Wolverines run hot and cold to Beilein’s chagrin
Ann Arbor – Which Michigan team is going to show up Tuesday night against Central Arkansas?
Through 10 games, it’s the maddening question for which coach John Beilein still doesn’t have an answer.
During the 2K Classic tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York, the Wolverines put on an offensive clinic and posted 50 and 44 first-half points against Marquette and SMU, respectively, only to follow that up with a putrid shooting performance and a season-low 46 points at South Carolina.
Then after tallying 53 to edge Texas in a low-scoring affair at home, Michigan dropped 50 points in the first half the next game at UCLA.
“I think what's really key for us going forward is, where is our consistency?” Beilein said Monday. “We'd rather have guys go 2-for-5 every day 3-point shooting than go 1-for-6 and then 5-for-6 and then 1-for-6 and then 4-for-6.
“We want some consistency there and that's what we're trying to establish. We haven't really had it and we need that right now. We'll harp on that and you can control some of that with your approach but it's real. It's got to be there.”
One contributing factor has been inconsistent backcourt production of senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. and junior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman.
Walton had 23 points against SMU and 15 points at South Carolina, but was scoreless against Marquette and failed to top double-digits against Virginia Tech, Texas and UCLA. Abdur-Rahkman followed a similar trend, scoring 15 against Marquette, 12 against SMU, seven at South Carolina, 13 against Virginia Tech, three against Texas and 11 at UCLA.
Another area of concern has been Michigan’s performance at the end of each half, particularly in its last three games against Power Five teams.
Michigan collapsed down the stretch against Virginia Tech, had its nine-point lead cut to three in the final two minutes of the first half against Texas, and watched its seven-point lead evaporate with 1:28 left before halftime at UCLA.
“It’s a matter of focus at the end of the thing. We've been coming out of a media timeout sometimes or you were just put in the game and you're standing there watching,” Beilein said. “We got to do something to increase our processing speed. With everybody it's a little bit different so we got to rep it out better, we got to talk about it better, we got to coach it better and then they got to do it better.
"This is a team that I believe in. We're going to keep working hard, but there's these times during games where we just don't play as well as we can play. We got to find a way to correct it.”
During the offseason, Abdur-Rahkman went through a shooting regimen to help expand his range. But rather than adding to his game, it’s led to him taking more long jumpers and deviated away from what he does best – driving to the basket.
Abdur-Rahkman has attempted more or at least as many 3-pointers as shots inside the arc in five contests, and nearly half of his 76 shot attempts are from deep (35). Yet, Abdur-Rahkman is shooting a career-low 25.7 percent (9-for-35) from 3-point range compared to 43.9 percent (18-for-41) on 2-point field goals.
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"He's got to know taking the ball to the basket has got to be a strength. He can't settle,” Beilein said. “Frankly, a lot of our guys settle for a jump shot when they can take the ball to the basket. You'll see that's probably my biggest angst if you watch my body language on the sideline is when we settle. I don't want that but that's the habit that is so hard.”
Beilein added the only time a player should settle for a jumper is if he’s wide open or the shot clock is at one or two. But with Abdur-Rahkman’s ability to dribble the length of the court in four seconds, his focus should be on attacking the rim.
“His speed, you see it several times a game. We got to see it more,” Beilein said. “His athleticism, we got to see it more. You don't see that with just a jump shot.”
After getting off to a rough start, sharpshooter Duncan Robinson was relegated to the bench and replaced in the starting lineup with forward D.J. Wilson two games into the season.
Rather than sulk or complain, Robinson has embraced his backup role and come on strong with at least 12 points in three of the past five games.
"He's got to know that he’s got a very valuable role on this team and that is to really be a catalyst off the bench for us, to be ready to shoot, to be ready to go in and rebound, make plays, understand our offense,” Beilein said. “That's really good to have. We haven't had that, where we know we might get double figures off one guy from the bench, and he's been scoring really well.”
It’s a welcome sign for Robinson, who was in a shooting slump the first five games and shot 33 percent (5-for-15) from 3-point range. Since then, Robinson has hit at least two 3-pointers in five straight games and connected on 40.7 percent (11-for-27) of his shots beyond the arc, raising his season mark to 38.1 percent.
“Earlier in the year I was concerned about his shooting because there's some habits he picked up from being such a gym rat, but they're all cleaned up right now,” Beilein said. “I feel that he can shoot it well the rest of the year.”