Minneapolis — Minnesota’s Marcus Carr and Daniel Oturu weren’t surprised Michigan didn’t deviate from its defensive strategy.
The Wolverines, once again, put an emphasis on limiting the Gophers' outside shooting and played Oturu, one of the top rebounders and scorers in the Big Ten, one-on-one in the post throughout Sunday’s contest.
The result? Oturu became the third Big Ten big man to set a new career high against Michigan this season, racking up 30 points to lead Minnesota to a 75-67 win at Williams Arena.
“We know it's not their philosophy to double in the post, so that was pretty much the game plan,” Carr said. “We started to get Dan the ball down there and if they did make an adjustment then we would adjust as well if they wanted to start doubling. But we knew as a team philosophy they don't really double."
And Michigan never did. However, coach Juwan Howard said that could change and he will re-examine how his team defends opposing bigs moving forward.
"Of course, I will. I'll always re-evaluate,” Howard said. “I'm always about a growth mindset.”
Through five conference games, opponents' top-scoring big men are averaging 29.8 points and shooting 55.4 percent (57-for-103) from the field against the Wolverines. Those numbers are anchored by the career games from Iowa’s Luka Garza (44 points), Purdue’s Trevion Williams (36 points) and Oturu.
Yet, Michigan has excelled at taking away the 3-point shot. The Wolverines rank fourth in the Big Ten in 3-point field goal defense (29 percent) and have allowed the fewest 3-point attempts (75) by a wide margin.
On Sunday, Minnesota shot 25 percent (4-for-16) from 3-point range, with guards Payton Willis, Gabe Kalscheur and Carr going a combined 3-for-12. The Gophers entered the contest shooting 34 percent from beyond the arc and averaging roughly nine made 3-pointers per game.
But by taking away one thing, the Wolverines are giving up another: Too many easy layups and baskets around the rim.
“The teams have played well. Bigs have done a phenomenal job scoring against us,” Howard said. “Overall, I'm not going to tell you (media) what our game plan is.
“There's a lot of coaches out there that's listening. I listen to their press conferences, too, to see what I can find. We're just going to keep competing hard, get to the drawing board these next few days, look at film and see what we can get better at.”
Senior center Jon Teske said teams have to pick their poison when it comes to defensive schemes because the Big Ten has plenty of solid 3-point shooters and “that’s one way you can get beat.”
Regardless, Teske added he’s still accountable for a big chunk of the points opposing bigs have scored in conference play and said he needs to do a better job at getting stops.
“A lot of it is still on me,” Teske said. “I mean, I just have to play my game. I know I'm a good defender and I just have to believe in myself and keep going out there. The Big Ten is full of great centers, so you have to be ready every night. Some of the shots he (Oturu) hit, give credit to him. Some of those were tough shots. If we can cut away those easy ones that he had, it's a different story then.”
But as freshman wing Franz Wagner sees it, the entire team — not just Teske and Michigan's bigs — needs to improve in one-on-one situations on defense, whether it’s making it tough for big men to score inside or preventing guards from getting into the lane.
“Everybody has got to be better,” Wagner said. “We’ve got to come together and improve on a lot of things. I think it's important to say that and to hold each other accountable. I believe in those guys that we'll find a way.”
Oturu was looking forward to facing Michigan for a couple reasons. One was because he knew the Wolverines weren’t going to double-team him in the post. The second was getting the opportunity to meet Howard in person.
That moment came after the game when Oturu and Howard had a brief chat in the handshake line.
“It was really special to me because of the Fab Five and who he is as a person,” Oturu said. “When he first came out when we were doing our warm-ups, I was kind of in awe. I was like, 'Man, that's Juwan Howard.' Just to be able to have a conversation with him for a little bit after the game meant a lot to me. I feel like I earned his respect.”
While Howard said he was happy to see Oturu return to the game after taking a hard spill in the second half, he declined to reveal the details of their postgame conversation. Oturu, on the other hand, was glad to provide a summary.
“I just basically told him it was an honor to meet you and good luck the rest of the season,” Oturu said. “He told me to keep working."
Junior forward Isaiah Livers missed his fourth straight game with a left groin injury and didn’t participate in Michigan's pregame warm-ups.
When asked if Livers was able to do more in practice over the last two days as opposed to earlier in the week, Howard said: "You may have to ask Isaiah that question."
Livers, who has been sidelined since the first half of Dec. 21 game against Presbyterian, wasn’t made available after the game.
According to Teske, Livers' rehab is still trending in the right direction.
“He's still conditioning, he's getting up and down,” Teske said. “Every day it's a step closer to him coming back.”
Sophomore forward Brandon Johns Jr. made his fourth consecutive start in Livers’ place and finished with five points and two rebounds in 21 minutes.