Big Ten basketball: Michigan's Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman is still Wolverines' steady hand
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – A superstitious player by nature, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman was going to see how it went.
This is the guy who still wears those pink Jordans he forced into action during Michigan's improbable Big Ten Tournament run a year ago next month.
So when he placed a pair of protective goggles over his eyes Saturday afternoon at Maryland, he knew they might not last long.
"If I would've missed a couple shots," Abdur-Rahkman said with a smile, "I'd have probably thrown them away."
|MARCH MADNESS SHOP|
Those goggles aren't going anywhere.
"I'm going to keep wearing them," he said.
As Michigan wrapped up its regular season with a fifth straight victory, 85-61 at Maryland, it did so with Abdur-Rahkman -- its most consistent all-around player in 2017-18 -- leading the way in every area.
He dropped in a career-high 28 points, he added eight rebounds and seven assists against just two turnovers. He never leaves the floor, having played at least 35 minutes in 14 of the team's 18 Big Ten games. He never gets tired, he rarely slows down.
And when Michigan has needed someone to make a shot this season, whether it be a hammer or a drought-killer, Abdur-Rahkman's been the man to deliver it. Shortly after Michigan notched its first signature win of the season at Michigan State in mid-January, John Beilein was able to put his finger on why his relatively young squad continued to show an ability to play with consistent calm in every environment.
Abdur-Rahkman's calm enough for everyone. All the time. He's Michigan's quiet, unquestioned leader and he's the player who sets the example game after game.
"He knows it's his time," Michigan center Moritz Wagner said. "He's more aggressive now, he has that feeling of added responsibility now, you know? He's a great shooter, he's always been that.
"And he's leading us with confidence right now."
During Michigan's thrashing of Maryland on Saturday, Beilein pulled Abdur-Rahkman aside and told him he was happy to see his senior's best Derrick Walton impression at the exact right time.
Walton, of course, turned himself into the type of senior guard every team craves as March rolled around last season, playing his best basketball down the stretch to lead the Wolverines into the Sweet 16. He played with confidence and without fear.
Abdur-Rahkman and Walton aren't the same player. But those two traits have definitely carried over and Michigan has its leader.
In February, Michigan's senior co-captain has averaged 16.4 points, 4.4 assists, 3.6 rebounds and just seven turnovers in seven games. In 18 Big Ten games, Abdur-Rahkman -- a guy who played nearly 37 minutes per game -- turned the ball over just 13 times. That's an absurd number for a player who handles the ball as much as Abdur-Rahkman does and it's part of the reason why he's been one of the more efficient players in the Big Ten, and the country, over the past month.
Over Michigan's last 10 games, Abdur-Rahkman's points above replacement per adjusted game number is No. 11 nationally and second in the Big Ten, behind only Penn State star Tony Carr.
"He's always been this really good role player, but he's evolved into more than that," Beilein said Saturday. "He got over 100 assists (for the season) today. Look at that. But you also show someone like Charles (Matthews) how many assists Muhammad had as a freshman (just 27).
"It's a great thing about college basketball when you hit it right. When you have a kid who doesn't transfer because he's not a star after two years, he's not begging to go to the NBA, he just gets better every year. And then, all of a sudden in February (of his senior year), he's (playing great)."
If you're looking for over-the-top fire or Jordan Poole-like moments from Abdur-Rahkman, you won't find them. Michigan's youngsters tease him about being an old man constantly. But at the same time, they don't know where they'd be without his steady hand every day.
He'll show emotion, but in controlled moments. Like Saturday, after he shook Maryland's Joshua Tomiac to the ground with a step-back move that led to another triple, Abdur-Rahkman gave a long glance toward his opponent at the ground and simply offered a chuckle.
Michigan's playing its best basketball of the season right now. And next week, when the Big Ten Tournament begins in New York, the Wolverines will be listed as one of the favorites.
Last year it was Derrick Walton leading the charge. This time it's Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman.
"That (comparison feels) good, because he was playing well at that time," Abdur-Rahkman says. "Hopefully I can keep playing that well.
"When your teammates have confidence in you, you (have confidence)."
This article is written by Nick Baumgardner from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.