John Niyo, Matt Charboneau and James Hawkins recap UM's NCAA tournament highs and MSU's lows and look ahead to the Wolverines' Sweet 16 appearance. Detroit News
Los Angeles — Looking back at the film, Michigan coach John Beilein said there was no common theme that led to the offensive struggles in his team’s first two NCAA Tournament games.
There was no rhyme or reason that led to Michigan scoring 61 points against Montana and 64 points against Houston after averaging 76.9 points over the previous nine games.
Simply put, Beilein said they played the best they could and although it didn’t quite stack up to previous performances, the third-seeded Wolverines were fortunate to be playing in Thursday’s Sweet 16 matchup against No. 7 seed Texas A&M at the Staples Center.
“We could be in a real rhythm and play every three days and have a bad game,” Beilein said. “Bad games happen. I’m just telling you. I know we want to look for reasons why. They just happen.
“Ask North Carolina. They had a bad game and Texas A&M had a great game. There isn’t a reason sometimes. They’re 19-year-old kids. Stuff happens.”
Of course, Michigan was without junior center Moritz Wagner for nearly half the Houston game, but sophomore center Jon Teske’s defense helped make up for his absence.
And foul trouble marred the rest of starting lineup and hampered its ability to get into an early groove in both games. Senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman was 7-for-26 from the field and 1-for-12 on 3-pointers in the two tournament games, while sophomore guard Zavier Simpson tallied nine total points on 3-for-10 shooting after scoring in double figures in each of the previous five games.
“I mean everybody could execute better,” Beilein said. “We got to give credit where credit is due. We played two good defensive teams. That’s what Kelvin (Sampson) has hung his hat on for years at Oklahoma and Indiana and now at Houston and they’re tough to score on.
“We had a lot of open shots, more than I thought. We had one span where Duncan (Robinson) missed two open ones after he had thrown an airball and Zavier was wide open. We couldn’t have been more open and none of them were even close. There wasn’t like we got to fix this or that. We’ll make those next time.”
Heading into Thursday’s matchup, the focus this week has been on trying to get back into the flow of things in the hopes of avoiding another slow start and sluggish showing.
Before the Wolverines left for Los Angeles, Beilein said the team recorded its highest numbers in its five-minute 3-point shooting drill on Monday. The lowest number was 55 3-pointers in the five-minute span and 10 players reached 60, which is the standard.
“We got a long break, but I don’t think that’s an excuse,” Teske said of the team’s 10-day layoff before the NCAA Tournament. “We just have to play better offensively, especially trying to get out and run in transition. I think that’s when we’re at our best and if we don’t have anything, pull back out and just run our offense we know we’re capable of running.”
According to Robinson, the team must be sharper in is execution and have higher sense of urgency from the moment the ball is tipped. If not, it could result in a short stay in Los Angeles.
“I thought we were a little sloppy in our first two starts in Wichita,” Robinson said. “It’s going to happen. It’s not something you can control but if it does happen, you got to adjust and move forward.”
It’s been a long time since Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy and Beilein have crossed paths.
Beilein coached against Kennedy in 1998, when Beilein was in his second season at Richmond and Kennedy was in his second year at Centenary. Beilein guided Richmond to an 18-point win in a preseason tournament in Little Rock, Ark.
Since that meeting, Beilein said his respect has grown over time for Kennedy, who has been battling Parkinson’s disease since being diagnosed in 2011.
“If I’m going up and I go to an AAU tournament, I usually sit by myself,” Beilein said. “If I see Billy Kennedy sitting by himself, I’ll go sit by him. I don’t do that many times. I just respect who he is.
“He’s in a tough conference at a university that expects nothing but excellence, and he is really a great coach, great human being. Everything that I know about him is authentic and genuine.”