Sitting in front of reporters following the Michigan men’s basketball team’s 88-76 win over Buffalo on Nov. 10, Michigan coach Juwan Howard wasn’t fully satisfied — not an uncommon occurrence for a coach just one game into a season.
After nearly blowing a 21-point lead, Howard was concerned with his team’s effort on the defensive glass.
“They had 12 offensive rebounds. It’s still too high for us,” Howard said after the game. “But if you look at Buffalo last season, they were the leading team in the country in rebounding and offensive rebounding. And that was a strong emphasis for us in our preparation as far as how (we) can limit them to one shot opportunities. But I still do not like seeing a team have 12 offensive rebounds against us. We have to do a better job of that.”
The numbers from that game echo Howard’s concerns. While the Wolverines seemingly dominated the first half compared to a more back-and-forth second half, the Bulls grabbed only two fewer offensive rebounds in the first half than in the second. Buffalo, though, was only able to turn its five first-half offensive rebounds into two second-chance points, compared to 10 in the second half. Had the Bulls converted on more of those chances, Michigan could have found itself in a much closer game for its entirety.
Going into their matchup against Seton Hall, Howard knew his team would have to tighten up that part of its game in order to keep the Pirates — who start five players all over 6-foot-6 — off the offensive glass.
“Coach Howard, he drilled in us all week talking about how this team, they go to the offensive boards,” graduate guard DeVante’ Jones said after the Seton Hall game.
In the first half against the Pirates, the Wolverines held up their end of the bargain. Seton Hall grabbed only one offensive rebound and Michigan, unsurprisingly, took a lead into halftime. With the Pirates settling for mostly outside, often contested shots, limiting their second-chances was key.
Jones especially stood out in this regard. Standing at only 6-foot-1, he doesn’t strike most as much of a rebounder, but his 6-foot-6 wingspan and aggressiveness down low make him an important contributor on the glass. Jones hauled in nine defensive rebounds in the first half alone.
“It’s just all about effort for me,” Jones said. “I just try to do a great job of boxing my man out, going to get the rebound. (Hunter) does a great job of filling up a lot of space, so when he boxes the big out it’s easy for me to get the rebound.”
The second half, though, told a different story. The Wolverines’ dominance on the glass all but evaporated as Seton Hall turned nine offensive rebounds into 14 second-chance points. The Pirates’ offense didn’t change much — nor did their efficiency. They shot just 5% better from the floor in the second half than in the first and 10% worse from 3-point range. But Michigan’s inability to shorten Seton Hall possessions, combined with some defensive rotation issues, allowed the Pirates to surge past the Wolverines’ sluggish offense.
“When you come out of a game and your point guard leads you in rebounding, that’s a salute to (Jones), but it’s also our frontcourt guys,” associate coach Phil Martelli said Thursday. “I’m not just pointing a finger, our frontcourt guys, our wings. Everybody has to start rebounding outside their area after they block out. We have to make contact.”
Two games isn’t enough to assess if an early-season trend will cause late-season issues, but Howard knows his team needs to improve in the rebounding department. Add in the size and physicality of the Big Ten, and Michigan could be in some trouble if it doesn’t resolve the issue before conference play.
“We will get better in that area,” Martelli said. “We very much acknowledge it.”