Following the Michigan men’s basketball team’s 69-51 win over Oakland in mid December, freshman forward Jon Horford said, “I’ve never been on a team like this before. I’ve never experienced this, we’re real close.”
But in the Wolverines’ recent six-game losing skid, the team is not looking as cohesive as it used to.
At times, sophomore point guard Darius Morris tries, without success, to corral his teammates before a freethrow or after a timeout.
Against No. 15 Minnesota on Saturday, freshman Evan Smotrycz hit the hardwood and sat waiting for his teammates to come help him back to his feet as a few of the Wolverines grabbed redshirt freshman Jordan Morgan, who was also involved in the scuffle. But no one came, and eventually a Golden Gopher grabbed Smotrycz’s outstretched hand and helped him up.
Just more than halfway through the season, the team has already experienced very high highs and very low lows. And right now, it’s dealing with the latter.
“That’s what teams do — they work it out. They get together,” Michigan coach John Beilein said after the Wolverines’ loss to Minnesota. “Team chemistry is fine. They’ve just got to understand that there’s more to it than just all being great friends. There’s got to be a spirit about us and a will about us to get things done both mentally and physically.”
Despite Beilein’s vote of confidence in his team’s chemistry, there seems to be a different vibe among the players themselves. Even in the past week-and-a-half, the vocabulary has changed in the players’ interviews.
Before the Wolverines took on a winless Indiana team on January 15, junior Zack Novak told reporters, “I think guys are feeling pretty good about the direction we’re going right now … I feel like we’re really close, but if we could just fix a few things then we’re gonna be there. And that’s just encouraging — we know we still have a long way to go but we’re close to being able to beat some pretty good teams.”
Novak was encouraged.
After Michigan’s loss at the hands of Northwestern just a few days later, junior Stu Douglass said, “Everyone’s been positive, coaching staff has been very positive, we keep trying to get better every single day and it’s something I’ve learned the past couple of years — just to stay positive and don’t let it affect you individually.”
Douglass was staying positive.
But now the team has switched from being encouraged and positive to being frustrated. And while Beilein may not be worried about it, it could have a serious detrimental effect on such a young team — one that’s full of players who have probably never dealt with this kind of a losing streak during their decorated high school and AAU careers.
Following the loss to the Gophers, the team stayed in the lockerroom longer than normal to listen to assistant coach Lavall Jordan, who normally sits unanimatedly on the bench during games.
Smotrycz said a big part of the both Beilein and Jordan’s postgame speeches was about the team coming together — which is impossible to do, unless the portions of that whole are separated.
“It’s just frustrating,” Novak said after the speech. “We’re losing these close games because of the same things.
“It’s over and over again.”
The losses seem to be wearing on all parts of the Wolverine contingent — both on and off the floor.
So while this may be the closest team Horford has ever been on, it hasn’t carried over onto the floor recently and the Wolverines are nowhere close to the top of the Big Ten with their play.