Wolverines try to reignite offense, rekindle the fun
Ann Arbor — Every college basketball team must weather some type of storm at some point during the season.
Whether it’s a malady of injuries or a brutal road stretch in the schedule, trying times are bound to come.
For No. 5 Michigan, that issue has been an offensive dry spell that has popped up, hit the Wolverines and put them into a funk heading into Friday’s contest at Indiana.
“I think it happens to most teams sometime during the year,” Michigan coach John Beilein said on Thursday. “I do think you go through these periods where it's not the right matchup, somebody has a slight injury, you're on the road in an environment and you're not comfortable. Then all of a sudden you look like a shell of who you can be. It just happens.
“It's a coach’s job to get them out of it when we lose the confidence like our shooting percentages right now. Somebody has got to make two (baskets) in a row. Somebody has got to make that big play, dive on the floor, get the ball and get everybody going. Right now, that's not happening.”
Over the last two games at Wisconsin and against Minnesota, Michigan (18-1, 7-1 Big Ten) failed to crack 60 points for just the second and third times all season and posted numbers well below its average.
The Wolverines tied a season-high with 16 turnovers and shot 40.7 percent against the Badgers, the team’s fourth-lowest mark, before hitting a pair of season lows in shooting from the field (33.9 percent; 21-for-62) and from 3-point range (13.6 percent; 2-for-22) against the Gophers.
Prior to the two-game stretch, Michigan was averaging 73.6 points and shooting 47.1 percent from the floor and 36.7 percent on 3-pointers through 17 games.
As the schedule will only continue to get tougher and the margin of error will continue to dwindle, the Wolverines — well, everyone except for junior center Jon Teske — will look to rediscover his shooting touch at Assembly Hall where Michigan has only won once since Dec. 31, 2009.
Part of that starts with Michigan not only adjusting to how defenses are guarding its ball screens and motions, but also by continuing to adapt the offense to the players’ strengths.
“We're in the middle of it right now. We're just trying to evolve with what we have on our team,” Beilein said. “What is Jon Teske giving us that he wasn't giving us before? What has Zavier (Simpson) been doing that he wasn't doing earlier in the year? We continue to evolve it. How are people guarding Jordan Poole? That's the constant thing. We're not always going to be right, but it's on our mind all the time."
According to Teske, who is averaging 15 points and shooting 64.9 percent from the floor the past four games, the recent struggles can be boiled down to two areas: the team’s lack of late-game execution at Wisconsin and inability to knock down open looks against Minnesota, particularly from 3-point range.
That last part has particularly been a rough spot for the Wolverines, who have shot 27.8 percent or worse on 3-pointers in four of the past five games.
"I don't feel we're trying to prove we can shoot again," said sophomore guard Jordan Poole, who is averaging 8.5 points and shooting 17.6 percent on 3-pointers (3-for-17) over the last four games. "We know that sometimes there are going to be games where we're making shots and there's going to be games that we don't, but we find ways to get to the basket, get defensive stops, get in transition.
"It's the task that comes with playing college basketball. Teams do scouting reports and guys dedicate their lives to trying to stop our offense or our defense.”
Following the Minnesota win, redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews said he felt part of the problem is that the team has been playing tense and not as freely as it was earlier in the season.
Poole agreed he and his teammates have had a more business-like approach and haven't been throwing smiles on their faces in recent contests.
“I feel like we were going out there and trying to win a game rather than going out there being excited to make open shots or being excited to beat a good team,” he said. “I feel like that's something has decreased these last couple games.”
For a team that has had the type of success Michigan has, the lack of enjoyment and fun might seem odd.
But according to Poole, the Wolverines will look to flip the switch and turn everything back on — the shooting and the smiles — in an environment where it will be “16 people against 17,000” at Indiana.
"We want to be good so bad, but we're also still young and we want to be able to have fun with something that we enjoy doing. That shows it's just more than winning," Poole said. "I think that was something that was really good with the team last year and what we were doing earlier in the year.
"Every team goes through struggles like this in the midseason. We'd rather it happen when we're winning rather than losing."
Michigan at Indiana
Tip-off: 6:30 p.m. Friday, Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Ind.
Records: No. 5 Michigan 18-1, 7-1 Big Ten; Indiana 12-7, 3-5
Outlook: Indiana has lost five straight and dropped the first meeting between the teams, 74-63, on Jan. 6 at Crisler Center. … The Hoosiers rank seventh in the Big Ten in defensive field-goal percentage (41.4 percent) and eighth in scoring defense (66.2 points). ... This is Michigan’s third game in seven days. ... The Wolverines have won five straight in the series but have only one win in their last seven trips to Bloomington.