When Michigan lost a sixth straight game recently against a rugged, experienced Minnesota team, there was no complicated answer necessary, no explanation of how the planets were aligned or what intricate attack Minnesota had developed.
Instead, a frustrated and haggard Michigan head coach John Beilein offered a very direct and pragmatic reason why his frightfully young group of Wolverines lost the lead, and the game, at home and dropped to 1-6 in the conference.
"We're playing against Big Ten competition," Beilein snorted.
Nothing else needed to be said.
Minnesota used its experienced and battle-savvy group to dominate Michigan in a manner quite familiar to Wolverines' fans, who have seen their team get bullied by Wisconsin, Ohio State, Purdue, Northwestern, Indiana and now the Golden Gophers.
"The other teams that we have played are very experienced. They'll see us on tape and they'll expose our weaknesses," Beilein said. "We're in foul trouble every game, just like that. We're up against bigger bodies and people see it and they get us right away."
Michigan watched Minnesota shoot an impressive 63 percent (26-of-41) from the field by being patient and selective. The Wolverines chucked up 35 shots from outside the arc in the game, and made just 12 of them (34 percent). Michigan too often settles for the quick, long bombs instead of demonstrating the resolve to get a higher percentage offering.
"The mental mistakes are really troubling -- they are over and over again," Beilein said. "And there are a lot with the freshmen ... we've been over this, we've shown it on film, and it's just habits that we ... we've done everything we can imagine. We've just got to stay with it. The light will come on."
--Michigan was outrebounded 37-18 in a recent road loss to Indiana, with those 18 rebounds marking a season-low for the Wolverines. Michigan then got just 13 rebounds in a subsequent loss to Minnesota.
--In what appears to be a stark contradiction to their youth and inexperience, the Wolverines are one of the leaders nationally in taking care of the basketball. Michigan had just seven turnovers in its loss to Minnesota on Jan. 22.
--The Wolverines entered the week near the top of the Big Ten in free-throw percentage (71.8 percent) and two Michigan players recently ranked in the top 10 in the conference in free-throw accuracy. Junior F Zack Novak was sixth in the conference at 83 percent, while freshman G Tim Hardaway Jr. was ninth at 80.7 percent.
BY THE NUMBERS: 6 -- Michigan won six straight games before opening Big Ten play, and then started the conference season by losing six of its first seven Big Ten games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "That's what teams do. They get together and they work it out. Our team chemistry is fine. They've just got to understand that there's more to it than just being great friends. There's got to be a spirit about us and a will about us to get things done, both mentally and physically." -- Michigan coach John Beilein on what his young team needs to do to hold ranks during the current losing streak.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--at Michigan State, Jan. 27
KEY MATCHUPS: The Spartans have underachieved to date -- quite dramatically considering their preseason top-3 ranking in both polls -- and come at Michigan in a hungry and somewhat desperate mode. Michigan's inside game will have to figure out how to defend the Spartans' versatile F Draymond Green, a 6-6, 230-pounder who can play very physical around the basket, and also step outside and shoot the 3-pointer with confidence and regularity. If Green can move around and score from a variety of locations, the Wolverines will be in for a very long evening.
--vs. Iowa, Jan. 30
KEY MATCHUPS: The Wolverines match up with another team that has been struggling near the bottom of the Big Ten standings coming off of a meeting with Michigan State. For Michigan to be successful, it will have to make certain that Iowa junior G Matt Gatens does not get rolling. Gatens is closing in on 1,000 career points, and at 6-feet-5 he can take the ball to the basket as well as shoot the 3-pointer effectively. Michigan will likely work several different players against Gatens, but a key will be keeping him off the foul line, where Gatens is a near 90 percent shooter for his career.
FUTURES MARKET: While the Wolverines struggle against veteran Big Ten competition, freshman G Tim Hardaway Jr. has demonstrated he has the mettle to play at this level and succeed. Hardaway was the lone bright spot in Michigan's loss to Minnesota last Saturday as he scored 20 points, and coach John Beilein sees that as very encouraging.
"I like the way Tim's playing. Tim really helps our team chemistry," Beilein said. "He's trying everything. He still is a freshman, and he's still going to make some mistakes, but there's not a whole lot of freshmen who are going to put up 20 on Minnesota. He's going to be every good."
--Freshman F Jordan Morgan had seven rebounds in the recent road loss to Northwestern, at the time marking the seventh game this season that the Detroit native has held at least a share of the team lead in rebounding.
--Junior G Stu Douglass had a season-high six assists in a Jan. 22 loss to Minnesota, and added six points, a pair of rebounds, a block, and a steal.
--Sophomore PG Darius Morris has six games this season with double-figure assist totals, and five doubles with points and assists. No player in Michigan history has ever had more than six games in their career with 10-plus assist totals.
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