ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- John Beilein has been quick to point out moral victories won’t be cause for celebration for his Michigan team this season.
“Short turnaround here but after watching the Maryland film we did see some good things on a few occasions,” Beilein said Monday. “Obviously there’s some things we have to get better at that only experience can teach us.
“Maryland is a really good team and they shot the ball very well and that opened the game up for them.”
Holding on for a 56-54 win at home earlier this season against Northwestern, the Wildcats struggled mightily to start the Big Ten season.
After losing 10 straight games despite winning the conference opener against Rutgers, Northwestern (14-15, 5-11) has been on the uptick.
“We go to Northwestern right now who has won four out of five, did not have a good game at Illinois the other day,” Beilein said. “They’ve got great wins, impressive wins over Indiana, at Iowa I believe, and Penn State.
“We’re going in there and we’re going to have to really play well. Watching them play it looks to me like they’re really connected. At least their starting five has been healthy the whole year and they’ve been able to get a timing to what they’re doing.”
With just two days to prepare for the Wildcats, Beilein is focusing a great deal on offensive execution against a zone, something the Wolverines struggled with on multiple occasions this season including in a home loss to Eastern Michigan.
“We may see a 2-3 zone from wire-to-wire,” Beilein said. “We haven’t seen a lot of zone since Iowa stymied us with their zone so we have a lot of work to do and we’ve been trying to do it in these two days.”
“The whole idea is get a guy who can see in the middle of that zone,” added Beilein. “Make sure your big man is making himself available. Make sure the guys on the perimeter are shot ready and pass ready, not just putting the ball above their heads.
“There’s a lot that goes through that of just feeling the zone out so we’ll work on it a lot today. It’s just interesting that both Duke, and now Chris (Collins) play a lot of zone where they traditionally have never played it.”
Fighting through such a difficult season filled with major injuries and close losses, all the while looking to coach up freshmen on the fly, Beilein is doing his best to keep a cool head.
A stark difference from the team Michigan put on the court night in and night out each of the last two seasons, the long time head coach knows this group is making investments for the future.
“I think with all our coaches we get frustrated because we know we’re close but trying to get that next level of achievement from them is just difficult to do cause you’re right there and either just make that shot or make that pass or don’t throw that pass down there, get it up in here,” Beilein said.
“The only thing we can do is stay patient with it and work on skill level. That’s the biggest thing, I want to continue to have that right attitude with them but it’s difficult sometimes and it’s difficult for them to hear the same thing over and over.
“We’ve just got to work together to understand this is just temporary, this is part of the process. But I mean, I’m not walking off the ledge of a building or anything like that, I’m fine. But I think when you have your last couple of years be the way they were, you get spoiled and you’re expecting certain things and you’ve got to tone it back and say they’re just kids still, they can do this.”
Walton Jr. update
Still attempting to work his way back from a foot injury, Michigan sophomore Derrick Walton Jr. hopes to play this season but the Wolverines remain unsure whether or not it’ll be possible.
“He’ll participate a little bit (Monday) as he can go,” Beilein said. “It’s a little bit of a pain tolerance thing right now. Just trying to measure where he is and each day he’s trying to do a little bit more.
“But the soreness the next day and you’re trying to sort out how did it get sore? Is it just not using it for a month or is it an actual injury? I’m interested to see, he shot around a little bit with us this morning and I’ll see what he can do this afternoon.”
Michigan junior Caris LeVert is out for the rest of the season after undergoing surgery for a fractured foot.
Projected to be a first round pick in the 2015 NBA draft, LeVert will have a decision to make regarding his future, and soon.
Beilein says the two haven’t discussed the situation much just yet.
“Very little, very little,” Beilein said. “We’ll put his name into the NBA advisory so that we can get some type of idea.
“They don’t do it this early. I’ve been assured he’ll be one of the first ones on the list that they’ll look at.”