Know Thy Enemy: Wolverines still don't have a go-to scorer
It went down to the wire on Tuesday, but University of Michigan was one foul call away from pulling an upset against No. 5 Purdue at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor.
Tuesday’s loss snapped a seven-game winning streak for U-M (14-4, 3-2 Big Ten), but the Wolverines will have a chance to play spoiler again when they head to East Lansing to take on No. 4 MSU.
Since last season, the Wolverines departed forward D.J. Wilson, who left for the draft, along with forward Zak Irvin and guard Derrick Walton, who both graduated last season — but not without rallying late to win the Big Ten Tournament and make a run to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament.
To get a better understanding of the Wolverines, The State News sat down with Mike Persak, men’s basketball reporter for The Michigan Daily.
Here’s what he had to say:
Q: Of the guys on Michigan’s roster, who has been the biggest surprise? Who has been the most reliable?
A: At the beginning of the season the most reliable (player) was still Moe Wagner. He was playing quite well to start the year, and against Texas he got a foot injury. Since his return, he hasn’t really looked like himself. Against Illinois he looked pretty good, but last night against Purdue they kind of game planned towards him and they really shut him down.
I would say the biggest surprise, recently, has been Xavier Simpson, the point guard. He’s really — I’m not really sure what happened or what changed for him, but he’s been scoring. He’s always been like a really good defensive guy. He was brought in when they played UCLA and guarded Justin Holiday and did a pretty good job. But recently he’s been scoring more. Against Purdue he scored 15 points and the most points on the team. I would say he’s been the biggest offensive surprise, in addition to Isaiah Livers recently, the freshman who’s been picking it up lately and showing more and more confidence as the season has gone on.
Q: What could U-M take out of its game against Purdue and use it as the team heads to East Lansing?
A: I thought that they played about as well as they could against Purdue. Obviously, with Purdue it’s such a mismatch in size with (Isaac) Haas and their other big guy (Matt) Haarms with how much size they throw at you. But one of the things Purdue did in that game was they switched Haas in pick and roll situations with Wagner. … The way Michigan kind of came back in the second half and found success was that their guards started shooting over Haas and started getting hot from 3, that really kind of brought it back.
I guess it showed Michigan is a little bit adaptable now, where as in the beginning of the season against North Carolina they got hit in the mouth. They couldn’t adapt. They couldn’t do anything. They lost by 15 and it wasn’t as really as close as that at times. ... They’re getting better and they’re more able to score from different places, different people who aren’t named Wagner or Matthews at times. Going into Michigan State this weekend, I guess it’s just another test to see if they still can do that. Especially because Michigan State has a ton of length.
Q: What do you think U-M’s biggest strength is and what do they need to work on the most?
A: One of their surprises this season has been their defense. They’ve actually been quite good defensively. I wouldn’t say it’s totally uncharacteristic of a Beilein team, but it has been somewhat uncharacteristic in that their defense has sometimes been better than their offense. The other strength is with most Michigan teams all the teams is that they can get so hot from 3. That’s really what brought them back against Purdue last night.
Places where they really need to pick it up is still—it's interesting because they don’t really have a go-to scorer. Wagner was supposed to be that guy, but like I said last night when they game planned against them he didn’t really have much of an answer.
Score prediction: MSU wins 75-63