Going into the 2017-18 season, the Michigan men’s basketball team has some well-documented concerns.
Questions of Duncan Robinson’s defense, Charles Matthews’ shooting ability and the Wolverines’ point guard competition were the focal points of preseason media availabilities.
But one area of concern that has gotten little attention is the lack of proven rebounding ability Michigan returns this year.
According to UM Hoops, the Wolverines return just 40 percent of its defensive rebounding from a season ago, hurt by the losses of D.J. Wilson, Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin – last season’s top three rebounders.
That showed in last Friday’s exhibition when Michigan allowed Grand Valley State to grab 15 offensive rebounds and score 17 second-chance points.
It’s only November – sure. But that statistic isn’t exactly encouraging, especially given the relative size of the opposition. Of the Lakers who played significant minutes, only one was taller than 6-foot-6 – center Drake Baar.
Compare that to what the Wolverines will see on a nightly basis in the Big Ten. Michigan State, for example, features three players over 6-foot-8 in its starting lineup.
Against larger teams, a lack of defensive rebounders could come back to bite more noticeably than it did in Friday’s 82-50 rout, and Michigan realizes this.
“We gotta do better on defensive rebounds,” said fifth-year senior point guard Jaaron Simmons. “We had a lot of long rebounds, so us as guards, we gotta help on that.”
Added John Beilein: “(Defensive rebounding) is obviously a concern for us. A lot of them were hustle plays, too. (Grand Valley State) did a great job with that, and fought really hard.”
To limit those second-chance opportunities, Beilein said rebounding is a focus of practice this week. One of his favorite drills – called “takeaways” – emphasizes physicality and assertiveness in crashing the boards.
“It’s great touching point for us to say, ‘This is what we have, and now we’ve got to continue to emphasize it,’ ” Beilein said. “You can emphasize it in practice all day long, and you start play in games – you’ve got to see in games.”
One player who has already displayed a knack for rebounding is junior forward Charles Matthews. Though he collected a mundane four rebounds Friday, his hustle and knowledge of the glass was evident.
With just over six minutes remaining in the first half, Matthews jutted into the paint, got inside position and grabbed the rebound off a missed free throw attempt from freshman point guard Eli Brooks. Matthews then looked up and found Robinson on the perimeter for an open three.
Matthews says he has always been that type of player – searching for loose balls and looking to capitalize off missed shots.
“When I was younger, nobody passed me the ball, and I wanted to score,” Matthews said. “So I just said, ‘I’m going to get the rebound and go back up with it.’ That’s just a natural knack I have – just going up and trying to get the ball. And coaches are stressing on me to do it even more and continue to rebound.”
Still, Matthews won’t always be there to take advantage of every missed shot. He knows the perils of giving up too many offensive boards – like Michigan did in its only exhibition.
“A lot of them was long, granted,” Matthews said. “Still, we can’t let a team – I don’t care who they are – get 15 offensive rebounds. That could be potentially dangerous. We’ll correct.”