John Beilein has come up with a unique solution to prepare Michigan for the challenges of playing in Cowboys Stadium.
He’s not going to do it.
After Michigan’s open practice in the NFL’s gaudiest stadium, Beilein was happy enough with what he saw to just let the matter rest .
“I don’t think we need to address it at all,” he said. “We had a practice at Texas-Arlington and then we came over here and shot the ball, and I didn’t see any difference, so I’m not going to put that thought in their heads.”
Beilein didn’t mention it, but he probably also doesn’t want to remind his players about Michigan’s recent history in Jerry Jones’ palace — the football team was routed by Alabama last fall.
Instead, Beilein and his players are focusing on what’s literally their biggest problem against top-seeded Kansas in their NCAA tournament Sweet 16 matchup — Jeff Withey. The 7-foot center is the reason the Jayhawks have one of the nation’s toughest defenses and block as many shots as anyone in the country.
“My biggest concern tomorrow night is definitely Jeff Withey,” Trey Burke said. “A lot of our offense is built around our guards getting into the paint, and things change quite a bit when there’s a 7-footer in there.
“If we play like we normally play, we’re going to end up with a lot of blocked shots and a lot of bad shots.”
As Michigan’s top ballhandler, Burke knows he’s going to be the one coming face-to-chest with Withey more than anyone.
“I need to make the right decisions when I’m in the lane and so do my teammates,” Burke said. “That’s probably the biggest key to the game for us — we really need to make smart decisions when we are inside.”
On the other hand, Burke and friends should be able to make those decisions without the pressure they faced from Big Ten defenses or even from VCU on Saturday. The Jayhawks don’t force many turnovers, so Michigan’s ability to take care of the ball should be even higher on Friday night.
When Kansas has the ball, Michigan will have to look for chances to force turnovers. The Wolverines aren’t known for a high steal rate, but Kansas turns the ball over quite a bit for a top-ranked team.
Michigan will have to take advantage of some opportunities and get its transition offense going. Fast-break points are the best chance the Wolverines have of getting to the rim without Withey in the way.
In other words, Michigan is going to have to play a smart, aggressive game against a bigger, more experienced opponent. The Jayhawks went to the national-championship game last season, while most of the Wolverines got their first tournament win this season.
“One of the reasons they are such a good defensive team is that they have a great deal of continuity with their players,” Beilein said. “We’ve got one of the youngest teams in the country, and they’ve been playing in the same defensive schemes for a few years now. That’s what you need to get comfortable with each other in a system like that.”
Beilein might never get that level of experience, at least not with this group. Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III are all getting a lot of respect from NBA draft experts, and the odds are that at least one of them will be playing pro ball next season.
Beilein and Burke are rolling with what they’ve got — the nation’s best point guard running one of the country’s best offenses.
Instead of Jeff Withey’s shot blocking, they’ve got Mitch McGary’s mix of pit-bull intensity and golden-retriever enthusiasm. The Wolverines also have to challenge the Jayhawks’ experience with a great gene pool.
Burke’s dad was both his and Jared Sullinger’s high school coach. Hardaway and Robinson’s fathers were NBA stars, while Jon Horford’s dad and brother both played in the NBA.
It’s going to be a challenge, and that’s why Beilein doesn’t want to add to the pressure by talking about the stadium and the national stage. He knows his kids aren’t blind — they were taking pictures before today’s open practice — but he’s happy to pretend that this is just another game in another gym.
Now if they could just figure out a way to pretend Withey doesn’t exist.