Illini Travel To Dangerous Michigan

The Fighting Illini basketball team has consecutive wins over ranked Missouri and Purdue quintets, but that will be forgotten quickly if it loses at Michigan Sunday. That is the mantra Coach Bruce Weber is using to get his overachievers to play at a peak level. Michigan and Coach John Beilein have an unusual style that will pose problems for the Illini.

Michigan specializes in three-point shooting. Illinois Coach Bruce Weber elaborates on their offensive philosophy.

"Michigan presents problems for us and a lot of teams because they play small. They may not even have a center in the game at times. DeShawn Simms (6'-8", 235 pound junior) will play a 5 man, and they play four guards so they spread you out. If they start making a lot of threes, they put you in a big bind."

Now in the second year of Beilein's system, 10-3 Michigan has made major improvements over last season. Conquests of perennial powers UCLA and Duke prove that.

"He has guys that fit his system. He has so many guys who can pass and shoot, and that's huge. That's what he wants, and that's why he had great success at West Virginia. The way they spread you, in some ways it's like Princeton's system. It makes it very tough for people to defend."

< P>Defensively, the Wolverines change things up frequently. Their zone defense is difficult to read.

"Michigan for the most part will play 1-3-1, which is one of the best in the country, on made baskets or when you're walking it up. And then on missed baskets they'll play a switching man-to-man. So they change defenses on you and make you react, make you play, trying to get you out of your system."

UM is led by 6'-5" sophomore guard Manny Harris. He is second in conference scoring with a 19.0 average. In addition, he is second in rebounds at 7.7 a game and leads the team with 64 assists in 13 games. He is a tough matchup for anyone.

Simms leads the team in rebounding with 8.8 a game. And he is second in scoring with a 16.9 average. His shooting percentage of .547 is impressive. He and Harris are a dynamic duo.

Besides Harris, freshman Stu Douglass (6'-3", 175, averaging 5.2 points per game with 31 assists) and fifth year senior David Merritt (5'-10, 170, 2.7 ppg) are the only Wolverine players who have started every game. But they have a variety of combinations they can use.

Freshman Zach Novak (6'-5", 210) scored 20 points against Wisconsin. He is averaging 6.8 points a game. His .408 percentage on three-point shooting is impressive. He must be accounted for at all times.

"He's shot the ball real well all year," Weber explains. "He kind of floats around the perimeter, and it may be tough for a big guy to get after him. He is a good shooter, there's no doubt about that."

Sophomore Laval Lucas-Perry (6'-3", 185) is in the same situation as Illinois' Alex Legion. He has played in four games after transferring from Arizona. But the point guard has been excellent as a shooter, averaging 11.3 points on .462 shooting from the field including .526 on threes. He is a more of a shooter than passer as he has only 2 assists so far.

Other contributors include sophomore Kelvin Grady (5'-11", 170), averaging 5.2ppg and has 30 assists; Senior Jevohn Shepherd (6'-5", 215), who averages 4.3 and is hitting half of his shot attempts; junior Zach Gibson (6'-10", 220), who averages 4.0 points a game; and Anthony Wright (6'-6", 235 so), a senior averaging 3.6 ppg.

Weber was asked how Wisconsin could handle the Wolverines so easily in Ann Arbor Wednesday.

"Sometimes it's matchups. Wisconsin seems to have a good system that counteracts Michigan's system. They do a great job of contesting three pointers, which is Michigan's strength. And then they attacked their zone well.

"Bo Ryan's system is disciplined, and their kids did a good job of reading things. And then you top that off with shooting the ball well. So they seemed to get a lead and continued to maintain and expand upon it."

The Badgers did an exceptional job taking Manny Harris out of the game. He scored only 7 points.

"They have (Joe) Krabbenhoff, who is physically strong and has some athleticism. And he has some size. He could just lock in on Manny.

So who fulfills the role of defensive stopper for Illinois?

"Chester (Frazier) did a pretty good job on him last year. If you have a defender who is physically capable and takes pride in being a stopper, you have a chance. Chester did that the other night against Hummel (Robbie, Purdue). He's done it on a lot of people through the years."

Weber realizes Illinois is catching Michigan at a bad time. To win the Big Ten conference, a team must win all its home games and steal a few on the road. With one home loss already, the Wolverines' backs are to the wall. Do the Illini have enough motivation and talent to pull off the upset win?

"I don't know. I hope so. It's definitely a big question. This will help us learn whether we have the mental discipline to compete for a Big Ten Championship. It's how you come back after wins and losses. And it's when you catch people.

"A game in Michigan after a hard loss at home, they're feeling bad. They're going to have extra motivation. Can we counter that? Do we have the team chemistry and discipline to do that? I think we'll learn a lot about our team on Sunday."


Illini Inquirer Top Stories