Rebounding woes doom Michigan

Andrew Kahn

John Beilein was asked about his team’s effort, outside of Derrick Walton, against Ohio State. “I thought it was OK,” he said, before immediately offering a qualifier: “For who we are. There are no junkyard dogs out there, we know that. But I thought they gave a great effort.”

It’s natural for reminiscing Michigan fans to wish NBA players like Trey Burke or Nik Stauskas were still in maize and blue. But this team really misses a player like Jordan Morgan, who was at Crisler last night. The former center provided muscle inside and rebounded well, traits that Michigan needed on Saturday.

Ohio State grabbed 16 offensive rebounds (48.5 percent of its misses, the highest-rate Michigan has allowed this year) in its 70-66 win. At times it seemed like Michigan would only get the ball back if Ohio State scored or carelessly turned it over. There were two first-half possessions in which the Buckeyes got two offensive rebounds before scoring, and one in which they got three.

“They switch a lot (defensively),” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said of Michigan. “So we had some advantages in there size-wise.” Upperclassmen Trevor Thompson (six offensive boards) and Jae’Sean Tate (three) were monsters on the glass, and Beilein singled them out after the game, saying the Michigan frontcourt was “overmatched” physically.

“Thompson has probably been down near that basket his whole life,” Beilein said. Moe (Wagner) hasn’t been there very much. That was a physical matchup. And Tate has been there, playing big minutes for three years—not a good matchup for DJ (Wilson).”

But keep in mind that Ohio State’s Andre Wesson grabbed four offensive rebounds in 16 minutes. He’s only a freshman.

“Some of the rebounds, as I watch it, will not be about effort,” Beilein said. “It will be about the ball bounced to them or they had really good positioning, or it was just about mix-ups on defense—where a guy either got blown by or we missed something somewhere along the line. When a guy steps off to give help and his man slides in and wedges you and gets a rebound—there’s no boxing out; he’s boxed you out before you could ever get there.”

It’s hard to pinpoint the problem with the Wolverines’ rebounding (in Big Ten play, they’re last in offensive rebounding and 10th out of 14 on the defensive glass). Halfway through the first half last night, when Ohio State got four shots on one possession, a lot went wrong. Mark Donnal moved to front Thompson in the post just as an outside shot went up, giving Thompson inside positioning. Michigan’s guards stood still as Thompson missed. The ensuing rebound put Michigan in scramble mode and out of position.

It certainly didn’t help that Wagner (who fouled out) and Wilson were in foul trouble and played a combined 47 minutes. But aside from Walton, who’s always been a great defensive rebounder despite his size and grabbed 10 boards last night, there wasn’t enough urgency on the glass.

“I could just see that Derrick wanted it a little more than the rest of us,” said Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who was second on the team with seven rebounds. “I think we all have to get that and want it just as much as he does.” When it’s suggested that it’s time to stop simply talking about that, Abdur-Rahkman said, “I think so too. It’s just frustrating when you go out there and let a game slip like that.”

This space has talked about Michigan seemingly needing external motivation to play its best. Abdur-Rahkman was asked about that after the game.

“I think we’re all nice kids and we need something, that extra push to set us off and have that extra motivation going into games. … That’s what we’ve been trying to work on, trying to get that motivation from something else other than bulletin board material. … Get that from our inner selves.”

So far, they haven’t been able to, and that would be true even if Walton had drained a three—instead of missing a midrange jumper—in the closing seconds and Michigan had won.

“We’ve got a lot more opportunities in front of us to make our dreams a reality,” Walton said. He’s absolutely right. Michigan’s NCAA Tournament chances are not dead, not with Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Purdue, and Northwestern still on the schedule. Of course, after a home loss to Ohio State dropped the Wolverines to 4-6 in the Big Ten, you’d be excused for not having much confidence Michigan will win many of those games.

  • Scott

    I would say recruiting woes doom Michigan.

    • bobohle

      I agree. The last three years we’ve been out recruited by two thirds of the B1G. JB never capitalized on the two year tournament run on the recruiting trail.

