West Virginia to provide tough pre-Big Ten test for Michigan

Michigan 80, Arkansas 67 - #8

West Virginia enters Saturday’s game against Michigan in Brooklyn with plenty of issues. The Mountaineers have had significant trouble scoring points this season, with an effective field goal percentage of just 42. Their 3-point shooting percentage is among the worst in the country at 26 percent. They have lost to Gonzaga — badly, Davidson, Oklahoma and, most recently, Duquesne.

But West Virginia’s disappointing season — thus far — doesn’t mean the Mountaineers won’t provide Michigan with a stiff test to help the Wolverines prepare for the Big Ten season. Michigan coach John Beilein said West Virginia has plenty of attributes that will test his team.

“Physical defense, patience on offense, good shot selection, and a really rugged rebounding team, which we’ve faced before, but I don’t think we faced one this good that really goes after it,” Beilein said. “I think it would be similar to the Kansas State, Pitt type of rebounding, so we’re going to have to—we brought real good energy, real good toughness to those games, and we’ve got to bring that again and maybe more.”

It’s true — West Virginia may be struggling, but it still does some things extremely well. The Mountaineers come into this game with the 20th-ranked offensive rebounding percentage in the country and a stingy offense that doesn’t commit turnovers — their turnover percentage is just under 16, good for 10th in the rankings.

Michigan sophomore guard Trey Burke recognizes the threat West Virginia poses to the Wolverines, and said the key is to jump on the Mountaineers early.

“We know West Virginia’s a good team, we know they’re capable of beating any team in the country,” Burke said. “Coach Huggins is a great coach and they have some great players, so it’s just a matter of going out there with the intensity like we’re down. Just start the game throwing the first punch.”

One thing’s for sure: the Mountaineers are a physical bunch that will bang in the post and play tough defense. If that sounds familiar, it’s because West Virginia plays with a hard-nosed style and a focus on rebounding that mirrors many Big Ten teams. This game should provide Michigan with its last truly difficult test before the Wolverines begin Big Ten play, which can often be a grind. Burke said the team is preparing for the conference season by “maintaining physicality down the stretch and continuing to play hard.”

But while the average fan may see this game as Michigan’s last true challenge before the Big Ten season, Beilein, of course, refuses to look at it that way.

“Every game is a test before the Big Ten season. We have Eastern coming up, I think we have Central coming up, we have this one. All big tests,” Beilein said. “This one is not home, so it does make the test a little bit harder, but not because of the opponent. All the opponents are good.”

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