Of the many strengths that pundits have highlighted during Michigan’s successful run to the postseason this season few if any have singled out defense as one of those positives. One of the staunchest critics of the Wolverines’ defensive efforts has been head man John Beilein. However, after Thursday night’s 57-40 victory over Wofford in the opening round of the NCAA tournament he was singing a different tune.
“They held us to 57 points, but we did a terrific job on guarding Cochran, Garcia, all their three-point weapons,” said Beilein. “Jordan Morgan did a great job in the post. We were able to get a win basically with our defense today. That's something that a lot of people wouldn't say as they watched us play this year, but these guys made a commitment to it today and it paid off.”
The stats certainly bear that out. The Terriers shot a paltry 34% from the field and were an astounding 1/19 from three-point range. Conversely Michigan shot a blistering 64% in the first half before cooling down considerably after the break. The subpar shooting performance in the second half was a hearty reminder of how fleeting success on the offensive end of the floor can sometimes be.
“We know we're pretty efficient offensively and most times we don't have very much trouble scoring the basketball from different people and different games,” Jordan Morgan said. “We know we're only going to go as far as our defense carries us, and we never know which game is really going to be our last. So we just want to play every game defensively as best we can.”
“We emphasized this week (that) we can't talk about defense after a loss anymore,” Beilein added. “It's going to be your last game. So, we got to make another commitment to make sure that you understand we're going to have to do that, and that probably was our best defensive performance overall by everybody.”
“It may be (Michigan’s best defensive performance of the year). It's tough to compare them, they're four months apart, but you know, Cochran can score on anybody. He's averaged four 3s a game. We were trying to think who guards him. We put the freshman on him. He's a great defender, you know, off the ball and made Cochran take tough shots.”
Michigan took a few tough shots of its own, but the man in charge didn’t take issue with that. He was more concerned with the uncharacteristic turnovers.
“A couple of the turnovers (Wofford) didn't really create them,” he said. “We had some sloppy just plays. I mean, we just threw the ball away a couple times. And then Cochran got the two steals in the first half. We had three charges would be in there. That call is still one that is difficult for everybody to understand, and those charges cost us turnovers as well.”
That’s an aspect of the game Beilein expects to be better the next time his team takes the floor. One that he hopes will continue to get better is Glenn Robinson’s aggression. It’s a trait that the talented sophomore has displayed with more consistency lately. Beilein has made it a point to encourage even more of it… even if it means giving Robinson the green light to put up a few contested shots.
“I definitely wanted Glenn to shoot in those situations. As Mike said, you expect that when you look at just percentages of what they may do. But they don't see Glenn in practice every day. And that's what we want Glenn to shoot those when they leave him that open. It's the only way we want him to play. And I was really happy with his with his first half. That's how we got out in front.”
“I just wanted to get myself going by attacking the rim, trying to get an easy layup… but they were playing off me,” said Robinson. “I felt confident enough in my shot. Coach been staying with me after practice, getting up some shots. All my teammates have confidence in me and they set me up in good positions.”
Robinson’s father was in “good position” quite frequently in that very same building during his time with the Milwaukee Bucks. Playing a game in that type of shadow might create pressure for some youngster’s, but not for Robinson III.
“You know, I actually didn't think too much about it,” he said. “I knew that he played here. I seen him before the game. He was out on the court. But I just wanted to go out and play my basketball like any other time he's at the games, just play for this team.”