    • Wayman Britt

      So far the 2016 class looks like a total bust. If Ibi, Teske and X cannot get into the game and Davis was red shirted because he could not beat Teske, then this class like the other two is not good.

      Matthews is going to have to be a 1st or 2nd team’er to carry UM in the future.

  • Champswest

    We will never be a good offensive rebounding team if everyone continues to run back down court as soon as the shot goes up.
    How bad do things need to get before we see more of the freshmen? We know Teske can rebound and block shots, couldn’t we use some of that right about now?

    • MAZS

      The problem Saturday and generally is far less the offensive rebounding than the defensive rebounding—we’ve managed very well with limited offensive rebounding in the past.

  • Chris De Sana

    So he’s admitting that he recruits soft players

  • Fab 5 Legends

    What I would give to have a Jordan Morgan on this team, every year… wouldn’t be surprised to see X/Ibi transfer, the next class looks talented…Beilein seriously does not trust this group and they have not shown anything on limited time they play minus Teske size…I think when the season is officially lost, he will give them a chance but with important games coming up I expect the same rotation

    • robpollard

      Yep, I think Beilein is stuck (e.g., he has to play Irvin 35 minutes, b/c there literally is no backup — Watson is either a bust or just not ready yet), but he doesn’t have to be. For example, X doesn’t contribute much offensively, but that’s not this teams issue — it’s defense, rebounding and energy. X can provide that, along with giving Walton and MAAR more rest so they are not as exhausted at the end of games.

      And I think even Beilein’s must recognize Donnal’s game has collapsed. I’m not sure what psychological methods Beilein can use to get him right, quickly, but he needs to figure it out and as I said above, have Donnal on the shortest of possible leashes. Teske might not be much better, but at least he’s young and the potential is there.

      • Fab 5 Legends

        completely agree with your points

  • robpollard

    Well, if this team needs external motivation, Beilein will need to provide it.

    – Tell Donnal if he plays another game likes he has the past 10 or so (e.g., 1 rebound, 0 pts, 3 fouls), he will not play the rest of the season. UM needs to see some fire and energy from him, and most importantly, some production. He seems to be in major mope mode — he was not a great player last year, but he was a meaningful contributor. Last year’s Donnal on this year’s team would have us in the tourney. I don’t know if “this could be your last game at Michigan” will scare him further into a shell, but it’s past gentle encouragement time.
    – Tell Irvin that if he’s going to be one of the leaders (along with Walton) of this team, he needs to produce. He does that by getting to the basket (i.e., very few/no 3 pointers), setting up his team mates, and playing hard defense.
    – Tell Wagner to stop bitching at the refs – he does get 1-2 bad calls a game, but his whining is obviously not helping.Start expending that energy towards getting defensive rebounds — a person his height should never have a game where he gets only 1 rebound.
    – Play X more – at least 8 minutes every game. We need his energy and he needs to develop by PLAYING. It’s not like the non-Walton people in front of him are playing that well. Walton has really responded, so I understand why he’s getting 36-38 minutes a game; but even he gets tired. Sit MAAR more and have a X / Walton lineup more often.

  • PeteM

    I follow football recruiting more closely than basketball, and acknowledge that they may be very different animals due to the larger sample size in football, but there’s a lot of data in football showing that a recruit’s ranking is, on average, very predictive of where they’ll end up. A much larger percentage of 4 stars in football end up starting, being all conference and making it to the next level than 3 stars. Our last few recruiting classes have been solid if not spectacular with Wilson, Teske, Wagner, Chatman and Simpson getting 4 star rankings according to Rivals. Chatman (along with the lower ranked Doyle and Dawkins) is gone, and I realize that Simpson and Teske may still develop, but at this point only Wilson and Wagner seem like major contributors. Of our 3 star recruits in recent years only MAAR get significant minutes (not sure how Robinson is classified). I suppose my question is whether recruiting rankings are less predictive for basketball than football, or if we’ve just had some really bad luck.