gives you a reason,” senior Ta’Shia Walker said. “He’ll say, ‘Swing it,’ and ask, ‘Why swing it?’ And we’ll be like, ‘I don’t know.’ “
Added senior Krista Clement: “It’s a lot of learning about the game of basketball. In college, the defense is better, the people are bigger and you need to play smarter.”
Borseth’s brand of basketball also includes letting his players play at their abilities. Borseth has no doubt the Wolverines will be the most improved team of the Big Ten.
“It may not reflect in wins and losses, but all I know is that we’re going to improve,” Borseth said. “It’s like your golf game. If you’re golfing 60, it’s easy to get to 50. But try and get to the 49, 48, 47 – that’s when you start honing. We’re going to get from 60 to 50. That’s going to come in a hurry.”
And with Big Ten coaches referring to Michigan’s solid core, new system and new confidence, there’s no reason they can’t.