Michigan continues to experiment with a big lineup, to mixed results.
Senior center Zack Gibson has played at least 11 minutes in each of Michigan's last three games and has been the Wolverines' best reserve the last three weeks. But Michigan coach John Beilein said his team struggled in defensive transition in Tuesday's win over Minnesota when the 6-foot-10 Gibson and 6-foot-8 DeShawn Sims played together.
"There's an actual plan for defensive transition. It's not just everybody yells, 'Get back,'" Beilein said. "People have to take certain people, and you sort of play from the outside in and you take sides."
Still, the big lineup is something the Wolverines can use to their advantage as they try to get back to .500 in Sunday's regular-season finale against Michigan State and next week in the Big Ten tournament.
With one starter over 6-foot-5, Michigan needs Gibson on the floor as much as possible to eat up space and help with rebounding. The Wolverines rank last in the Big Ten in rebound margin and have been outboarded in eight straight games.
Beyond Gibson, the rest of Michigan's bench remains a mystery. Laval Lucas-Perry has not scored in four straight games, and freshman Matt Vogrich didn't make a field goal in February.
MICHIGAN 83, MINNESOTA 55: Michigan continued its dominance over Minnesota, sweeping the season series against the Gophers and spoiling their NCAA tournament hopes on Senior Night.
DeShawn Sims, one of three seniors playing his last game at Crisler Arena, led Michigan with 23 points. Manny Harris added 22 points, Stu Douglass scored 10 and Darius Morris had seven points and six assists for the Wolverines, who shot a season-best 60 percent from the field and made 8 of 19 3-pointers.
Minnesota entered the night tops in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage defense (39.3 percent), while Michigan was last in field-goal shooting (41.1 percent).
The Wolverines have won eight of their last 11 games against Minnesota, beating the Gophers home and away each of the last two years.
--F DeShawn Sims went quiet after back-to-back 27-point games in wins over Minnesota and Iowa. Sims, Michigan's leading scorer and rebounder in Big Ten play, came into the week averaging just 9.3 points over the last three games and was shooting 34 percent from the field. Opponents have started to double-team him more recently, and he struggled to find open shots against Illinois' big frontcourt.
--After finishing 10th in the Big Ten in rebound margin in John Beilein's first two seasons, Michigan ranks dead last this year. The Wolverines, minus-3.7 on the season, have been outrebounded in seven straight games, the last two by 15 or more.
ON THE SPOT: Chemistry hasn't always been a strong suit of Michigan's this year, but the Wolverines are decidedly better when they share the ball. They had 21 assists and just four turnovers against Minnesota. Over the previous three games, all losses, Michigan averaged just nine assists. While a lot of the distribution duties fall on freshman Darius Morris, Zack Novak added a career-best six assists against the Gophers. Novak is a court-smart player who needs to have the ball in his hands more on the perimeter.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We had some breakdowns just in timing and what we were trying to do that we didn't seem to have the first half. Very typical of this team being in situations where adversity hits a little bit and we go into tape delay a little bit. That's what's been the frustrating part of the year." -- Michigan coach John Beilein after his team blew a first-half lead against Ohio State.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: Poor shooting, little depth and leadership problems have derailed a season that began with Michigan ranked in the top 15. The Wolverines scheduled aggressively, but lost nearly every big non-conference game they played. In Big Ten action, they squandered double-digit leads at Wisconsin and home against Northwestern, and couldn't take advantage of a favorable schedule with one game each against the Badgers and Purdue. At 13-15, Michigan is a long shot to even make the NIT.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- G Manny Harris, G Darius Morris, G Zach Novak, G Stu Douglas, F DeShawn Sims. Key Subs -- G Laval Lucas-Perry, G Matt Vogrich, C Zack Gibson.
Penn State 55, Michigan 51
Illinois 51, Michigan 44
Ohio State 66, Michigan 55
Michigan 83, Minnesota 55
at Michigan State, Sunday, March 7
Big Ten tournament, March 11-14
IN FOCUS: The Wolverines lost by a point at home against Michigan State earlier this season.
--Tuesday marked the eighth time this year DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris have scored at least 20 points each in the same game. The Wolverines are 8-0 when that happens and 10-2 when Sims tops the 20-point mark.
--Anthony Wright played six minutes off the bench Tuesday in his most extensive action since a Feb. 11 win over Minnesota. Wright has one year of eligibility remaining, but he won't return to Michigan next season. The Wolverines plan to use his scholarship on an incoming freshman.
--Michigan coach John Beilein said he treated Tuesday's home finale like a road game. With class out of session for spring break, the Wolverines held a morning shootaround and reconvened four hours before tip.
TSX Report on UM Hoops going into MSU
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