Michigan basketball coach John Beilein speaks to the media on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018, in Ann Arbor.
Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press
Michigan basketball has a big test on Wednesday — one it failed last season.
No. 9 North Carolina visits Ann Arbor as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and the game is the latest barometer for just how good the No. 7 Wolverines are right now.
The Tar Heels were a measuring stick for U-M last season, too, when Michigan was blown out of Chapel Hill, N.C., 86-71, in last year’s Challenge.
The game proved the Wolverines were far from being a national contender at the time, as they were outplayed in every aspect of the game.
But it also was a turning point for Michigan.
It forced the Wolverines to recognize they needed to play more disciplined on defense, to play smarter on offense, to play with more attitude, setting the foundation for the eventual run to the national title game.
The same foundation that has propelled Michigan to a 6-0 start this season, including a dominating win over Villanova, the defending national champion.
“We were taking bad shots, people weren’t closing out the right way, we weren’t moving our feet, they had too many offensive rebounds,” said sophomore forward Isaiah Livers. “A lot of that little stuff we learned from it, I feel like definitely carried over to this season right now.”liver
What did John Beilein learn from last year’s loss?
That his team was “pretty resilient” and could grow “exponentially” after losses.
“That one hit home in a lot of areas,” Beilein said Tuesday afternoon. “Taking tough 2s, not talking on defense, not really understanding the speed that you have to play at defensively, really just hurt us. And after that, we really got better in those areas.”
At this point last season, the Wolverines weren’t very disciplined on defense. They were still learning how assistant coach Luke Yaklich, in his first year with U-M, wanted them to defend. They hadn’t yet developed the mentality to shut down opposing teams, the same mindset that was on display during their tournament run and throughout the early portion of this season.
All reasons why Michigan was ran off the court in Chapel Hill.
“Oh, man. It opened our eyes,” said Livers. “It was my freshman year, so it was like, this is real college basketball. You go there and get popped, we came back and we learned so much.”
Now, Michigan will get another crack at the team that — in many ways — jolted the Wolverines into improving.
And for Beilein, this will be another opportunity to learn more about his team, just as he did last November.
“It will be, ‘What are we like against Big Ten bodies?’ ” Beilein said. “Villanova had a lot of young guys out there, Providence had a lot of young guys out there. What are we doing against teams that don’t have as many young guys trying to figure things out?
“And then we’ll grow from it. Regardless of what happens tomorrow night, we’ll just grow from it. It really helps when you get to play an opponent like this. Their speed, their quickness, their length is something we will rarely see this year. We’ve got to negate that in any way, and then we’ve got to make shots. We have to go out and make shots.”
Contact Orion Sang: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang.