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John Beilein previews Air Force, explains recent underwhelming play

Beilein spoke to the media Thursday to talk Saturday’s game against the Falcons, as well as post-WMU.

NCAA Basketball: Western Michigan at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

John Beilein is using every second of practice to get his team back on track.

Michigan routed its first eight opponents by an average of 21.4 points. That margin of victory dipped to seven points a game against Northwestern, South Carolina and Western Michigan.

“We did a Synergy on ourselves,” he said Thursday to the media. “There were some really good things I’m not going to tell you about. There were some really bad things I’m not going to tell you about.

“You’re not going to be at every game, all year long at the same intensity. I think attention to detail was the biggest slippage...You have to understand anybody can beat you.”

Last Saturday, the visiting Broncos led the Wolverines 28-20 just before halftime. The hosts surged to a 30-28 lead before the break, eventually leading to a 70-62 escape.

The defense was especially disappointed in allowing 31 points to guard Michael Flowers.

“(Purdue star guard) Carsen Edwards never got that open, whether we switched or whatever,” Beilein said, challenging his team. “Is Michael Flowers better than Carsen Edwards now? That sort of was the message.”

The defense ceded just 19 points on 16 shots to Edwards, a potential Big Ten Player of the Year. Beilein and presumably Luke Yaklich worked to instill that stifling defensive mentality once more.

“We’ve tried to get back to basics,” Beilein said. “Western Michigan deserves a lot of credit for the way they played us and how well they played. We have to get back to the edge we were playing with earlier in the year. I think we’ve done that the last two practices.”

On top of personal growth, the Wolverines prepped for Saturday’s home tilt with Air Force (4 p.m. ET, BTN).

Beilein expressed great respect for the servicemen who play for the visiting Falcons.

Outside of their military commitment, he also detailed the new challenge they present.

“If you remember Holy Cross was one of the few games we were down at half, and that’s the same style (as Air Force),” Beilein said. “Bigger team, more experienced. It made us a better team playing Holy Cross, and Air Force will do the same, hopefully with a victory.

“To play in that conference (Mountain West), there’s a lot of good teams in that conference. They’re always in there, and they’re tremendous kids.”

When he arrived in Ann Arbor in 2007, he had a positive interaction with Air Force head coach Dave Pilipovich, a former Michigan assistant under Tommy Amaker.

“He stayed around for three weeks and showed so much class and dignity even though he knew I wasn’t going to retain him,” he said. “Helped me through the transition.”

Expect Michigan to deploy more small ball against a less imposing Falcons front court. Beilein talked about using Isaiah Livers extensively at the five.

“They don’t have a (7-foot WMU center) Seth Dugan in there,” he said. “(Air Force) has a bunch of 6-foot-7 guys in there, so (Livers) may be center more. Maybe Brandon Johns. As an intelligent young man, (Livers) is going to get comfortable in more roles.”

With the sophomore forward hitting four threes against the Broncos last weekend, the goal going forward is further versatility.

“He is getting more aggressive at the basket,” Beilein said. “We’re working with him at it, and he wants to do it. It’s not as natural as it is for some people. He’s a tremendous athlete that wants to shoot it, and we’re trying to get him to use that athleticism more.”

With a win this Saturday, the Wolverines would move to 12-0. They would just need a triumph over Binghamton on Dec. 30 to end the 2018 portion of their schedule undefeated.