March 13, 2014
By Jenny Herstein, U-M Public & Media Relations
After winning the Big Ten regular-season championship, No. 8 Michigan begins play in the Big Ten Tournament this Friday (March 14) at noon. The top-seeded Wolverines earned a bye in the tournament's first round and will face the winner of Thursday's game between No. 8 seed Indiana and No. 9 seed Illinois. The two possible opponents were also Michigan's final challengers in the regular season. The Wolverines closed out Big Ten play with an 84-53 win at Illinois and an 84-80 victory at home against Indiana.
"We generally just look at one game at a time, we don't look forward at all," said head coach John Beilein. "Fortunately for all three teams, we all know each other pretty well because we played recently -- at least we have. There's work to do, but it's not like you're playing a brand new opponent like the NCAA Tournament would be."
In the Big Ten regular season, Michigan was offensively dominant, but struggled at times on the defensive end. Therefore, Beilein is focused on improving his team's defense for the postseason.
"I keep thinking defensively how we can get better, not offensively as much; we sort of have a plan offensively and we change it according to the opponent or the time of the season or how many times we've played that opponent," Beilein said.
"I don't think we've ever had a team that gave up the 45 percentage points that we gave up this year. We gave up 55 and 59 percent a couple games and won," he added. "But I think (across) the whole country, the percentages are up offensively. We have gotten better, but still obviously we're not good enough to shut people down enough.
Michigan finds itself in a new position, entering the tournament as the No. 1 seed. But sophomore Nik Stauskas is confident that the team's seeding will not negatively affect its attitude.
"We're the number one seed but I don't think we're the favorite to win the tournament. I don't think anyone really thinks we're going to win," Stauskas said. "We have a chip on our shoulder and we're excited to prove ourselves again. It's just another great opportunity to show how hard we worked all season and that we can possibly be the best team in the Big Ten."
"I think sometimes we just fly under the radar," he added. "I think Michigan basketball has been flying under the radar for this whole season regardless of how well we're doing. We're perfectly fine with that. We're not upset about it. We're excited to prove ourselves again. We love to be in this position."
Stauskas also shared his thoughts on what he learned about the postseason from last season's run to the NCAA national title game.
"At this time of year, it just comes down to playing your best basketball, peaking at the right time. That's what we did last year," the sophomore guard said. "I think we were very fortunate to start playing our best basketball in March. It just takes a lot of leadership from the older guys, staying together as a team."