Michigan’s defense has been its biggest struggle for consecutive seasons. But this season, the Wolverines defense has a new mentality — and a new determination to turn things around.
In its first live game of the season, Michigan showcased what it’s been working on all offseason for. A bitesize sample of the new mentality inside Michigan’s program was showcased in its 77-49 exhibition victory over Armstrong State on Friday night.
The offseason departure of assistants LaVall Jordan and Bacari Alexander for head-coaching jobs led to a systematic overhaul for the Michigan defense. New assistants Billy Donlon and Saddi Washington have brought new flavor to this team, but it’s Donlon that has the bigger on-floor impact.
Formerly the head coach at Wright State, Donlon works closely with the guards. And it’s his defensive input that was a huge part of the Wolverines’ offseason. Head coach John Beilein said at Michigan media day that he had given Donlon the reigns to the defense, and given both Donlon and Washington a lot of freedom as assistants.
One new look? Fans should expect to see a lot more man-to-man, something rarely, if ever, seen in Ann Arbor in recent years. But through all the new schemes and different techniques, the biggest change of all for this defense is its mentality.
“We know how important it is. Without it, it can lower our ceiling,” senior PG Derrick Walton, Jr. said of that mentality. “Everyone has that conscious thought in their head that we need to defend to be a good team.”
In 2015-16, Michigan’s defense gave up 67.4 points a game, ranking No. 63 in the country, while its opponents’ field-goal percentage of 44.8 percent ranked No. 253 in the country.
While it’s impossible to take much away from a game against Division II Armstrong State, the Wolverines did hold the Pirates to 49 points on 27-percent shooting. The Wolverines also held the rebounding edge, 42-38, while forcing 19 turnovers and blocking 5 shots.
“I think it hit us right between the eyes when we looked at the (defensive) numbers last year,” head coach John Beilein said. “We saw it mid-season, but it’s hard to change that when you play twice a week.
“We weren’t going to let that happen and try to address it mid-season. Right from the get-go, we said we were going to make a change. There’s certainly been a defensive emphasis.”
D.J. Wilson (10 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks in just 24 minutes off the bench) and Moe Wagner (15 points on 7-of-9 shooting) looked the most improved over last season in Friday night’s game, particularly Wilson on defense. But again, it’s hard to invest into much when you’re playing an exhibition against a team a whole division below you.
Michigan opens up the regular season this coming Friday at 9 p.m. ET with a home tilt against Howard.