When news broke of John Beilein’s hiring as Michigan men’s basketball coach last April, much of the optimistic chatter surrounded his unique and effective offensive system.
But after their latest loss, a 70-54 defeat to No. 25 Wisconsin (1-0 Big Ten, 11-2 overall) last night at Crisler Arena, Beilein and the Wolverines (0-1, 4-9) might need to talk about heading back to the drawing board.
The Maize and Blue went nearly seven minutes without a field goal to begin the game and shot an abysmal 27 percent in the first half.
And that came after the team spent much of the break focused on starting the Big Ten season and the New Year off on the right foot.
“There was a lot of talk,” said freshman Manny Harris, who had a team-high 16 points in the loss. “But we came out and didn’t perform how we should have, so we’ve got to set another goal for ourselves.”
After the Wolverines’ encouraging performance against UCLA 10 days ago – when Michigan led with nine minutes remaining in the contest – the goal was to improve upon its terrible accuracy from beyond the arc. Beilein blamed that loss on his team’s 6-for-31 3-point shooting performance.
Last night, though, the coach seemed resigned to the fact that his team probably won’t be able to shoot well from long distance anytime soon after another woeful display from the outside. The Wolverines made just five of their 18 3-point attempts.
And yet, when asked what the ideal easy basket was in his offense, Beilein’s first answer was a “step-in 3-pointer.” Clearly, there’s some work to be done before anything comes easy for this team.
“We have to have good shooters,” Beilein said. “We came into this year with – probably if you look at how many guys (on Michigan) have ever made a college 3-pointer – it’s not a whole lot.”
The poor shooting start didn’t doom the Wolverines right away. Michigan’s 1-3-1 defense seemed to confuse Wisconsin early on, and the Badgers didn’t get their first point until senior Brian Butch hit a free throw with 16:36 remaining in the first half.
Although Wisconsin went on a 10-0 run from there, Michigan trailed by just five after sophomore Jevohn Shepherd hit a jumper with about eight minutes remaining.
From there the game belonged to the more experienced and more talented Badgers, who were coming off last weekend’s impressive road win over then-No. 9 Texas.
Ignited by 10 consecutive points from freshman Jon Leuer, Wisconsin went on a 13-3 run to close the opening half with a 16-point cushion. Leuer had a career- and game-high 25 points and was a perfect 5-for-5 from 3-point range.
To their credit, the Wolverines showed grit in the second half, closing the lead to single digits after freshman Kelvin Grady hit one of the team’s few 3-pointers with just under seven minutes remaining in the game.
But Michigan couldn’t hold momentum, missing several forced 3-pointers and committing costly turnovers down the stretch. The Wolverines finished under 40 percent from the field for the game.
Talk of a new year and a new era for Michigan basketball will have to wait. For now, the team must swallow another defeat.
“If you’re losing, your spirit is down,” sophomore Ekpe Udoh said. “You can’t really take anything positive from losing.”