During yesterday’s pre-practice press conference Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein’s body language was clear: He was more interested in going over film with his team than answering questions.
But three days after another conference loss, 68-60 to Iowa, questions are all that surround the Michigan basketball team.
Why are the Wolverines inconsistent on offense?
Why is the defense struggling?
Why is this transition so difficult?
But the most pressing question is: How can the Wolverines put themselves into a position to finish the season strong?
“We’ve been in the situation where we haven’t pulled the game out, and I think that wears on you,” redshirt junior C.J. Lee said. “The tougher the game gets, the tougher we have to get. I think we’re fighting through that but obviously not well enough to win the game.”
Iowa’s duo of Tony Freeman and Cyrus Tate was Michigan’s biggest problem Saturday.
Freeman led all scorers with 28 points, more than half of which came from the outside. Tate dominated under the basket, scoring 21 points and collecting 11 rebounds.
But Freeman and Tate are just two more players on a long list who’ve put up big numbers against the Wolverines in conference play this season.
Wisconsin’s Jon Leuer (25 points), Purdue’s Keaton Grant (17), Indiana’s Eric Gordon and D.J. White (23 and 21, respectively) and Illinois’ Brian Randle and Shaun Pruitt (19 each) have all taken advantage of both good luck and bad defense.
Beilein said Monday Michigan’s defense is his biggest concern.
“It’s not a coincidence,” Beilein said. “I mean, people are shooting 41 percent from three on us. That can’t be a coincidence.”
He wasn’t quite sure what the problem was, but he believed factors like size and strength disadvantages may be a reason opposing players have played so well against the Wolverines.
Michigan hasn’t been helped by their zone defense. Since most zones give up the three-point shot, opponents will have more open looks from beyond the arc than usual.
With the Wolverines struggling to play consistent offense, any hot streak by an opposing team will be difficult for Michigan to overcome.
In Saturday’s game, the Hawkeyes scored the last eight points of the first half to take a 29-27 lead. That carried over into the second frame where the Wolverines were outscored 21-9 in the first fifteen minutes.
Once Michigan finally woke up, it was too late.
Freshman Manny Harris and sophomore DeShawn Sims led the late-game charge, scoring 18 of Michigan’s 24 points in the final five minutes. Freshman Kelvin Grady scored the other six.
The biggest play of the night came with less than a minute and a half left and Michigan trailing 58-50. Harris sent the near-sellout crowd into a frenzy when he hit his 3-point shot and drew a foul. He completed the four-point play to cut the Hawkeye lead in half.
The Wolverines traded baskets with Iowa on the next two possessions, and a Sims 3-pointer made it 63-60 with less than forty seconds to play.
But Michigan failed to create a turnover, and the Hawkeyes put the game away with free throws.
“We still lost,” Sims said following the game. “We were looking to win this game more than anything, and (the comeback) does nothing for our confidence.”
Heading into tonight’s game at Wisconsin, the big question will be: If Michigan can’t find confidence now, when can it?