No. 7 Michigan seeks to erase mistakes, return to winning ways at Rutgers
Ann Arbor — Inept. Self-inflicted. Inconsistent. Mind-boggling.
Those have been terms not often associated with Michigan basketball this season.
But looking back to last week’s loss at Iowa, those are among the choice words coach John Beilein uttered to describe his team’s latest effort.
“It was certainly our worst performance of the year,” Beilein said Monday. “Maybe our worst defensive performance in over a year.
“We made so many defensive mistakes and it did not bode well. Offensively we were as inept as we'd been a couple other times this year. We've got to keep working, find better ways to get better shots and then we've got to make shots, too.”
No. 7 Michigan will look to rewrite those phrases and change them into antonyms as it travels to Rutgers (11-10, 4-7 Big Ten) for Tuesday’s matchup at the RAC.
To do so, Beilein hammered home the importance of continuously making right play after right play on the road, an area the Wolverines (20-2, 9-2) fell well short in against the Hawkeyes.
“I showed them yesterday it was 38 points which we could change if we just did the right thing (at Iowa). A 38-point swing,” Beilein said. “For example, not talking loud enough or listening well enough on a (defensive) switch. Walling up on a guy's layup instead of reaching in right at the end and putting them at the foul line. Jon Teske doing this (swiping motion) on the first play. You can control all these things.
“We can't get guys to jump higher or grow five inches in the next week. We can get them to understand those things and that was what was hard to understand from a team that was supposed to be good defensively. It wasn't in that game in any way.”
For Beilein, the biggest defensive disappointment was the unexplainable lack of communication where missed switches resulted in Iowa’s shooters being left alone for wide-open 3-pointers on three separate occasions.
Sophomore guard Jordan Poole noted the season-high-tying 20 whistles hindered the team’s aggressiveness and made everyone a bit timid to avoid picking up touch fouls. But above all, Poole said the biggest takeaway from last week’s beating was how “every little thing matters.”
“We were trailing the entire game and possessions really matter early in the first half, second half,” Poole said. “When the game is close, try not to shoot shots where you feel like you're open. Get the best shot because everything is so critical, especially when there's the energy in the arena.”
Freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis said one poor game isn’t going affect and define a team that’s right in the thick of the Big Ten race.
But hearing Beilein call last week’s loss the worst defensive outing since last season’s pummeling at Nebraska and explain how 38 points could’ve swung Michigan’s way is something that resonated and serves as motivation.
“It just shows the game is in our hands,” Brazdeikis said. “I feel like as long as we do the things we can control then we're going to put ourselves in a good position to win. It just shows that if we do the little things and we listen to the coaches that, for the most part, we will be in a winning position."
That’s something Michigan’s offense certainly didn’t do as it shot a season-low 32.3 percent from the field and failed to get into any sort of rhythm against Iowa’s shifting defense.
Shot selection was part of the problem and has been in several games. Beilein said the coaching staff is trying to get the players to recognize when they’re taking a shot that nobody else thinks is a good one, like putting up an attempt the move as opposed to stepping into one.
“It's a fine line between going by the statistics and then who they really are, what you really see,” Beilein said. “All those things they have to go through it...You've got to point it out to them. If they're good students of the game, they'll get better at it. They will do it in time and you need losses to have that happen to you.
“I mean, 38 points that every one of you probably could do and understand if you just stood in there like this or made this one extra play or boxed out on a free throw. Everybody can do those things and we didn't do them. Those are the things that we're sort of learning, but it hits better after adversity."
And in a league where the hits keep coming, Michigan will look to stop the controllable mistakes from snowballing against a surprising Rutgers team that has beaten Ohio State, Nebraska and Indiana at home.
"(The Big Ten) is one of the best conferences in the country this year,” Poole said. “You can come out and have a really good night or have a really bad night. Every team is good, so it's not like you can come out and play lackadaisical like we did last game because we'll get beat. We've got to come out, be prepared mentally and physically, and find the will to win games."
Michigan at Rutgers
Tip-off: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Rutgers Athletic Center, Piscataway, N.J.
Records: No. 7 Michigan 20-2, 9-2 Big Ten; Rutgers 11-10, 4-7
Outlook: Rutgers leads the league with 13.3 offensive rebounds per game, and its four conference wins are its most since it joined the Big Ten in 2014-15…Michigan holds a 10-0 all-time record against Rutgers but has only won by four points in each of the last two road meetings… With a win, John Beilein will become the program’s all-time Big Ten wins leader and break a tie with Johnny Orr (120 victories).