After Michigan’s 64-53 loss at Michigan State on Jan. 28, Spartans coach Tom Izzo pulled Michigan coach Tommy Amaker aside.
Izzo told Amaker how impressed he was with the effort of his players. He told Amaker that he was proud.
But what about the Wolverines’ effort in Saturday’s 84-55 train wreck at Purdue — a team that has won just one of seven Big Ten games?
“I don’t think there is anybody that watched our game that felt that our kids stopped trying,” Amaker said. “We had kids on the floor with a loose ball with 14 seconds left in the game.”
Amaker benched three starters — freshman Ron Coleman, guard Dion Harris and forward Courtney Sims — for a majority of the second half and opted to play four walk-ons, who, to their credit, have matured significantly this season.
“We are going to play the players that we think will give us the best chance to win the ball game, and that’s what we did,” Amaker said after Sunday’s game.
But even while Harris — the last of the three starters to go to the bench — sat midway through the second half, Purdue progressively increased its lead. Michigan’s best offensive option seemed to be perimeter jumpers from forwards Chris Hunter, Graham Brown and Brent Petway.
So what do the Wolverines (3-4 Big Ten, 12-9 overall) need to improve on before they host Minnesota (4-3, 14-6) tomorrow night at Crisler Arena?
“Well, we have to get better at everything,” Amaker said.
Specifically, he mentioned boxing out, limiting opponents’ second-chance points off offensive rebounds and, perhaps most importantly, becoming more efficient on offense.
“We just haven’t been able to have an offensive rhythm,” Amaker said. “We need to get better at that — have more confidence in that. You need to have some success to have confidence, and, right now, we haven’t had a lot of success recently.”
Guard Daniel Horton’s absence on the court and in practice has noticeably hurt the Wolverines. Harris has had trouble finding open shots when he draws the opponents’ best defender. And with teams applying traps and full-court man-to-man defense, Michigan’s biggest weakness — ball handling — has been exposed.
“We are hoping to get better at handling the ball,” Amaker said. “That’s obviously been an area that people have attacked us. And probably rightly so … I’m sure that is what (teams) are going to continue to do.”
Horton remains suspended indefinitely and his return to the lineup is uncertain. The guard was arraigned on misdemeanor domestic assault charges in a Washtenaw County court on Jan. 24. Amaker stated yesterday that there haven’t been any new developments regarding the junior’s availability.
“I don’t have any other information to add to my previous statement,” Amaker said, referring to his official statement released on Jan. 25. “I don’t have anything else to share to give any indication one way or another in terms of a timetable. We have no timetable for (his return).”
Horton is healthy enough to play against Minnesota tomorrow night. The junior injured his right knee in the waning moments against Wisconsin on Jan. 22. Amaker said Horton underwent extensive testing on the knee after that game, and the injury wasn’t serious.