Michigan preps for rebounding scrap with Texas A&M

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Los Angeles — The first thing that stood out to Michigan coach John Beilein was Texas A&M’s size and length.

The second? The offensive rebounding numbers.

The seventh-seeded Aggies rank eighth in the nation in total offensive rebounds (418) and 31st in offensive rebounds per game (12.35) heading into Thursday’s Sweet 16 matchup against No. 3 seed Michigan at Staples Center.

While Beilein said he fully expects Texas A&M to come out on top in the overall rebounding battle, the key will come down to winning the possessions war.

“They're obviously a tremendous offensive rebounding team,” Beilein said. “The 12 offensive rebounds they're getting is as high a number as we've seen this year. The rebounding game, I don't know if I'm different on it, but we were really consumed with how many offensive rebounds we can keep a team from getting. The rebounds don't win the game. Offensive rebounds win games.

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"This is one that probably because of their length at all the positions, this will be the biggest challenge of all. We got to find ways to get them off the boards.”

Many have tried but few have succeeded against Texas A&M’s imposing frontcourt that features junior center Tyler Davis (6-foot-10, 264 pounds), sophomore forward Robert Williams (6-10, 240) and junior wing D.J. Hogg (6-9, 220) in the starting lineup with senior center Tonny Trocha-Morelos (6-10, 223) coming off the bench.

The Aggies have recorded at least 10 offensive boards in 21 games this season, highlighted by eye-popping highs of 18, 19 and 23 against Alabama, LSU and Savannah State, respectively.

They’ve also pulled down at least nine offensive rebounds in four of the past five games, a torrid pace the Aggies believe they’ll be able to sustain.

“Honestly, we're always confident in our rebounding skills, no matter the task we've got ahead of us,” Williams said. “We feel like we take pride in rebounding, and our coaches stress that's a big part of us winning. So, I definitely feel like we could control that part.”

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However, Michigan ranks among one of the nation’s best in defensive rebounding percentage and has only surrendered more than 10 offensive rebounds twice this season. It gave up 13 to Ohio State in the home finale in February and a season-high 15 against Division II Chaminade in the Maui Invitational in November.

Davis said the Wolverines are a more physical team than people give them credit for and excel on the defensive glass because they send all five guys and don’t allow much open space to wiggle into in the paint.

“They do it together,” Hogg said. “They play hard, they don't really get out of position and they all box out. We're just going to have to outscrap them, get them moving on the rotation on our offense so if we miss we can send guys in to get the offensive glass.

“We do have a little size and it's going to be more our effort, too. Size won't play a factor if we don't go to the offensive glass or if we're not in position. We're going to focus on playing hard and put ourselves in position to get the ball or at least tip it out and keep the ball alive.”

Michigan has seen everything this season and likely won’t be intimidated by Texas A&M’s front line. The Wolverines have been tested and prevailed on the offensive glass throughout the Big Ten slate against the likes of Purdue’s Isaac Haas and Matt Haarms three times this season and Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. twice.

While Michigan likely isn’t going to switch things up and use a two-big lineup to combat Texas A&M, it’s bracing for an intense affair that will pit rebounding strengths against one another.

“We just got to be really disciplined in our block outs,” Michigan fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson said. “We can't shy away from physical contact and we got to initiate it. That's what they pride themselves on, so we got to really bring it. As Coach Yak (Luke Yaklich) always says we got to enter the fight early.”

And whoever is able to take control and gain the edge could go a long way in determining who comes out on top.

“We just have to keep doing what we do. Play hard, play physical, hit first and be in control of the glass,” Trocha-Morelos said. “They're pretty good in defensive rebounding, but we're well known for getting offensive rebounds so it's going to be a fun fight down there. You can't ask for a better game defensively and offensively from two different teams.”


Michigan vs. Texas A&M

Tip-off: 7:37 p.m. Thursday, Staples Center, Los Angeles

TV/radio: TBS/950

Records: No. 3 seed Michigan 30-7; No. 7 seed Texas A&M 22-12

Up next: Winner advances to Elite Eight on Saturday vs. the Gonzaga-Florida State winner.