Players-only meeting sparks Michigan

Andrew Kahn

If Saturday’s win over Nebraska does prove to be a turning point for the Wolverines this season, they can thank Maverick Morgan. Far from a household name in the Big Ten, the Illinois senior center angered and inspired Michigan when he called it a “white-collar team” after Wednesday’s match-up.

The slight was part of the reason Derrick Walton called a players-only meeting on Friday night. In preparation for the afternoon game, the team stayed in a hotel on Friday. Walton, a co-captain who typically leads by example and not with gestures or shouts, gathered his teammates in his room around 9:00 p.m. and reminded them that the coaches can only do so much:

“They make the calls, they make the adjustments, they make the subs. But it’s on us to make the plays out there.”

Every player, even freshman Xavier Simpson, said something. Zak Irvin estimated the meeting lasted between 15 and 30 minutes. Said Walton: “We got input from each and every guy and that’s what made it so powerful.”

Irvin, the other captain, said that after the Illinois loss dropped Michigan to 1-3 in the Big Ten, “We just weren’t happy with the way we were playing.” The meeting allowed the team to “hit the restart button” on the season.

Walton wanted his teammates to know he thinks this team has not come close to its potential. “It’s time to buckle down and get it done no matter what the scheme is…crawl, scratch, fight. Whatever it takes, just start making things happen.”

The senior point guard certainly made things happen late against Nebraska, scoring 16 of his 20 points in the final 7:25 of the game. He recorded a steal, drained two threes (and another jumper with his foot on the line), and drove to the hoop to insure Michigan got a much-needed victory.

Walton and DJ Wilson were on the bench together just before that final stretch, and Wilson said Walton was frustrated with his performance to that point. They re-entered the game and Walton told the team, “Give me the ball. Give me the ball. I’ve got this.”

“We did,” Wilson said, “and it worked out. He led us.”

Walton tries to be aggressive from the opening tip but doesn’t want to force the issue offensively, even if his coach wishes he would hunt shots more. “As you could see, Moe (Wagner) had it going and we kept feeding him,” Walton said of his teammate’s 23-point performance. “When he got down a little bit I thought I could catch a little fire myself.”

That he did, but the fire was first lit on Wednesday in Illinois. In Walton’s final statement with the media on Saturday, he went out of his way to reiterate what some of his teammates had said the day before.

“The white-collar comment that was made, we didn’t take that lightly. When we heard that, that’s basically attacking us personally. The white-collar comment that was made by an Illinois player really ticked this team off. We’re excited to get them back again soon. Today we just wanted to be a lot more aggressive going to the basket and show we’re a blue-collar team.”

John Beilein can count on his players having an extra bounce in their steps at practice before Tuesday’s game at Wisconsin. And they’ve made it clear they’ll be fired up for a rematch with Morgan and Illinois next Saturday. They can’t, however, ignore their flaws.

The player meeting comes off as galvanizing because Michigan did the most important thing Saturday: win the game. But, if anything, you’d think a blue-collar team would rebound and defend, and Michigan struggled to do either against Nebraska. The Wolverines got enough stops to win, but only because the offense was so efficient.

Michigan knows it can’t simply shoot its way to victory every game. But it worked against Nebraska, and may have to again as the blue-collar mentality continues to take hold.

  • Fab 5 Legends

    I’m glad to hear that the seniors called the meeting and stepped up against Nebraska…Wisconsin will be the true test – if we pull off the upset or keep it close it may be a turning point in the season…if not I expect them to regress back to “white-collar” team we are…interesting comment by lIinois big, I’m sure most of the BigTen think that way when they play us…I expected more from this team to start BigTen play…next couple weeks will be interesting – Wisco, MState, Indiana :) NCAA portfolio statement wins or NIT bound L’s

    • Wayman Britt

      To get into the NCAA tourney, they will probably need to go 8 – 5 in the remaining B10 regular season – that’s tough sledding for this roster.

      • Indiana_Matt

        Probably right. And I agree that will be tough. Hopefully they’ll surprise us and go 9 – 4!

      • AA7596

        Yep. Michigan could get to .500 fairly soon if you look at the way the schedule breaks, but you’re right, it’s unlikely they finish there or at 10-8.

        The difference between this season and last is U-M won almost every close regular-season game last year (@Maryland being the sole exception). If you flip any one of those the other way, they don’t make it. It was always misleading to think of this team’s baseline as being a tournament team, given all the close wins and blowout losses in 2016.

        • A2MIKE

          I disagree. 6 home games left are all winnable, and probably must wins. Then you are asking this team to steal a couple games on the road against good opponents, which helps both the resume and the overall record. Not impossible.

  • Wayman Britt

    I do think the players meeting helped jump start MAAR’s defense on Saturday. He actually dove on the floor, which I think was a first for him. Because of MAAR’s lack of quickness, I don’t think he will ever be a good defender, but sometimes effort can make up for a least a portion of lower lateral speed.

    The real question is will he continue to play defense like that or revert back to his old self?

  • bobohle

    Michigan is in Mo Bamba’s final four along with Texas and you guessed it Duke and Kentucky.

    • Wayman Britt

      Just hope the UK bagman does not come knocking just like with D Booker.

  • jemblue

    Let’s hope this is the turning point. The guys need to remember that trip to New York and the way they played those two games. They have it in them.