Notebook: Michigan staying positive after Penn State loss

Michigan 95, Iowa 67 - #6
Dustin Johnston

At one point during Michigan’s shocking loss to Penn State in Happy Valley, fans watched a visibly frustrated John Beilein get in Nik Stauskas’s face after the freshman presumably missed a defensive assignment. It was a side of Michigan’s coach fans are unfamiliar with — Beilein is more often seen putting his arm around a player and explaining than slamming his foot down and yelling, more the teacher than the disciplinarian.

Outbursts like that one will continue to be rare — the coach was back to his old self on Friday when talking about Michigan’s loss to Penn State, stressing that the coaching staff will be focusing on positive reinforcement leading into the Wolverines’ match-up on Sunday against Michigan State.

“What they need right now is positive reinforcement,” Beilein said Friday during a press conference. “We’re going to practice today, we’re going to watch very little of Penn State film and move on. That’s the best way, we feel, to approach this right now.”

If the coaching staff is looking for positive reinforcement, the decision to avoid the Penn State film is a sound one. However, they need only avoid the last 10 minutes or so, when Michigan’s offense fell apart along with its already-crumbling defense. There were some positives to take away from how the Wolverines played on offense against the Nittany Lions, before the game turned into a nightmare.

Four Michigan players reached double figures, and Glenn Robinson III tallied eight points. The Wolverines haven’t had more than three players score in double digits since their overtime win against Ohio State at the Crisler Center, when five reached the mark.

But more than taking positives away from Wednesday’s debacle, the Michigan coaching staff is working to make sure its players keep their perspective.

“We have to remember we are 10-5 in the league and we’re 23-5. We have to remember that,” Beilein said. “We’ve been through a tough stretch here that teams go through. February was not a kind month to us in many ways, and we have to continue to perform.”

Michigan State provides unique, but familiar, challenge

It’s no secret: Michigan State’s offense runs through the post. The Spartans have two skilled, experienced post players in Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne and they aren’t afraid to make them the focal points of what they run.

According to John Beilein, this is one thing that makes the challenge of playing Michigan State unique.

“The one thing that they do that virtually no one does in the league is throw it inside over and over and over again,” Beilein said. “Around the country there’s very little post play going on, and they do a great job of that. So that’s different, and we have to prepare for that.”

As any Michigan fan can tell you, defending the post is not something the Wolverines did well against the Spartans when the two teams first met on February 12th. Seven of Michigan State’s first 10 baskets of that contest came in the paint and the Wolverines seemed utterly unable to affect Derrick Nix when the big man got the ball inside.

But it’s not just post defense that Michigan has to shore up. Michigan State completely disabled Michigan’s offense, forcing the Wolverines to turn the ball over on nearly 25 percent of its possessions and holding Tim Hardaway Jr., one of the most dynamic Wolverines on the roster, to just two points on 1-of-11 shooting.

“They’re a good defensive team. They slow everybody down. That’s why they’re perennially one of the best defensive teams in the country,” Beilein said. “We try to make adjustments to our game plan to give (Hardaway) a little more freedom in different looks, but they’re a good defensive team.”

Michigan could use Jordan Morgan at the four in a two-post look

Before Jordan Morgan went down with an ankle injury in the opening minutes of Michigan’s first match-up with Illinois on January 27th, life was good. Sure, the Wolverines had dropped one on the road against Ohio State but other than that, they were undefeated and feeling strong heading into the meat of their Big Ten season.

More than that, John Beilein really liked what he had seen when he subbed Morgan in at the four spot to spell Glenn Robinson III and put Jon Horford or Mitch McGary at the five. The team got the benefit of Morgan’s rebounding and defensive know-how, along with the shot-blocking ability and athleticism provided by both of the other big men.

“I thought we had a great rhythm when we were doing that (using Morgan at the four),” Beilein said. “That’s the one we preferred before he was injured (playing Jordan at the 4). We were playing really well at that time before the injury. But when you’re out chasing somebody on the perimeter, it’s a little more taxing on your mobility.”

