ANN ARBOR — For two hours at Crisler Center on Saturday afternoon, South Carolina coach Frank Martin didn’t look all that happy. He received a technical foul for arguing with an official during his team’s 89-78 loss to Michigan.
But after the game, Martin raved about his team’s visit, from the arena’s employees to the fans. He reserved his biggest praise for the fifth-ranked and 10-0 Michigan basketball team.
“I told our players that the one thing Michigan will do is they play like a championship team,” Martin said. “There’s no doubt that they played for a national championship this year and that they’re going to compete at that level again. Because they don’t take plays off.”
Two seasons ago, Martin’s South Carolina team pummeled Michigan in the regular season and, later, reached the Final Four. He sees similarities between that South Carolina squad and this year’s Wolverines in their ability to get loose balls and screen and cut with a purpose.
“Everyone worries about the ball going in the basket — that’s a result of everything else being done the right way,” Martin said. “And they’ve got that DNA right now.”
Martin said Michigan’s offense, which scored a season-high in points Saturday, has no wasted cuts, passes, or dribbles. “The spacing is always phenomenal,” he said.
While South Carolina found more cracks in Michigan’s defense than any other team has this season, Martin knew the Gamecocks would be challenged on that end of the floor.
“I was watching the Villanova tape and Villanova is trying to drive them and it was hard to finish,” Martin said, referencing the Wolverines’ Nov. 14 win over the school that beat them for the title in April. “They don’t get out of the way. And that’s what championship teams do. I don’t know how to phrase it any better than they don’t get out of the way. You never get an easy basket against them.”
Michigan head coach John Beilein, who coached with Martin at the 2013 World University Games, certainly found things to critique after the game. There were some lapses with regard to the scouting report, especially defensively — helping off a good 3-point shooter and not forcing a driver to his weaker hand, for example.
Still, Michigan has seemingly picked up where it left off after last season’s successful postseason. “I think there are enough people missing from last year that there’s a different identity with this team,” Beilein said. “Nobody’s looking around and saying, ‘Where’s Duncan (Robinson)? Where’s Moe (Wagner)? They’re attacking with what we have.”
That includes juniors Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske, two players Martin mentioned on Saturday. Martin said Simpson was shooting at Crisler when South Carolina arrived for its practice on Friday, so Martin pulled him aside.
“I said, ‘Listen, man, I was watching your film from two years ago. You and Teske were like two little kids. Now I’m watching you play and you guys are like unbelievable how much better you guys are and how different you look.’ John (Beilein) does an unbelievable job of making guys better during their career.”
Simpson and Teske played a combined 12 minutes in the 2016 game at South Carolina. On Saturday, Simpson led all players with seven assists, adding seven points, in 37 minutes. Teske had 15 points and nine boards in 29 minutes.
Martin said he’s been looking forward to the return game in Ann Arbor. “Just being in the environment at one of the great universities in our country,” he said. “Hats off to the hospitality, the greeters as we walked in, the fans — unbelievable environment.” It was Michigan’s third straight home sellout.
Martin wasn’t pleased with his team’s defense — Michigan shot 52 percent, grabbed 13 offensive rebounds, and took 30 foul shots — but he’ll return to South Carolina impressed by most everything else he saw Saturday.
On his way out of the press conference, Martin pointed towards a group of Michigan fans waiting for Beilein and the Wolverines to appear. “You guys were awesome,” he told them.