The most notable addition to the Maize Rage this season is obvious — Smotrycz’s Lobstryczs. In honor of the sophomore forward, several students have attended every game in Crisler Arena wearing full lobster costumes, with maize T-shirts thrown over top.

Evan Smotrycz is a natural target to be honored like that, with his casual demeanor, sense of humor and goofy gait. But Michigan coach John Beilein probably doesn’t care at all that one of his starting forwards is now the toast of the student section — he’s more worried about getting Smotrycz to start playing more consistently.

It’s been a bit maddening at times to watch the Reading, Mass. native play this season. Known as a tall swing/post man with the ability to hit the 3-point shot with consistency, Smotrycz lived up to that billing last season.

But in the early stages of his sophomore season, with many expecting Smotrycz to make a significant leap in his development, the forward has frustrated. He’s flashed a multifacted offensive game and has defended solidly inside at times, but at other times, he has forced shots outside the flow of the offense and has lost his man on defense.

Smotrycz is shooting at a 36.8-percent clip from deep, which is down a little from last year but not in any significant way — he still can shoot the three well. And he’s had plenty of positive moments when he has looked to be on the verge of a breakout.

But most of those moments came in the first two games of the season against weak opponents. Smotrycz has been unable to maintain that play since the level of competition ramped up. He shot just 8-for-19 in Michigan’s three games at the Maui Invitational and alternated solid play with missed 3-pointers and mistakes in Saturday’s win over Iowa State.

That’s been the biggest thing — inconsistency. Because Smotrycz looks so good at times, showing the ability to hit long jumpers, drive the lane and rebound in the paint, it’s that much more frustrating when he turns the ball over or commits a silly foul.

The loss at Virginia was the best example of this. Beilein called it one of Smotrycz’s “best games,” and for good reason — he made all six of his shots and pulled down five rebounds. But Smotrycz couldn’t avoid dumb fouls and fouled out late in the game.

Smotrycz fouled out just three times last season but has done so three times already this year, and it’s probably no coincidence that Michigan’s two losses have come in games when he’s been forced to sit.

“He continues to have issues with just understanding his body posture and how he’s going to guard people when he’s forced to give help,” Beilein said. “He learns from it day by day. … But foul trouble remains something that sneaks up on him one of every three games.”

The reference to body posture is telling, because Smotrycz may still be learning to deal with his new frame after adding 36 pounds in the offseason. The idea was to allow the wiry freshman to better handle the rigors of the college game — especially in the paint, as Big Ten big men were too powerful for the forward last season.

It has undeniably done him well, with his rebounds up from 2.3 per game last year to 5.3. But that may be the problem — Smotrycz may have an identity crisis.

Beilein’s offense has always thrived when it’s had a big man who was proficient at shooting threes (think the immortal Kevin Pittsnogle, or DeShawn Sims). When Smotrycz came to Michigan, he seemed a perfect fit for that role.

But then he got a decent amount of time at center last season, and the weight gain indicates that Beilein plans to give him even more time at the “five” in the future (though he’ll surely be a “four” most of the time).

The two positions require very different styles in Beilein’s system, so it has to be tough to keep floating between them. Smotrycz has proven decent enough at center, but he’d be better off just improving and diversifying his game as a “four.”

Nobody’s asking him to be a star — Tim Hardaway Jr. will always be the team’s top threat. But if Smotrycz could improve and become consistent enough that opposing defenses must account for him at all times, it would open up even more offense for Hardaway Jr. Plus, the Wolverines wouldn’t have to rely on freshman point guard Trey Burke as much, who has enough on his plate as is.

This isn’t to say that Smotrycz has been some huge disappointment, either. He played very well for a freshman last season, and it still is just his second year — there’s plenty of time for growth.

But you know he has talent — he’s actually the highest-rated Beilein recruit to play for the Wolverines. And Smotrycz has shown enough flashes that it leaves you wanting more.

“When he lets the game come to him a little bit more, he’s a far more efficient player,” Beilein said. “He knows it. And he’s just got to continue to work at it. When you’re out (in a game), it’s a different thing.

“He’s adjusted a lot in the past, he’ll adjust again.”

If Smotrycz does that adjusting more rapidly and can become the player that his talent promises sooner rather than later, the ceiling for this Michigan team will increase dramatically.

And he’ll give those Lobstryczs even more to be proud about.

Don’t get Estes wrong, he’d never put on a Lobstrycz costume. He can be reached at benestes@umich.edu or on Twitter @benestes91.

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