Michigan basketball has answered nearly every challenge thrown at it with an emphatically positive response.
Can Luke Yaklich build off last year’s defense? It’s No. 1 nationally per Ken Pomeory, so check. Can the offense break out of last March’s slump? It’s top-20, so another yes.
The remaining question: Can the lineup survive at the five if Jon Teske runs into foul trouble — or heaven forbid an injury?
With major runs from Northwestern and South Carolina last week when Austin Davis was on the floor, there’s hope for freshman Brandon Johns to emerge. John Beilein addressed this from several angles at Friday’s media availability, stating he’s getting his shot in practice.
“He hasn’t played scout team all week,” Beilein said. “(Former four-star) Colin (Castleton) and (sophomore walk-on) Jaron Faulds were there.”
The coaching staff is testing the former Lansing four-star against the starters.
“Brandon, you’re going against (Isaiah) Livers or against Jon Teske,” Beilein stated. “What do you got? You’re getting this hour to play right in front of us. That’s what we’re trying to do, continuing to judge our best lineup and how much people are growing.”
The 6-foot-8 forward has a simple formula for success, according to his head coach: fundamentals.
“Just being stronger at the basket,” Beilein said. “Finishing more against the body. He had a couple big defensive stops today. Just taking all that stuff seriously...getting the 50/50 rebound. Lots of things that freshman don’t have right away, since they didn’t have to work for it before.”
While he was recruited for the four spot, Beilein stressed that Johns “has to find a way to get on the floor.” He reminded the press that Livers has thrived at the five in small ball situations, despite his smaller frame.
Perhaps anticipating this line of questioning, or with most players dealing with finals this week, Johns was the only athlete made available to the media.
OTHER PRESSER NOTES
Beilein praised junior point guard Zavier Simpson’s growth as a facilitator.
“Look at his Synergy numbers. He’s top-20 or 30 in country in assist numbers,” Beilein remarked. “Last year, he was at times more of a guy who was looking to much at his own instead of finding guys open. Other times, he was looking to set guys up, but was either too late or too inaccurate.”
According to Ken Pomeroy, he dishes out assists on 35 percent of possessions, which is good for No. 38 nationally. He ranks No. 27 in total assists, averaging 6.1 a contest.
Simpson’s development is a consistent theme for the Michigan head coach. He commented on it last year on BTN’s The Journey.
Michigan not only hosts Western Michigan on Saturday (2 p.m. ET, BTN). Jon Teske has to deal with 7-foot, 240-pound Bronco senior Seth Dugan.
“Jon has seen other big guys, but more in the 6-foot-10 category,” Beilein said. “Seth (Dugan) will be seeing them for the first time, too. Jon has had some really good defense at times this year.”
Beilein offered high praise for longtime Bronco coach Steve Hawkins.
“He does a great job getting Seth the ball where he wants him to. His moves are minimal after that, since he’s already in position (to score).”
Dugan racked up 70 points in three games before a seven-point performance last Saturday in a 88-77 victory over Youngstown State.
Lastly, Beilein provided brief comments on the FBI’s investigation into NCAA college basketball’s shoe scandal.
John Beilein asked today if he’d have anything to add to Mark Few’s stance that the NCAA has to get aggressive with investigations into the FBI shoe stuff pic.twitter.com/urPzSFJS7r— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) December 14, 2018
Maize N’ Brew will provide live updates from the WMU game tomorrow. Be sure to comment on the game thread to be posted tomorrow.