Slow starts are fixable for Wolverines

Fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson emphasized that the Wolverines will need to rely on defense to get them through slow starts early on.

Fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson emphasized that the Wolverines will need to rely on defense to get them through slow starts early on. Buy this photo
Sam Mousigian/Daily
Tuesday, November 14, 2017 - 7:10pm

Though 2-0, the Michigan basketball team hasn’t had the start it anticipated. 

Against less-talented and undersized teams in North Florida and Central Michigan, the Wolverines were expected to roll. 

But that wasn’t the case. 

Michigan came out flat against both opponents, leading to closer-than-anticipated contests. Saturday, North Florida trailed by just two at the half and remained within single digits until roughly seven minutes remained.

Central Michigan, meanwhile, led by as many as eight points during a first half it largely controlled Monday night.

“We thought the other day that (our players) warmed up really slow, and we weren’t as into it,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “We were fired up to come out and play today. Assistant coaches did a great job in the locker room. We were fired up – didn’t make a difference.”

Conventionally, this wouldn’t be an encouraging trend for a team looking to make back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances. But the Wolverines’ slow starts shouldn’t be a cause for concern and – to an extent – are understandable.

For one, both the Ospreys and Chippewas play zone defenses – a strategy that just a few college basketball teams utilize. Adjusting is a challenge, even for Beilein.

“First of all, this is a first,” Beilein said. “In 1,200 games as a head coach, I think you add up high school, it’s probably 1,200 — 80 minutes of zone in two games. What they’re doing is they’re trying to negate a lot of what we can do man-to-man.”

Added junior forward Moritz Wagner: “They played zone, so that kind of trumps everything a little bit because you’ve got to think completely differently. You’ve got to think differently than you’re naturally supposed to.”

It takes time to feel out a zone defense, and Michigan’s offensive attack proved that.

Michigan committed four of its six total turnovers against Central Michigan within the contest’s first seven minutes. And through nearly 10 minutes of action Saturday, the Wolverines tallied just nine points.

Simply, in the early parts of games, Michigan’s offense has looked out of rhythm – an issue Beilein hopes will be fixed with more aggressive basketball.

“We’re passing, we’re passing, we’re passing,” Beilein said. “We’ve got to drive the ball. We’ve got to get two feet in the paint.”

Inexperience plays a part, too.

With three new starters, the Wolverines’ offense won’t be prominent immediately.

“It’s going to take a little time to gel,” said fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson. “We gotta get used to each other. We’ve got young guys, obviously, but we’ve got to be a little bit better out of the gate.”

Michigan fans should also take solace in the fact that Monday’s shooting numbers are not representative of a normal game. 

Few opponents will shoot as well as the Chippewas did from deep – 10 3-pointers on 42 percent shooting. The Wolverines, meanwhile, shot just 29 percent outside the perimeter. Robinson – a consistent marksman – went an ugly 2-for-8. 

But to start strongly in Michigan’s next game Thursday against Southern Mississippi, Robinson knows the other end of the floor takes precedent. 

“Probably defensive, first and foremost,” Robinson said. “The ability to get stops. I think shots will fall some games more than others. Tonight, especially that first half, they weren’t. You count on them, but you’ve got to (be able to) count on defense.

“Those first four minutes – those ‘four-minute wars’ we call them – we’ve got to come out and try to swing first. That’s going to be a priority for us.”