No. 7 Michigan regroups, turns attention to Maryland after humbling first defeat
Throughout the early portion of the Big Ten slate, Michigan was the one beating up opponents and delivering decisive knockout blows.
For the first time, the Wolverines were on the receiving end of one of those haymakers in Saturday’s humbling 18-point defeat at Minnesota, where they trailed by as much as 23 points.
And now for the first time all season, No. 7 Michigan finds itself in an unfamiliar position — having to pick itself up off the mat as it heads into Tuesday night’s rematch against Maryland.
“No championship boxer has never — and I know it's a double negative — not been knocked down,” assistant coach Phil Martelli said Monday. “We were knocked down. We weren't knocked out. They didn't collect our uniforms. The season didn't end in celebration after we beat Wisconsin and it didn't end in a depression because we lost to Minnesota.”
Martelli said nobody on the team was pleased with Saturday’s effort, from the players’ individual performances to the coaching staff’s in-game adjustments. For example, Martelli said freshman center Hunter Dickinson wasn’t as sharp and wasn’t as quick at reading the defense, while grad transfer guard Mike Smith, who was held scoreless for the first time in 104 career games, said he did a “poor job” of leading the team and wasn’t as vocal as he should’ve been.
Martelli felt the Wolverines never “had a feel” for the game, lacked balance inside and outside, and didn’t look like themselves on offense. He credited Minnesota’s defensive aggressiveness for turning a “beautiful offensive team” into a timid mess that played side to side, couldn’t stop turning the ball over and set season lows in points scored (57) and field-goal percentage (39.3%).
Martelli added Michigan was also “disjointed” without senior guard Eli Brooks (foot strain), who will be a game-time decision against Maryland, and it was on everyone — the players and coaches — to collectively step up and fill that void from a game plan standpoint.
More: Despite first loss, Michigan stays put at No. 7 in AP's latest rankings
“When (upcoming opponents) watch what Minnesota did, they're going to try to emulate that,” Martelli said. “We then have to answer that. One of the things was our offense wasn't as smooth. Was it not smooth because of lack of concentration? Was it not smooth because of something that Minnesota did? That's what we had to study and that's what the players have to now apply going forward because we will see that formula again.
“We have to address what Minnesota has done, which is lay a roadmap. If you want to get a piece of Michigan, here's a way to do it."
Martelli said he has been pleased with the team’s approach following Saturday’s beatdown. The Wolverines spent Sunday preparing for the Terrapins and took time on Monday analyzing and breaking down the film against the Gophers.
Looking back at the tape, sophomore wing Franz Wagner said the team didn’t run its plays the way it did in previous contests and was surprised the issues were “pretty easy to fix.”
Wagner noted Minnesota was the more physical team and dictated the tempo in the second meeting, but the Wolverines made things harder on themselves by not making it easy for post players to find the open man and not setting screens to free up teammates.
“If you don't screen, you're not going to have good open opportunities to shoot,” Wagner said. “If you don't make the right decisions, you turn the ball over and it's hard to find a rhythm. Offensively, I think there's a lot of things we can clean up, but it's not a major issue.”
Like Wagner, Smith said Michigan simply didn’t play at its best and wasn’t operating at the level it’s capable of.
“Everything in life you learn from and you learn from losses because in order for you to be successful you've got to learn,” Smith said. “I think we learned a lot about our team and a lot about what we have to do and what teams are going to try to do to take us out of our offense and try to exploit things that they think are weaknesses.
“The one thing that I can take away from this is we have to always be ready to go 24/7 and continue to compete at the highest level because it's not going to get any easier.”
Up next for Michigan is another motivated team out for revenge in Maryland, which lost the first meeting at home on Dec. 31 by 11 points and has a pair of top-15 road upsets against league foes under its belt.
The Terrapins went to Wisconsin and handed the Badgers their first loss of the season at the Kohl Center, 70-64, on Dec. 28. Not long after that, Maryland went to Illinois and did the same thing, edging the Fighting Illini, 66-63, at the State Farm Center on Jan. 10.
Yet, Wagner said if the Wolverines play with their habits and get back to what has made them successful so far, it won’t matter what the Terrapins throw at them.
“I think a lot of things that we did bad in the last game were things we did really well in the first couple games, even if it's on defense in the pick-and-roll or on offense making decisions,” Wagner said. “I think it's part of basketball. You're going to have nights when you don't shoot your best and the other team is going to have a lot of energy, especially when they play at home.
“It's part of the long season, but tomorrow is definitely another opportunity for us to show what we can do and get better as a team.”
Maryland at No. 7 Michigan
Tip-off: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
Records: Maryland 8-6, 2-5 Big Ten; Michigan 11-1, 6-1
Outlook: Michigan has won five of the past six meetings between the teams, including an 84-73 victory last month in College Park. …In Big Ten play, the Terrapins rank 13th in scoring (65.9 points) and have scored more than 70 points just once. …Both of Maryland’s conference wins have come on the road against ranked foes — a six-point win at then-No. 6 Wisconsin and a three-point win at then-No. 12 Illinois.