Notebook: Defense a concern for Wolverines, Michigan honored with Big Ten awards

Patrick Barron/Daily
Buy this photo

By Steven Braid, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 12, 2013

A trend has been developing for the Michigan men’s basketball team’s defense, and it’s not a very encouraging one.

During the first four months of the season, the sixth-ranked Wolverines (12-6 Big Ten, 25-6 overall) were great at containing individual scoring outbursts. In that time period, they allowed just two opposing players to break the 20-point barrier against them — West Virginia’s Terry Henderson and Minnesota’s Austin Hollins.

But over the course of the past two weeks, a span stretching four games, Michigan has allowed an opposing player to score at least 25 points in three of those games — and the Wolverines are 1-2 in those contests.

“Our whole defense has been a concern,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “Whether it’s offensive rebounds, ball-screen defense — there’s a lot that goes into it. At one time it was rotations, at another time it was the big men, at a different time it was the guards. Bringing it all together is difficult.”

The discouraging signs on defense began when Michigan was upset by Penn State on Feb. 27. Nittany Lions guard Jermaine Marshall scored 16 of his 25 points in the final 10 minutes of the game, helping erase a 15-point deficit en route to a 84-78 Penn State victory.

That one-man show by Marshall was upped one week later by Purdue’s Terone Johnson. Though Michigan narrowly defeated the Boilermakers, 80-75, Johnson torched the Wolverines for 32 points. The Purdue guard averages less than 14 points a game, but he scored bucket after bucket on his way to dropping 19 second-half points.

And then against Indiana on Sunday, Michigan was unable to limit a one-man show again, as Cody Zeller dropped 25 points. The Hoosier big man was too much for the Wolverines to handle down the stretch, scoring 16 second-half points — six in the final 40 seconds — to help Indiana pull out a 72-71 come-from-behind victory.

“There was some lapses in decision-making and at times in our execution,” said redshirt junior forward Jordan Morgan.

Whatever the cause is, Beilein knows that improvement will only come with a team effort.

“I don’t think it’s as much as one person as it is moving as a unit,” he said. “It just takes one man to break down.”

WOLVERINES RACK UP WE-WARDS: On Monday, sophomore guard Trey Burke was named Big Ten Player of the Year by the coaches and media, but he wasn’t the only Wolverine to pick up a honor for his performance during the 2013 conference season.

Junior swingman Tim Hardaway Jr., freshman forward Glenn Robinson III and Morgan were all honored by the Big Ten on Monday, as well.

“It’s such a terrific honor for all of these guys,” Beilein said. “It’s incredible to have that type of representation.”

Hardaway joined Burke as an All-Big Ten first-team selection by the coaches, and was placed on the All-Big Ten second team by the media. A two-time Big Ten Player of the Week recipient this season, Hardaway is averaging a career high in points (14.8), rebounds (4.7), assists (2.2) and field-goal percentage (45.0).

Robinson was honored with a Big Ten All-Freshman team selection, marking the third consecutive year a Wolverine has made the team. After starting all 31 games for the Wolverines, the freshman is averaging 10.9 points and 5.5 rebounds.

Morgan was selected to the conference’s All-Defensive team, despite being hobbled for several games with an ankle injury during the middle of conference play. The big man is averaging 5.3 points and 4.8 rebounds, while playing 18 minutes a game.

“Our coaches have been pushing me all year to just be solid for us defensively, and what I have strived to do is just defend and rebound for this team and do every little thing that this team needs from me,” Morgan said.

AN ASSISTANT AT LAST: Beilein has accomplished many things during his 35-year coaching career, but there’s one thing that has always set him apart from his coaching colleagues: He’s never been an assistant coach, anywhere.

But after this summer, that will be no more. On Tuesday, Beilein was selected as an assistant coach for the 2013 USA Basketball Men’s World University Games team, joining South Carolina coach Frank Martin as an assistant. Davidson coach Bob McKillop will lead the coaching staff.

“It will be different for me to hold a clipboard for somebody, there’s no question about it — I feel very funny about that — but I’ll hold it for Bob McKillop anytime,” Beilein said.

An annual event, the 2013 World University Games will be held July 7-16, in Kazan, Russia.

Beilein has had several opportunities in the past to take part in Team USA Basketball, but has had to turn them down every time. He had previously been offered during situations when he took a new job and his first obligation was to the university that he had just joined. With Michigan holding steady near the top of the college basketball world, Beilein thought this was as good of a time as any to take the opportunity.

“I love the World University Games,” he said. “You get to work with college players that are really there for the right reasons. I get to work with Bob McKillop, who is a great friend of mine, and serve the country most importantly.”