You played on teams that had to cope with the weight of the NCAA Tournament hanging over your head — including some that fell short and one that celebrated on Selection Sunday. How hard is it to keep the right mindset and how do you see this team reacting to a game this big — rivalry, NCAA tournament implications, etc.?
I feel like I say this every single time I’m asked a question like this. So if I’m being repetitive, please excuse me. Coach Beilein is great at keeping things in perspective. Yes, making it to the NCAA Tournament is the end goal, however, we focus on winning the day that’s present. That means… let’s win in practice today, let’s win in the weight room, etc. Let’s give our all to today. And the belief is that at the end of the season, if we’ve won our share of individual days with great focus and effort, chances are we’ll be dancing come March. And I think Coach Beilien has done a wonderful job of getting this through to the team throughout the season, even when they were 1-6 to start Big Ten play. With all that said, I think this team has nothing to lose, similar to our team in 08-09. They were expected to finish at the bottom of the Big Ten this year and no one really expected 18 wins at this point in the season. As a result, this young squad can just go out, play hard and see what happens. I expect a very close game on Saturday and hopefully we can pull it out.
Talk about Michigan’s offense… Obviously hitting perimeter shots help the offense but what else do you see that has caused it to be so efficient in conference play?
- The pick-and-roll action
- The focus on attacking the rim
- The emergence of Tim Hardaway, Jr.
All three factors have greatly increased Michigan’s efficiency at the offensive end in conference play. Darius is still doing his thing off of the pick-and-roll, putting the defense in a pickle having to guard multiple actions at the same time. And it really has been interesting to see the team as a whole focus on getting into the paint and making some things happen. It doesn’t always end up in an easy score, however, it’s great that guys like Zack Novak, and Stu Douglass even, are keeping the defense honest by putting the ball on the floor consistently. Lastly, Tim Hardaway Jr. has been dynamite, which has opened up the offense. He’s not only making plays for himself, but he’s got a very high basketball IQ, and can make the right decisions coming off of the pick-and-roll as well.
Darius Morris has been remarkable all season but he did go through a bit of a tough patch in the first half of the Big Ten season. What do you see about him that has changed? His mindset? Demeanor? Something else? How has he improved.
Darius is still so young. That’s the crazy part about it. 15 and 7 as a sophomore. No one else in the country is putting up those numbers. Lately, I think Darius, for the most part, is staying within himself, which is important. He’s done a good job of really being sensitive to what the team needs at different points in the game. That’s what you want from your point guard. He’s improved so much from last year and I’m excited to see what he’s able to add to his game over the summer.
What are your thoughts on Matt Vogrich? He’s still a bit limited but has given Michigan some quality play lately. Is he starting to turn the corner?
You have to give Matt Vogrich a ton of credit! He had his struggles defensively and shooting the 3 in his freshman season. However, he worked extremely hard to improve his defense and play tougher and it’s shown. He constantly gets key rebounds or makes a play here or a play there to help us win. And a lot of times, it’s on the defensive end. I think if Matt continues to work hard, he can improve even more.
What are your keys to beating Michigan State? Does Michigan need to shoot the lights out to beat the Spartans?
I’m so excited for this one!!! You think they will let me suit up and cheer? I just want to cheer on the bench. The number one key to beating State is matching their toughness. They haven’t played as tough as Tom Izzo would like recently, however, you can bet they’ll bring it on Saturday. So number one, you have to match their toughness on the glass and getting to 50/50 balls. Once they realize you aren’t backing down one bit, you’re in good shape. I do believe Michigan will have to make shots. They don’t have to make 20 3’s, but another 6 from Zack Novak would be nice. A lot of these games end up coming down to who wants it more and who’s going to make the right plays down the stretch. Good thing about it… Michigan’s had a lot of experience with this type of game lately.
David Merritt is a former Michigan basketball captain and played on the 2008-2009 NCAA Tournament Team. David is also the founder of I Miss You, Inc. & The IMU Brand, an apparel company focused on offering high quality product while spreading happiness and bettering communities.