Saturday’s opener for the Michigan basketball team didn’t get off to the expected start for the home team. Less than five minutes in the Wolverines were down 12-3 to division II Hillsdale. The key tying the score at 15 three minutes later was defense and the easy opportunities that created on the other end of the floor.
“We wanted to pressure the ball a little more,” Derrick Walton said afterward. “I think they were a little more comfortable with us sitting back and trying to negotiate screens and make sure we weren’t getting back and stuff like that. So once we got more heat on the ball we generated a lot more steals, leak outs, and we’re really good in transition so we were able to get out and get some easy baskets.”
The quickened pace and high percentage looks helped alleviate some the obvious nervousness on a team that will play as many as five freshmen regularly this season.
“I know Kam was a little jittery… it was his first game,” said Walton. “We just wanted to bring him along and let him know we were out there with him. And him and the other guys played really well.”
“I think the young guys and myself just didn’t want to come out and be too excited and make careless mistakes. I think we kind of sat back and they kind of hit us in the mouth. After the first TV timeout we got to our normal game, pressured them, and that started getting more easy buckets.”
When the dust settled the Maize & Blue had racked up 92 big points, but they were disappointed with the 68 points surrendered on the defensive end. Michigan headman John Beilein indicated afterward that it was a sign of a team still trying to find its defensive identity. That said, they show a key component of what that identity will be. The impressive length on this year’s roster was instrumental in the Wolverines ability to get into the passing lanes and steal the ball 11 times. Walton and company hope that’s a sign of things to come.
“Guys like D.J. Wilson, Kam, Muhammad, and Aubrey… all those guys can guard probably the two through four,” Walton stated. “The switching pattern kind of changes when they’re on the floor. They’re able to keep guy in front of them with their length.”
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