UM searching for ‘positive outcome’ after blowout loss

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Michigan has experienced a lot of success in the past two seasons. The Wolverines made the NCAA title game in 2013 and got back to the Elite Eight last season.

With several losses from that team and injuries to two of their leading scorers this year, the Wolverines are seeing first-hand the struggles of some of the teams that they beat on the way to their climb to an outright Big Ten title last season.

UM’s 18-point loss to Iowa on Thursday was the worst conference loss at the Crisler Center since an 80-57 defeat to Purdue on Dec. 28, 2010. Michigan looks to turn the page on Sunday at Indiana to prevent its first three-game Big Ten losing streak since a six-game skid in 2010-11.

It’s an abyss that coach John Beilein is trying to steer his team away from -- but without Caris LeVert, who is lost for the season because of a fractured foot, and Derrick Walton Jr., who is lost for the foreseeable future because of a foot injury.

After making the NCAA Tournament for four straight seasons, the Wolverines (13-10, 6-5 Big Ten) are in jeopardy of ending the string unless they put together a streak of victories or win the Big Ten tournament.

An overtime loss to Michigan State on Sunday and an overtime defeat to No. 5 Wisconsin, sandwiched around a win over Nebraska, show the potential to win big games again, but Beilein wants to ensure the lopsided Iowa loss doesn’t sink the season.

“That’s our job as coaches, to find a positive outcome. You take it and wrinkle it up and throw it away and say that game is done, but let’s learn as much as we can because we’ll see more of this in the future,” Beilein said.

As disconcerting as the 10 losses are, going 10-5 at Crisler Center this season is alarming, given that UM had lost only four home games in the past three seasons combined. Falling to NJIT and Eastern Michigan in nonconference play was surprising, but the dominance that the Wolverines had in previous years seems to have faded some.

“When we’re playing at home, we expect to win and that is the only option,” Beilein said. “As this team goes through the season, we’ve probably been spoiled that we’ve lost more this year than we’ve lost in the least three years combined, easily.”

With a juggled rotation, including freshmen Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins, who have replaced LeVert and Walton in the starting lineup, the Wolverines are having to learn on the fly. After starting out with smaller roles earlier in the season, they’ve been thrust into the spotlight.

“I run out of practice time. Yesterday we were working at the (2-3 zone) defense and the day before the (1-3-1 zone), so it gave us very little time to work at our (2-3 zone) offense,” Beilein said Thursday. “When you’re trying to do so many things, we’re searching really hard to find the best way for us to play as a team — and then you have to change that a little bit for the next opponent, because they’re all different. That’s the challenge.”

For Dawkins, who had 16 points against Iowa, the change is not just about getting in the game and putting up shots; it’s trying to do it in the flow of the offense and letting the game come to him.

“It’s not on one guy’s shoulders. Muhammad, in the last game versus Michigan State, stepped up and played well for us,” Dawkins said. “It can be any guy on any given night.”