Feb. 10, 2014
By Jenny Herstein, U-M Public & Media Relations
IMPROVING ON D
Michigan fell to 9-2 in the Big Ten (17-6 overall) over the weekend with a loss against Iowa at Carver Hawkeye Arena on Saturday afternoon (Feb. 8). The 85-67 loss was Michigan's largest margin of defeat this season. According to head coach John Beilein, poor transition defense was what allowed the Hawkeyes to get off to a fast start.
"What it all started with against Iowa was bad transition defense. I mean, really bad," said Beilein. "Now, they're (Iowa) good at it, but (the transition defense was) as bad as it's been in a month. A lot of factors can be in that one."
Rebounding was also a factor in the loss, as Iowa outrebounded Michigan, 38-29. Not only did this allow Iowa to get second-chance opportunities, but it gave Michigan few opportunities to get out and run in transition.
"I think they (Iowa) missed 30 shots and they got 15 offensive rebounds. That's like 15 opportunities to run in the entire game," said Beilein. "You had 15 opportunities to run -- you're not going to score a lot of points. So we can X and O it to death. But, you've got to get easy points. One of the best ways is fast breaks.
"When we run into teams that are really good at offensive rebounding, it's always given us trouble. You've got to counter them by making shots on the outside, getting out in transition against them, and really having strong box outs. We had none of those. As we play teams that are dominating on the rebounding area, we try to make sure that we stay between our man and the basket and box them out."
KEYING ON STAUSKAS
On the offensive end, both of Michigan's losses in the Big Ten (against Indiana and Iowa) have seen sophomore Nik Stauskas largely shut down by the opponent's defense. Beilein emphasizes the importance of Stauskas maintaining a positive attitude in the face of adversity.
"When you put up the numbers Nik's put up this year -- and the other guys as well -- you've got to be ready to take the other team's best shot," Beilein said. "You have to emotionally be really strong to do that, especially on the road where you are the villain; you are not being applauded by everybody. Staying emotionally calm through that is a challenge for anybody. It was for Trey; it will be for Nik, and that's part of the process."
Staying strong is important not just for Stuaskas' performance, but for the whole team as well.
"His body language, how he carries himself in both success and adversity is very important. We all look at each other. Whether it's the coach or whether it's the last guy on the bench, you have to continue to be positive, because everything's not going to go your way in basketball games," Beilein said.
Michigan's bigs, Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford, also had difficultly scoring against the defenses of Indiana and Iowa.
"We played two teams on the road. They had very good defensive plans. They really played us well," said Beilein. "Our big guys didn't get many easy shots. As long as they give us effort, they're going to get points. They've got to give us tremendous effort, though."
Yet, Beilein stresses that what is important is not which player scores, but that the team is able to get easy looks, with players stepping up when their teammates are heavily defended.
"You'd love to have five guys with twelve points -- and there's 60 and get guys off the bench. It'd be wonderful. But, you can't play that way," Beilein said.
One player who is coming into that role is Caris LeVert, who over the last two games has averaged 19.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists while shooting 57.9 percent from the floor and 50.0 from long range.
Zak Irvin has also stepped up for the Wolverines, posting back-to-back double-figure scoring game for the first time in his career with 19 at Iowa and 16 against Nebraska. The freshman guard drained eight three-pointers over his last two games, shooting 53.3 percent from behind the arc.
"I don't know how he does it," said Beilein. "He's guarded and he gets a shot off like nobody's on him. He creates space."
But what has helped Irvin improve most is not just his shot, but his increased willingness to drive to the basket.
"What I like is the last couple of games he's taken the ball to the hoop," Beilein added. "He's got two or three scores just taking the ball to the basket and that's something we hadn't seen. He's not getting to the foul line enough yet."
BIG TEN PLAY
Despite the recent loss, Michigan remains atop the Big Ten standings, tied at 9-2 with Michigan State, who lost at Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon (Feb. 9).
"When we went to practice yesterday, we were in first place. Nothing really changes," says Beilein. "We've just go to continue. As we know, this league, one through 12, anybody can beat you on any day. We've got to try to do what we can do to win. We've got seven games left, four home and three away. We've got to try and win as many as we can and just see what happens."
The next opponent on Michigan's schedule is Ohio State, finishing a stretch of five games in 13 days. During this span, U-M has gone 2-2.
Ohio State has won its last three straight games to improve to 19-5 overall with a 6-5 Big Ten record. The Buckeyes, who are 14-2 at Value City Arena, will play their 17th home game of the season against Michigan.
"They lost some close games and they won some close games and it's been basically the same game," Beilein said of OSU. "All of them were like one possession games. It's the same way as it was for us last year. You're going to win some games; you're going to lose some games."
Ohio State has played a steady rotation of nine players, with six Buckeyes averaging more than 23 minutes per game. They are led by LaQuinton Ross, who leads the team with 14.2 points per game. A third of his offense has come from beyond the arc as he leads OSU shooting 41.6 percent (37-for-89). Lenzelle Smith gives OSU two players in double figures as he averages 12.0 per game.
Senior point guard Aaron Craft averages 9.3 points and 4.8 assists, as well as a Big Ten best 2.6 steals per game. In order to prepare for Craft's defensive intensity, assistant coach LaVall Jordan has been imitating the guard's play in practice.
"Vall Jordan does a pretty good imitation of him, because he's got a rare ability to see the ball in slow motion and just grab it from you," said Beilein.
Tuesday's (Feb. 11) game marks the only time Michigan and Ohio State will meet in the regular season. The Wolverines trail in the all-time series 98-74 and have a 27-55 record in games played in Columbus. Last year, U-M and OSU split the season series with the Buckeyes claiming a 56-53 victory at Value City Arena (Jan. 13), before the Wolverines won a 76-74 decision at Crisler Center (Feb. 5). U-M's last win in Columbus was a 61-50 victory on Jan. 15, 2003.