Given Michigan State’s post prowess and Morgan’s nearly-complete recovery from the ankle injury, Michigan fans can bet on seeing at least a glimpse of that two-post look against the Spartans on Sunday.

  • Little Perm

    This has the right feel for a turnaround game. I have faith in Beilein to rally the troops.

    • Tom

      I don’t. :(

    • Champswest

      I think it has the feel of a collapse game, furthering the downward spiral. I sure hope that you are the one who is right. This is not the ideal team to face when you are trying to turn things around.

      • Jeff

        I’d be shocked if we see another beat down with this game being at Crisler. Home/away is a massive difference in Big Ten play. I also think the team will play tougher than they did the last time and MSU won’t have as big of a chip on its shoulder. The way the defense has been playing, I’m still having a hard time picking a win though, my guess is MSU in a close one.

    • Mattski

      Thank goodness the players don’t quit or give up, because the fans often do before the end of the first half. How many times here or at mgoblog have we seen posters saying, that’s it, we’ve lost, etc. In fact, we had people saying that before halftime of the Illinois game.

  • Jeff

    lol, so typical. PSU beats us, and then they come out with an 8 minute scoring drought to start against Minny, down 11-0. No excuses, but it’s amazing what motivation can do for a college team.

  • Wayman Britt

    We all know that Izzo is not going to let Trey penetrate off the high ball screen and MSU will force our wings out past 30 feet and Tim will not get open looks at the 3 pt line.

    -So why not let Tim post his man up down low

    -Have Nik drive to the basket hard and expect contact
    -Use more back door cuts like his teams did the last few years

    • goblue311

      here is a poster who actually gets it

    • Forever Blue

      Of course Craft went down the lane over and over and over like it was closed to defenders and Izzo couldn’t do a thing to stop it. I would hope Michigan looks for that action, State’s reaction, and has dump offs to make them pay. I would also like to see some backdoor cuts to make State pay for their aggressive defense. Stauskas scares me with his turnovers and I’m not sure he has the quicks to get to the hoop against State’s bigs.

  • gobluemd16

    Minnesota up 32-10 with less than a minute left in the first half. Just makes me feel that much worse about our loss and te fact that they score 84 (!) points against our defense.

    • DezzNutz

      Yeah, the PSU loss can be put whollyon the back of ANOTHER terrible Defensive effort, but this one was the worst by far

  • gpsimms

    Well at least we can take comfort in the fact that, although winless before our game, Penn State truly is playing its best basketball now at the end of the season.

    I mean, it took Minnesota until the second half to stretch the lead to 30. And uh, only held them scoreless for like 11 minutes.

    • Jeff

      Embarassment is a powerful motivator. Penn State was desperate to get a win and avoid an 0-fer conference season. They finally get the win, let up a little, and wham! Doesn’t excuse the loss against them in any way, but I’m not totally shocked by their performance today.

      • gobluemd16

        Embarrassment is a powerful motivator, yet after we lost by 25 to MSU we barely held off that same PSU team at home

        • Mattski

          I got the impression Beilein was saying that he wasn’t 100% yet–said something to the effect that Morgan at 70-80% was pretty darned good. . .

  • DAVID

    I never leave messages on this site. Although I Love reading Dylans comments and think the site is great…. etc…..But we’re talking here about a team that is the youngest in the Big Ten. They hit a really bad period where they haven’t played inspired basketball. ( to say the least) This isn’t overly surprising if you’ve watched college ball as long as I have. This isn’t anything unusual. I still have total confidence in this team and to write them off is completely insane. They are totally capable to win the Big Ten tournament and go far into March Madness. GO BLUE!!!!

  • DezzNutz

    Well thankfully Morgans back and at 100%. We wouldnt have a chance against MSU w/out him

  • A2JD

    This can go a long way in turning the season back around.

    GO BLUE!!!

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