Dec. 2, 2013
By Jenny Herstein, U-M Public & Media Relations
On Friday (Nov. 29), Michigan returned home after a long stretch of travel to face Coppin State. The Wolverines solidly defeated the Eagles, 87-45. Freshman Zak Irvin went 9-of-13 from the field and made six three-pointers en route to a career high 24 points.
"I think the best has yet to come for him, because he's starting to learn his shot selection," head coach John Beilein said of Irvin. "When he shoots that jump shot -- whether it's off the dribble or off the catch -- it's hard for people to get to. He's really worked hard at this."
The Wolverines now return to the road for another tough test, facing Duke on Tuesday night (Dec. 3) at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Duke was the opponent during a big leap the Michigan program took, as in Beilein's second season at U-M (2008-09), his squad toppled the Blue Devils, 81-73, after falling to them by 15 two weeks earlier in the championship game of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer. The Wolverines reached the NCAA second round that season -- U-M's first NCAA Tourney appearance since 1998*. Since that victory, the Maize and Blue has reached the Big Dance four out of the last five seasons.
The Blue Devils were 30-6 last season, making it to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament before falling to eventual national champion Louisville. Despite losing key players in Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee, and Ryan Kelly, Duke is currently ranked No. 10 in the country, 6-2 and eighth in the country in field goal percentage (52.1 percent). Their two losses both came to teams ranked in the top five nationally: No. 6 Kansas and No. 2 Arizona.
Joining the Blue Devils this season is 6-8 freshman forward Jabari Parker, a two-time Illinois high school Player of the Year who led his team to four straight state championships. Parker leads his team in scoring (23 per game), rebounding (eight per game) and offensive rebounding (17 on the season) while also netting 50 percent of his three-point attempts.
Redshirt sophomore Rodney Hood leads Duke in field goal percentage, shooting 62.2 percent from the field (59 percent from three) and averages 20 points per game. Hood is also playing his first season with Duke, having transferred after his freshman year from Mississippi State, where he was named to the SEC All-Freshman team. Only one freshman has ever played more total minutes in a season at Mississippi State than Hood, who despite his youth was fifth in minutes per game in the SEC in 2011-12. The 6-8 sophomore is known for his versatility with the height of a forward and the ball-handling ability of a guard, boasting an impressive 2.1-1 assist-to-turnover ratio as a freshman.
"Everybody talks a lot about Jabari Parker, and, obviously, he's special," said Beilein. "He does things that Kobe (Bryant) did as a first year pro and LeBron (James) did as a first year pro. He's a tremendous player. But, Hood is really good. They've run a lot of things through the two of them."
Named third-team All-ACC last year, junior point guard Quinn Cook is averaging 13.4 points and six assists per game this season. Cook has an outstanding 2.6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, which is on track to challenge Duke's career assist-to-turnover ratio record of 2.5-to-1, currently held by assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski.
Other key returners for Duke this season include graduate student Andre Dawkins, sophomore Amile Jefferson and sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon, runner up for ACC rookie of the year last season.
"Their guards are experienced," said Beilein. "Experienced guards know how to win, and Duke's won a lot of games."
Added Beilein: "They're a low turnover team. They're a high assist team. The weaknesses here are very hard to find."