CHICAGO — From the excitement around the Michigan table at the Big Ten men’s basketball Media Day, you wouldn’t guess that the Wolverines won a scant 10 games last year.
Progress was slow in Michigan coach John Beilein’s first year at the helm. But after the first few weeks of organized practice this season, the Wolverines are optimistic.
“Before our first game with Radford last year, we were saying things like, ‘OK, if we’re ahead late in the game, this is how we inbound the ball against pressure,’ ” Beilein said. “We had been working on things like, ‘When you throw the ball, you need to have spin on it.’ Very fundamental things.”
But junior forward DeShawn Sims said those days are gone. He estimated that Michigan is four weeks ahead of where it was last year in terms of what it’s practicing on a day-to-day basis.
The Wolverines’ increased understanding of Beilein’s system meant they dove into preseason practices much quicker than they could last year. After seven straight days of grueling practice, Beilein pushed them for one more day when he usually would have given the players a break.
“I expected it to be a down practice, because we really hadn’t had any rest,” Beilein said. “And we went after them and said, ‘Let’s see what they got.’ And they responded. They came right back, and that was really important.”
Michigan’s struggles last season are similar to what Purdue went through in the 2005-2006 season, when the Boilermakers limped to a 9-19 finish.
Three seasons later, Purdue has been picked to win the conference title by a 22-member media panel. On paper, the Boilermakers are one of the best teams in the Midwest. But that’s not enough for guard Keaton Grant.
“Oh, a national championship,” the junior said when asked about what he expected from this season. “That’s it. Nothing less, nothing more. A national championship.”
Other Boilermakers, like coach Matt Painter, weren’t so willing to admit that they were aiming to cut down the nets in March. When told about Grant’s statements, Painter couldn’t help but laugh.
“He’s got high goals,” he said. “We’ve had some tough days at Purdue. We’ve continued to stay positive and work hard to make strides. … Right now, our goals lie in the improvements we’re trying to make every day in practice.”
The other teams picked to finish in the top three in the Big Ten were Wisconsin and Michigan State. The bottom eight teams in the preseason poll were not released to the public.
The Wolverines weren’t discouraged by their absence from the list.
“I just look at (the polls) from a fan standpoint,” Sims said. “I like to see what teams out there they have ranked. … At the end of the day, if you come in and compete as a team, those polls don’t really mean anything.”
The media panel also voted on a preseason All-Big Ten team. Sophomore guard Manny Harris, who was second-team All-Big Ten in his freshman season, made the team. He was joined by Michigan State forward Raymar Morgan, Wisconsin senior forward Marcus Landry and Purdue sophomores E’Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel. Hummel was named preseason Big Ten Player of the Year.
The season will kick off Nov. 6, when the Wolverines host an exhibition game against Saginaw Valley State.