For the Michigan men’s basketball team, good cannot be the enemy of great.
“We won’t be great,” said Michigan coach John Beilein of his team’s defense while addressing the media last week. That came mere seconds after saying this might be one of his best defensive teams in his Michigan tenure.
It’s a dynamic the veteran coach has had to deal with for much of his career — matching his offensive wizardry with defensive competence.
Nobody expects the Beilein-led Wolverines to turn into a defensively-anchored team. They won’t suddenly become Virginia, a team that allowed the fewest points per game in 2016 and does so annually in arguably the best conference in the country. But based on the early practices and offseason workouts, Beilein has expressed optimism about his team’s defense and the personnel they have to deploy on that end of the court.
When asked whether he thinks this defense could be one of his best, Beilein did not hesitate. “I do,” he said. “It comes down to the players.”
The most important piece to that puzzle? Redshirt junior guard Charles Matthews.
Matthews, a transfer from Kentucky who averaged just under two points per game in his lone season with the Wildcats, comes into the year looking to prove the talent that landed him in Lexington in the first place. But while Matthews may be eager to shine offensively, Beilein believes his best weapon may well be his defensive ability.
“Right now, I think his defense is the one (thing) that will be the biggest positive addition to the team,” Beilein said. “Whether it’s deflecting balls, blocking shots, running through passing lanes, seeing the defense — he’s very bright.
“I do think that his quickness and athleticism we’ve rarely seen here.”
To some extent, this is still a guessing game. Losing D.J. Wilson — and his team-high 57 blocks — will hurt in the frontcourt. Adding Matthews and freshman Isaiah Livers to the equation theoretically brings coveted…