ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It is now or never for John Beilein and his 2014-15 Michigan Wolverines.
Faced with the unfortunate task of needing four wins in four days at this week’s Big Ten tournament in Chicago in order to secure a bid to the NCAA tournament, Beilein spent the early part of this week ensuring his young team will have its legs under them at the United Center.
“Zak (Irvin) and Spike (Albrecht), Muhammad (Ali Abdur-Rahkman) and Aubrey (Dawkins) did almost nothing for two days other than jog through some things,” Beilein said. “Today is their practice, we’ll go a full two hours tomorrow about an hour before we leave.
“We try to front load that rest and now we get them ready but those four games, I’ve been involved in them for a long time now and once you get going you just, you hope they’re in good enough shape and equal with the opponent. I don’t think you can go four days hard and then go win this tournament.”
And in the first round of the conference tournament Michigan will tussle with Illinois, a team the Wolverines fared well against in two games this season despite splitting the pair.
Michigan won the first battle in overtime at Crisler Center to open up the Big Ten season. Appearing to have the game won in Champagne as well, Michigan squandered a late eight point lead to lose 64-52, again in overtime.
“Illinois, obviously we had two great basketball games when we played them twice,” Beilein said. “I think they led the whole game here and we won in overtime. We led the whole game there virtually and they won in overtime. Both teams continue to change.
“The first time we played them we were at full strength, second time we played them Rayvonte Rice was just coming back from injury and we had lost Derrick (Walton Jr.) and Caris (LeVert) and now he’s really playing well. These two teams have been unpredictable from the standpoint of injuries have not allowed them to continue to grow at times.”
Wrapping up the regular season slate with a home win over Rutgers Saturday, Michigan’s rotation could look a bit different come Thursday.
Beilein says Ricky Doyle will be ready to go for the tournament after missing the win over the Scarlet Knights with a virus. On top of that, Kameron Chatman could also be in line for a larger role after scoring 13-points last time out.
“(Andrew Dakich) and Sean (Lonergan) will give us (a few minutes) with foul trouble and just a quick rest probably,” Beilein said.
“I think with Kam’s performance he’ll warrant some more time and I hope he can go in there and play well with it. And then Max (Bielfeldt) and Ricky will share some time with Mark (Donnal) trying to back them up.”
Needing to look at the conference tournament with a one game at a time mentality despite the amount of pressure riding on the weekend, Beilein gave his guys an encouraging example of a team that rattled off wins on consecutive days to snatch an automatic NCAA tournament bid.
“I talked about UConn yesterday, what UConn was able to do,” Beilein said. “And so anything can happen in these things. I think UConn won five to go there so it’s difficult to do.
“But if you get going a little bit, if you have situations where what happened with Kam the other day, if he starts hitting threes like this or Muhammad has games, if you add up all our points it’s like career highs would be 150 points. If we could get a little bit of that out of everybody, every game and we’ve got to score points.”
Walton Jr. doubtful
Asked whether or not sophomore point guard Derrick Walton Jr. would be able to go Thursday, or at all in the Big Ten tournament, Beilein didn’t close the door but again didn’t offer optimism about a return this season.
“No,” Beilein said. “We try him almost every day. Just to do something, jogging up and down the court, do some layups; how’s it feel? That’s about it.”