The Wolverine

February 2017

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 37 of 75

38 THE WOLVERINE FEBRUARY 2017 BY CHRIS BALAS F ollowing Michigan's 77-70 loss to Maryland Jan. 7 — a game in which the Wolverines shot 50.0 percent from the floor and a respectable 38.1 percent from three-point range (50.0 percent in the second half) — John Beilein was asked about Michigan's defensive woes for the umpteenth time in the last several weeks. "How long have we got here?" U-M's head coach asked with a sad and knowing smile, realizing that the questions — and his team's problems — weren't likely to go away anytime soon. The Wolverines played well enough offensively to win, limited their turnovers (nine) and even went eight straight possessions with points in the second half to whittle a nine-point halftime deficit to one possession on a few different occasions. They went 16 of 26 from the floor in the stanza, and 5 of 10 from three-point range. Still, it wasn't enough to prevent a 1-2 start to the Big Ten season in what many considered the "easy" part of the conference slate — as of Jan. 16 U-M was 2-3 (12-6 overall) heading into a road game at first-place Wisconsin. While the offense hadn't been consistent (though its efficiency was still ranked No. 12 nationally according to as of Jan. 16), the defense was the biggest culprit. After 18 games (of 31 scheduled), Michigan was allowing teams to shoot 46.9 percent from the floor (311th out of 347 teams nationally) and put up 66.2 points per game, compared to last year 's 44.8 percent and 67.4 for the entire season. "It's tough for me to say that [we've been better defensively this year]," Beilein said in early January. "Say what you want, but Iowa made some tough shots [in an 86-83 overtime win over U-M Jan. 1]. "We were all over people and they made tough shots. But the numbers don't tell us we've made a lot of the strides we wanted to make by this time. "When we're in quick man … we have to just think quicker. When we're in a sudden change we've got to get a man, especially one of their better players. It happened twice, a key six points." Iowa's Peter Jok was the beneficiary then, nailing a big one down the stretch. It happened again late against Maryland when Jared Nickens, a 20-percent three-point shooter heading into the game, hit his fourth of the game, that one from the corner and nearly uncontested. Nickens' first few makes, however, were of the NBA variety and helped the Terrapins build an early lead. "Nickens hit some runaway threes at the NBA line. There are not too many people who can defend a guy running away at 26 feet and rise up and shoot," Beilein said. "… It's a combination of things. "Our kids, they have a good attitude about it and are growing every single day, but other teams are, too. It's just [the Terrapins] were on their 'A' game. When you have a guy like [point guard] Melo Trimble, a coach like Mark Turgeon and that little point guard [Anthony Cowan], too … they made some tough, tough shots. "There's probably some [bad] luck, but they could have gone the other way and it would have been fool's gold because we're still not good enough. We've just got to keep working." A MULTITUDE OF ISSUES T h e M a r y l a n d g a m e w a s a microcosm of everything that had gone wrong since the Wolverines held Texas in check during a 53-50 victory Dec. 6, at which point U-M ranked ninth nationally defensively, allowing 58.0 points per game. UCLA broke the 100-point barrier in a 102- 84 victory four days later, and as well as the Wolverines played offensively they could only manage a 50-50 tie at the half despite having made 12 of 16 triples. The Bruins were (and have remained) one of the nation's top offensive teams — and again, they hit some ridiculous shots, including a 35-foot three before the half by star freshman Lonzo Ball — but it was a warning sign. The first five Big Ten opponents combined to make 55.3 percent of their triples, dropping the Wolverines to dead last of 347 teams nationally in three-point field goal percentage defense at 43.1 percent. "There are just moments where it seems like we just fall asleep collectively [on defense]," Michigan sophomore center Moritz Wagner said. "I don't know why. Little detailed plays. A back screen where I don't see it coming, or we don't switch … or Melo Trimble splits me on a ball screen like it's nothing for a basket. "They made seven of [their last] eight shots, so that's at least seven things that went wrong there." And not just beyond the perimeter. Michigan ranked tied for 217th nationally in steals per game (5.9), with freshman point guard Xavier Simpson only five behind leader and junior Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman with 14 in only 10.1 minutes per game. The Wolverines were tied for 253rd with 2.7 blocked shots per game. "We have to coach it better," Beilein said after the Maryland loss. "You haven't taught them until they've learned it. "The numbers don't tell us that we've made a lot of strides that we wanted to make by this time. So what do you do? Do you say we can't be better? No — you just keep working at it." Part of it, though, is a want-to that A WORK IN PROGRESS John Beilein Is Still Waiting To See Improvement From Michigan's Defense Since clamping down on Texas in a 53-50 victory Dec. 6, sophomore forward Moritz Wagner and the Wolverines have had a tough time stopping opponents on the defen- sive end. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Wolverine - February 2017