Michigan’s John Beilein recaps Penn State win.
Nick Baumgardner, Freep
Change is constant. And few have shifted through differing situations better than John Beilein.
And through two months this season, his team has followed along.
No. 2 Michigan entered Thursday night’s game anticipating something different, knowing they’d have to react and change and find a way against a scrappy Penn State squad that was going to defend the Wolverines differently than anything they’ve seen in three weeks.
They knew this because Beilein told them it would happen.
“We knew we’d be able to read coverages (eventually)” said Michigan guard Jordan Poole, who finished with 17 points in the Wolverines’ 68-55 win over the Nittany Lions. “That’s something that got us going in the second half, reading things, getting easy shots.
“Then once the coaches see that they’re able to draw up really good plays (later in the game).”
Michigan had two games during the final two weeks of December and faced zone defenses each time. The Wolverines weren’t exactly sure how Penn State would play schematically on Thursday, but they knew it’d be aggressive.
When Penn State eventually came out in an intense man-to-man defense, Michigan’s offense was flustered.
So it adjusted.
And won the game. Again.
“I’ll use a football analogy. You’re playing against two wishbone teams and then three weeks later you’re playing a spread offense again, the timing’s bad,” Beilein said. “But once we got through that, we score 43 points in the second half and that’s more of who we have to be.”
Michigan remained perfect Thursday night, pushing out to 14-0, 3-0 in Big Ten play. But very few of the Wolverines’ 14 victories thus far have been the same.
The Wolverines have hammered athletic teams on the road, they’ve run fast-paced teams out of their own building. They’ve slugged it out defensively when opponents want to slow the game down and turn things into a grinder.
They’ve combatted zones and traps and different ball-screen looks and come out the other side without a loss.
Individually, players are beginning to adapt as well.
Poole, for example, faced on-ball denials on the perimeter for the first time this season. Really, for the first time since high school. The 6-foot-5 sophomore guard has emerged as a go-to scorer for the Wolverines, averaging better than 17 a game over the team’s last nine outings.
Teams have responded to that.
And Poole has adjusted.
“It’s definitely a compliment in a way, but you have to adjust (fast) because you’re playing really good teams with good defenders,” Poole said. “So I’m finding a way to get the right shots, but also (trying to) make plays for others, knowing they’re icing me and I have a double (team) coming.
“That all comes with the game.”
True freshman Ignas Brazdeikis also continues to evolve on the fly. He hit 30 percent of his 3-point attempts through the first five games of the season but has worked tirelessly with Beilein to become a more polished spot-up shooter on the perimeter.
Over his last nine games, Brazdeikis is better than 42 percent from long range.
Add that to his ability to get to the basket off the dribble, and growing prowess at the other end of the floor, and he remains one of Michigan’s best players.
“I told you guys that earlier in the year, that my shot would improve,” Brazdeikis said Thursday with a smile. “It’ll continue to improve as well.”
Michigan is one of four remaining unbeaten teams in college basketball for a lot of reasons. The Wolverines are one of the best defensive teams in America, evidenced by the 18 turnovers they forced Penn State into Thursday. Michigan has three players (Poole, Brazdeikis and Charles Matthews) who can get their own shot and the core of the roster has Final Four experience.
But more than anything, Michigan is one of the country’s remaining unbeatens because of its ability to shift and change in a blink.
Beilein’s team can play with up-tempo teams, snail-paced teams and everything in between.
His ability to change has been one of the trademarks of his career. And this team’s ability to adapt and do things differently night in and night out has been its biggest asset through 14 games.
“I hope that’s always the trademark of our teams. Whether it’s zone or man or someone’s injured or we’re big or small, that we can move to the direction that gives the opponent issues,” Beilein said.
“And allows us to have success.”
Contact Nick Baumgardner: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickBaumgardner.