UM back in non­league play, which will al­low Beilein to work on ex­pand­ing ro­ta­tion

The Detroit News - - Sports - BY JAMES HAWKINS The Detroit News

Ann Ar­bor he Wolver­ines clawed through the rough­est and tough­est por­tion of their early sea­son sched­ule and emerged un­scathed.

With wins over North Carolina, Pur­due and North­west­ern in a seven-day span, Michi­gan proved its de­fense can frus­trate and suf­fo­cate some of the na­tion’s high­est-scor­ing of­fenses. It can beat teams with dif­fer­ent guys each night. It can take a punch and per­se­vere in the face of ad­ver­sity on the road.

But if the three-game stretch taught the No. 5 Wolver­ines any­thing, it’s the dire need for them to de­velop depth be­yond their seven-man ro­ta­tion.

As the at­ten­tion shifts back to non­con­fer­ence play af­ter the two early Big Ten games, Michi­gan en­ters a key stretch against not-so-stel­lar com­pe­ti­tion that will of­fer it a prime time to build up its bench.

It will play just four games over 23 days, start­ing to­day with South Carolina fol­lowed by one game a week against West­ern Michi­gan (Dec. 15), Air Force (Dec. 22) and Bing­ham­ton (Dec. 30).

“I think what’s most key is the four or five days of prac­tice we have be­tween games,” Michi­gan coach John Beilein said Fri­day. “We can re­ally push them (back­ups) against the starters or play with the starters and not know­ing, ‘Hey, we got to get ready for this next game.’ The Mon­day, Tues­day of each week for the next few weeks we will re­ally be spend­ing all Michi­gan time.


“That’s where I tell David (DeJulius), ‘David, you’re the start­ing point guard. X (Zavier Simp­son) is in foul trou­ble or you’re go­ing into the game early and you got to run this team,’ and just see where he is com­pared to where he was a month ago when we had to say, ‘We got dif­fi­cult games in here. We can’t be ex­per­i­ment­ing in Novem­ber.’ We got to know who we are, so that’ll be key.”

The bench pro­duc­tion has taken a hit in its last three wins, with key re­serves Isa­iah Livers, Eli Brooks and Austin Davis com­bin­ing for 10 points against North Carolina, five points against Pur­due and three points at North­west­ern.

Over that same span, only Brooks fin­ished with a pos­i­tive plus-mi­nus rat­ing, with a plus-3 against the Tar Heels and plus-1 against the Wild­cats.

Livers’ best rat­ing is a mi­nus-3 he posted against North Carolina and Davis’ was an even zero, which came against Pur­due when he only saw 31 sec­onds of ac­tion af­ter be­ing yanked for a quick foul.

While the Wolver­ines were still able to win com­fort­ably against the Tar Heels and Boil­er­mak­ers, the road con­test against the Wild­cats was a dif­fer­ent story. Livers wasn’t much of a fac­tor and fin­ished with a team-worst mi­nus-15 plus-mi­nus rat­ing. Davis played ex­tended min­utes with junior cen­ter Jon Teske in foul trou­ble and was on the floor ev­ery time North­west­ern made a run. Brooks was the lone one to make a dif­fer­ence, nail­ing a 3-pointer and as­sist­ing on an­other in the fi­nal five min­utes.

Beilein has stated he wants to ex­pand his ro­ta­tion, with fresh­man for­ward Bran­don Johns Jr. and fresh­man guard David DeJulius be­ing the like­li­est ad­di­tions.

And while Johns, a ver­sa­tile piece who has spent time at the four and five, might be the clos­est to be­ing ready, Beilein made it known he’s not just go­ing to hand him min­utes and a big­ger role. He must earn it and prove him­self ev­ery sin­gle day.

“He’s got to show us in prac­tice that he’s got a lot of en­ergy, he can make dif­fer­ences in games, he can pick up things quickly,” Beilein said. “And usu­ally it’s de­fense. Ev­ery­body makes too much of some in­tri­cate sys­tem we run here. I dummy it down for those guys. It’s about de­fense.

“Are you go­ing to sit there and watch the ball screen and not call a ball screen cov­er­age and then not cover the cov­er­age? It’s pretty sim­ple, but for many fresh­men it takes some time. He’s start­ing to do that right now.”

As for DeJulius, Beilein said he’s “do­ing OK” grasp­ing the of­fense and learn­ing how to com­mand it. But un­like Johns, there’s much more DeJulius has to process and pick up as Michi­gan switches things up from op­po­nent to op­po­nent.

“There’s a lot of of­fense and de­fense, but he’s got the tal­ent level to do both re­ally well. But as a quar­ter­back, it is very dif­fer­ent than what Bran­don has to do,” Beilein said. “On de­fense, he’s got to have a strong mes­sage. He’s got a lot he has to do that other guys don’t have to do. That’s why you see most quar­ter­backs

(in foot­ball) red­shirt, as well.”

Junior guard Zavier Simp­son has been in DeJulius’ and Johns’ sit­u­a­tion be­fore and tells them to stay fo­cused, stay con­fi­dent and just be ready to con­trib­ute when­ever their num­ber is called.

Ac­cord­ing to Simp­son, though, the most im­por­tant part is to not let any neg­a­tive thoughts or dis­sat­is­fac­tion with their play­ing time af­fect them.

“I used to carry a suit­case my fresh­man year when I used to get in like the last four min­utes of the game. I used to be mad that I played three min­utes prior or four, five min­utes prior, so I would get in the game and be mad about that,” Simp­son said. “There was so much neg­a­tive on my back when I used to come in the game and have an op­por­tu­nity to make an easy layup, but be­cause of that suit­case I was car­ry­ing I would miss it or it would roll in and out, just small things like that.”

Simp­son said nei­ther DeJulius or Johns is car­ry­ing that metaphor­i­cal suit­case with them as they con­tinue to work to crack the ro­ta­tion.

In­stead, the only thing they’re pack­ing is valu­able lessons with each pass­ing prac­tice.

“I think (the team) has learned that you have to sep­a­rate each game, be ready to come and play each game, which I think we did re­ally well, then move on.

“You get done with those games the jour­ney con­tin­ues, there’s an­other game to get ready for,” Beilein said. “That’s the big­gest thing I think our young guys … are learn­ing, it’s a jour­ney. I just have to hang in there and keep work­ing to get bet­ter.”

Lon Hor­wedel/Spe­cial to Detroit News

Isa­iah Livers and Michi­gan know it’s no laugh­ing mat­ter: The Wolver­ines have to find a way to ex­pand their ro­ta­tion.

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