Nov. 20, 2013
By Jenny Herstein, U-M Public & Media Relations
Michigan suffered its first defeat of the season, falling, 70-77, at Iowa State Sunday (Nov. 17). The Wolverines went just 8-for-29 (28 percent) on three-point attempts, with six of their misses from deep came in the final five minutes, and made just four free throws on nine attempts.
"There's tremendous opportunity to learn and improve based on the game, based on what we learned in the game and what we will learn after the game," said head coach John Beilein. "We'll teach this young team and teach the veterans as well, the things that are important to winning. And the coaches as well; we all learned a lot about this team, and we learned about some things that we can do better, and now we grow from it."
Michigan will have a chance to bounce back from the early loss against stiff competition at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, to be held Thursday-Sunday (Nov. 21-24) at the Coliseo Roberto Clemente in San Juan.
U-M's first matchup of the tournament will be against Long Beach State on Thursday. The 49ers finished first in the Big West last season with a 14-4 conference record (19-14 overall) and their coach, Dan Monson, was named Big West Coach of the Year.
However, team discipline became a problem in the postseason, with Division I transfers Tony Freeland and Keala King unwilling to play according to Monson's vision.
The 49ers lost to UC Irvine in the Big West Tournament and suffered a 46-point defeat to Baylor in the opening round of the NIT. At the end of the year, Freeland, King and freshman Deng Deng were dismissed from the team. This is in addition to the graduation of Long Beach State's top player in 2012-13, James Ennis.
The 49ers began the 2013-14 season 1-3, defeating Hawaii-Pacific (71-59) while dropping games against No. 5 Arizona (91-57), Loyola Marymount (74-73) and Kansas State (71-58).
"I don't think those two scores (against Arizona and Kansas State) are indicative of who they are," Beilein said. "They've got back-to-back-to-back Big West championships. They've got that culture in place."
Beilein singled out senior center Dan Jennings, who has experience at the high-major level, having transferred after his sophomore year from West Virginia. Last season with Long Beach State, Jennings averaged 8.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, but he shot a meager 46.3 percent from the foul line.
Also returning to the 49ers from last year's starting lineup is junior point guard Mike Caffey, who was named to the All-Big West first team last season while averaging 12 points and 3.8 assists per game. Caffey scored a career-high 27 points this season in the win over Hawaii-Pacific.
"We only have two starters back, but they're at the two most important positions," Monson said. "We're got a point guard who has run a team and had success with it, and we have a center who's played in the Final Four and has experience in the Big East. Those two players will be an anchor for us to build on."
The Wolverines will experience a quick turnaround, with their next game coming the following day (Friday Nov. 22), when they will either move on to the tournament semifinals or play in a consolation game.
"First of all, you've got to try to win that first game," said Beilein. "But then you've got to bounce back sometimes in less than 24 hours. For our guys, that will be the first time, for many of them, having to do this. I think even in New York (last year, for the NIT Season tip-off) we had a day in-between. It's going to be something new for them, but I think it speeds the learning curve in victory or defeat."
The Wolverines' second matchup will be against either Florida State or VCU. The Seminoles and the Rams are the only two undefeated teams in the tournament. They will play each other on Thursday, following Michigan's game against Long Beach State.
The Seminoles finished 18-16 (9-9 ACC) last season, losing in the first round of the NIT. They lost six seniors from the 2012 ACC championship team and had two veteran players sidelined with injuries. As a result, this season's Seminoles are young but experienced, with a rotation featuring five sophomores, all of whom saw significant minutes a season ago.
The Seminoles' most experienced player is senior forward Okaro White, who has the ability to play as both a small forward and a power forward. Last year, he averaged 12.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.
The Seminoles have turned the ball over on 24.3 percent of their offensive possessions, numbers that are sure to be a concern as Florida State faces VCU, the best team in the country at forcing turnovers.
VCU's vaunted "havoc" defense led the country in steals per game (11.7) and turnovers forced per game (19.7) last season. Meanwhile, the Rams turned the ball over on just 16.9 percent of their own possessions.
The Rams enter the 2013-14 season after completing its first campaign in the Atlantic-10, having previously competed in the CAA. VCU finished 27-9 and took second place in the Atlantic-10 (12-4).Its season ended with a third-round loss to Michigan in the NCAA Tournament, 78-53.
VCU is ranked 10th in the AP top 25, despite losing a key leader in point guard Darius Theus and Troy Daniels, who combined made 124 three-pointers for the Rams last season. Yet the Rams return junior Briante Weber, who broke the school record for steals in a single season with 98.
The Wolverines will end their stretch of three games in four days on Sunday (Nov. 24), when they will face one of Charlotte, Kansas State, Northeastern or Georgetown.