Beilein Readies Team for Boston College

Michigan coach John Beilein met with the media after practice yesterday to discuss his team's progress after a 1-2 showing in the Great Alaska Shootout. The Wolverines' new headman talked about misconceptions about the 1-3-1, Boston College's advantage on the boards in tonight's game, and more.

Question: How was the trip up to Alaska?

Coach Beilein: “I just think that we as a team got to learn an awful lot about game situations. There are so many things that we need to improve on. I don’t see the forest from the trees. I’m sure others may, that know what we do… but it was a worthwhile trip. It really was, just as far as playing basketball game.”

Sam Webb: So coach, getting to the 1-3-1, we had a caller that called in and talked about rebounding. One of the things that you said coming in is, ‘look, we are a team that does not necessarily finish high in the league in rebounding, but we compensate for that by not turning the basketball over.” With reference to rebounding are there fundamental things that can be done to make it better than it is now? This is from one of our recent callers. Are there some things that guys aren’t doing now that they could be doing to make rebounding the basketball better even when they are in the 1-3-1?

Coach Beilein: “Oh yeah. We have to what we call ‘muck it out more’. You just got to get involved. We had several box out lapses and things like that. But Sam, we are only getting out rebounded by 1, and who do you think won the rebounding war in the Western Kentucky game? (Sam: Yeah, you guys did). 30-23 and we were down 15 at half. Where we didn’t win was the turnover game. We had 18 turnovers, so that is a big difference. Right now, we had some years where in West Virginia, our rebounding was a -7 and right now we are a -1 or maybe even, even in rebounding. There is a lot of discouraging stats there that people think end up being the real thing. The 1-3-1 allows some rebounding. Boston College without question will out rebound us tomorrow. They are going to put four big bodies inside the box, the ball is going to go up and if there average weight is between 225 and 260 and the ball is in the air, they are going to get a lot of those. On the other hand, those big bodies have to guard us and if we are making our three, then it opens up the court. You give up one, you get another.”

Question: Manny Harris continues to lead the team in scoring. I know you needed a guy to step up and you said all along, you felt like he was probably going to be the guy to lead this team, but he has more turnovers than assists. Based on your offense is that the part of his game that he needs to improve the most?

Coach Beilein: “Yeah. He is really playing a true ball handling type of big guard, I believe maybe for the first time. Even though he has been more of a slasher, but his jump shot has really come around. He was 0-4 the last day, but other than that, he has really become a consistent shooter for us. He is working all the time to tighten his handle and typically that off guard position, last year our West Virginia team had 200 assists and 60 turnovers. So you can see what he will become eventually. The kid that did that for us didn’t have to play his freshman year. He just learned his freshman year. Manny is thrown in there and played against some awfully good players and he is learning. I think the 20 some assists is very encouraging right now that is in six games. That is 4.5 a game that is pretty good.”

Question: You have beaten Boston College a couple of times. What do you remember about those wins? Did you get out rebounded both of those games?

Coach Beilein: “Yeah. The one time we were ahead 22 at half and they came back. It was in Madison Square Garden, that was when they were the 1 seed and we were the eight seed. They had three NBA players on the court, but ended up beating them.” (West Virginia?). “Yeah. That was the last Boston College Big East game. We were part of that and we ended up eking it out at the end. But just Craig Smith, Sean Williams and (Jared) Dudley just pounding us on the backboard, but at the same time, we were able to win a couple of those games too.”

Question: With Western Kentucky, you guys out-rebounded them. They are a pretty big team. Do you kind of feel encouraged going into the BC game?

Coach Beilein: “There are a couple of things about out rebounding them. They didn’t miss many shots. So if you play 55% field goal percentage defense, there is not a lot of offense rebounds out there, but we did end up getting a bunch of offense rebounds. So I like that hustle part. But don’t forget they were pressing us, so they were stretched out. Boston College will stretch us, but they will be similar to football, eight in the box. They will have four inside that lane or a step off that lane for 20 minutes of offense. There will be four inside the lane and it is very hard to outmuscle people when they are just right in there.”

Question: In a game like that, do you see it as more important that you dominate the turnover battle or you stay close in rebounding?

Coach Beilein: “When it comes to rebounding with Boston College and some of the bigger, stronger, thicker teams that we will play, we just got to try and muck out just like these loose ones… tap it to ourselves. We are not going to end up out-muscling people, but if we use our quickness and effort area is huge. Obviously because they are bigger and stronger, make open threes, take care of the turnovers and that gives you a chance to win.”

Question: What about Ekpe Udoh?

Coach Beilein: “This has been a good two weeks. I think he got off to a little bit of a slow start. He had a knee injury that bothered him a little bit. But I think that he got off to a slow start and I like the development of both of these big kids. Do the math... I think we are averaging 13 or 14 points and seven rebounds out of the center position that is pretty good for us. He has given us energy. He has got a great attitude. He has made his first three now. His foul shooting has not been good. It will come around. I like what I see with him, but it is not going to get fixed in a day. It is not going to be fixed over night, but it is something that I know he will work at.”

Question: Have you seen a change in his attitude?

Coach Beilein: “He has been like all our team. We have all practiced harder and harder as the season has gone on. I have seen just a recognition that hard work pays off and he is no different than the others.”

Question: Is there one area that you would like to improve, can you pick one?

Coach Beilein: “I would just think our individual ball defense, just guarding the ball. I think that it is very hard for some of our guys to stay in front of people. It is an agility issue, a quickness issue that we just got to keep working on and working on. We will. It is hard for a young team to understand how to stay in front of people, especially with the cat quick people that we play on some nights. We have just played some terrific guards out there. Between the kid Green (Mike), was Green good or what, and then the Western Kentucky point guard and Courtney Lee from Western Kentucky and the little guards from Eastern Washington, really quick and we are learning to stay in front of them. It is really hard for our guys.”

Question: You talked about plays that you noticed that kind of blew up (in Alaska).

Coach Beilein: “We are just a bit off on some things. Like a backdoor may be wide open, but the guys sees it come up maybe a half second late come open. There is a feel that we will gradually get, but have got to improve our skill level so that we can see those things. That is something we work at every day. This is a process that just goes never ending to try and get them to understand, the feel for, it is open now, it wasn’t open then.”

Question: How many plays per game don’t go the way you want them to go now compared during the exhibition season? I think you said 10 or something like that.

Coach Beilein: “Yeah. We show them. Sometimes it is a matter of, if this is the corner of the floor and the guy is up one step and it changes your whole spacing. It would be no different than in football. A guy getting outside the defensive end and inside the defensive end, but there are so many things going through their minds. They continue to recognize it. I see things in practice right now, where a Manny (Harris), Kelvin (Grady) or Ekpe (Udoh) will say to me, ‘Coach I did that right, right? I was waiting for them to step where you are supposed to be.’ I said, ‘Yes exactly.’ But they would not have even known they were doing it before.”

Question: Coach did you bring home any souvenirs?

Coach Beilein: “I brought home an Ulu knife. It was a big romantic gift for my wife. An Ulu knife to cut meat and chicken and things like that. It is a famous Eskimo knife. It is like a fancy pizza cutter. It has got a big antler that you hold it with and there is a knife and you just roll it over your chicken, your steak or whatever and you cut it.”

Question: Was it a surprise?

Coach Beilein: “She was overwhelmed with it. She was overwhelmed (laughing).”

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