For the first time in quite some time, the Michigan men’s basketball team will go on the road with something it has lacked most of the season: confidence.
And why not? After arguably the Wolverines’ best performance away from Crisler Arena, a 71-63 win over Minnesota last Thursday, they come into tonight’s matchup against Iowa on a bit of a roll. Well, as much of a roll as one true road win puts you on.
Michigan can focus on its many positives from Thursday’s win, like another solid team defensive effort and the improved on-court leadership of freshman point guard Darius Morris.
Still, Michigan coach John Beilein isn’t exactly convinced that these positives will automatically appear tonight in Iowa City.
After Sunday’s slate of wild basketball games, which featured two Big East upsets of No. 3 Syracuse and No. 8 Georgetown by unranked teams, it makes sense that Beilein remains cautious.
“Watching scores right now, there’s not a lot of carry-over,” he said. “There’s inconsistencies everywhere about how your team is going to perform. You look at those Big East scores from (Sunday), and you just — that’s why I think people love college basketball. That type of stuff can happen.”
Of course, a matchup like Michigan-Iowa — two teams in the bottom half of the Big Ten standings — isn’t as high profile as Sunday’s upsets. But the message is clear: past success isn’t necessarily an indication of future success.
And that brings the Wolverines (5-7 Big Ten, 12-12 overall) to tonight’s game. Michigan defeated Iowa handily last time the two teams played, a 14-point win on Jan. 30. Senior forward DeShawn Sims led the way with a double-double, and he combined with junior guard Manny Harris for 40 points on the game.
But, as Beilein warned, that doesn’t mean tonight’s game will be easy.
“Watch any (Iowa) game — the halftime score is going to be pretty close,” Beilein said. “They have been able to shorten games. They only have a seven- or eight-man rotation. There’s nobody who doesn’t know their role on the team. They can stay in any game. “Their record doesn’t show it, but they’re getting better and better every day.”
The Hawkeyes (3-10, 9-17) recently pulled off a nice upset of their own, a home win over NCAA Tournament bubble-team Northwestern last week. Going into Carver-Hawkeye Arena, like going into any Big Ten team’s home arena, is difficult, even for teams like the Wildcats.
To prepare for all games — home or away — Beilein says he likes to blast music throughout the practice the day before the contest. He doesn’t want his players to get used to communicating in a quiet environment, because that’s not what they’ll face — even in Crisler.
“We’re always trying to make it difficult so they’re used to having that adversity,” he said.
That coaching tactic, as well as others that keep the players focused on basic drills, seemed to work — at least in Thursday’s win. Morris said yesterday that he thinks the team has had some great practices recently, and that he’s felt a good team vibe lately. From the coaches to scout team players and everyone in between, nobody wants to mail in the rest of the season — even with an NCAA Tournament appearance out of the picture.
“The season is never over,” Morris said. “You always hear stories about teams that catch on late. One thing about Beilein’s teams is they’re known for getting better. At one point, we weren’t getting better. Now, I think it’s starting to click. Hopefully, a win at Iowa (today) will show that.”
INJURY UPDATE: Beilein gave updates yesterday on three players he’s currently redshirting. He said freshman forward Jordan Morgan has been injured for three quarters of the season, and that freshman forward Jordan Dumars hasn’t been able to practice much at all since transferring to Michigan because of a shoulder problem. Blake McLimans has been healthy throughout the season, and is working hard in practice.