Michigan freshman Zak Irvin (21) has scored in double figures in back-to-back games. (John T. Greilick / Detroit News)
After the second loss in its last three games, Michigan is again in a position to lose consecutive games for the first time this season. Following the 85-67 loss at Iowa on Saturday Michigan was able to hang onto a share of first place after Michigan State lost at Wisconsin.
But U-M is in the midst of a four-game gantlet against the other four top teams in the conference, with a matchup looming Tuesday night at No. 22 Ohio State. Michigan (17-6, 9-2 Big Ten) hasn’t won at Columbus since 2003 but has a chance to push the Buckeyes almost out of contention for the regular-season conference title with a victory.
Coach John Beilein is concerned about the Wolverines on both ends of the court, with lackluster offense resulting from the ineffectiveness of leading scorers Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, who combined for 12 points against Iowa, 17 below their average. Robinson was held to a season-low two points after tying his career high of 23 in the previous game against Nebraska.
Although the offense is struggling, Beilein doesn’t plan any major changes to the starting lineup or the eight-man rotation.
“Whether the minutes will change two to three minutes at a time could happen because of foul trouble or guys are tired or people aren’t playing well,” Beilein said Monday on the Big Ten coaches teleconference. “I don’t think there’s any consideration of changing any rotation.
“We’re 9-2 in the league and 17-6 overall.”
As he has for most of the season, Beilein is focusing on the defense, which had problems in transition at Iowa and gave up 26 points to Roy Devyn Marble (Southfield-Lathrup).
“We have to continue work to get better and find ways to stop (their) offense. (Our) offense, where it’s obviously a concern, it is really hard to run offense when you don’t get stops,” he said later Monday on video posted on mgoblue.com. “That’s where our offensive challenge is — we have to get stops so we can get out and run.”
The Wolverines will be challenged again, as Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, regarded as one of the best defenders in the country, likely will draw the assignment of guarding Stauskas.
That will put more emphasis on others to pick up some of the scoring load, if Stauskas isn’t able to produce.
“It’s important that any of our guys get easy baskets and plug through and score tough twos and threes as well ...; we don’t care where they’re coming from,” Beilein said. “If they’re paying attention to someone, someone else should be scoring.
“You’d love to have five guys with 12 points and there’s 60 (points) and get guys off the bench — it’d be wonderful — but you can’t play that way.”
Freshman Zak Irvinimpressed Beilein again, with 19 points off the bench in just 22 minutes Saturday. Along with his 16 points against Nebraska, it marks the first time this season Irvin has scored in double figures in back-to-back games.
“The last couple of games, he’s taking the ball to the hoop. He’s got two or three scores taking the ball to the basket — that was something we hadn’t seen,” Beilein said. “He’s not getting to the foul line enough yet.”
Irvin continues to improve with increased minutes, including on the defensive end, where he’s learning team defensive concepts.
“It’s gotten better and he’s understanding. If you said, ‘Zak go out and guard that man one-on-one’ and there’s nobody in the gym, he’d be just fine,” Beilein said. “Now you have screening action … that’s a lot of processing going on. He’s learning at a good speed for a freshman.”
Michigan at Ohio State
Tip-off: 9 p.m. Tuesday, Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio
Records: No. 15 Michigan 17-6 (9-2 Big Ten), No. 22 Ohio State 19-5, 6-5
Notable: Michigan’s last win at Ohio State was in 2003. It is 7-24 against the Buckeyes in the last 31 meetings, dating back to 1999. Ohio State has won four of five since its four-game losing streak.