With one foot in the shower, it was hard to ignore the steam rising behind the broad shoulders of sophomore DeShawn Sims.

Maybe he was trying to warm up after his frigid 1-for-7, six-point showing from the field.

Or it could have had something to do with his team being thrown into the fire of a raucous Breslin Center crowd, hell bent on avenging the “Little Brother” comments made by Michigan football star Mike Hart in November.

Anyway you look at it, the Wolverines left East Lansing steaming mad after their latest setback – this one a 77-62 loss to the Spartans.

But the score wasn’t indicative of how disappointing a loss it was. Nobody on this team was angry after Tuesday’s encouraging 64-61 defeat to No. 11 Wisconsin. That was a glimmer of hope for a team desperately searching for something to boost its morale.

After shooting barely 35 percent from the field and going 8-for-31 from beyond the arc yesterday, it looks like hope isn’t on the horizon.

“It’s been a long year and we have a ton of losses,” Sims said. “You learn something out of each loss and we are going to get all the losing out of the way now, because we’re going to be a special team one day.”

To be something more than a 5-15 team, though, there has to be improvement. Are these Wolverines really getting better?

After competing with the Badgers for 40 minutes, Michigan reverted back to its old ways against Michigan State. Aside from a four-minute stretch in the first half – the only time it led the contest – the Maize and Blue couldn’t defend and couldn’t shoot.

The most troubling part about the Wolverines’ continued struggles is that they can execute what Michigan coach John Beilein is preaching.

They’ve shown the ability to run his complicated offense, getting plenty of open looks. And Beilein’s unique 1-3-1 zone confounded Wisconsin and has been a successful change of pace on the defensive end.

For Michigan, the problems come down to talent and effort. Simply put, there isn’t enough of either. Low expectations or not, that should worry a team this late in the season.

Too many times, the Wolverines run a set play well, creating an open shot, only to see it clank off the rim. Before the season, Beilein worried about not having enough shooters – and his worst fears have been realized. No one on the Michigan roster – freshman standout Manny Harris included – has shown the ability to consistently knock down open jumpers.

The issues on defense are even more frustrating. The Wolverines are last in the Big Ten in scoring defense, making things even harder on an anemic offense.

“The defensive numbers are our biggest concern right now,” Beilein said. “People are shooting a very high percentage against us. We’re not getting fast-break points, and we’re not getting the things that you would get from defensive stops.”

A few weeks ago, after Michigan’s lone Big Ten win this season against Northwestern, I was cautiously optimistic about the rest of the season, having seen some small steps towards respectability. But it’s become increasingly clear that victory was an anomaly.

Beilein and the rest of the Wolverines can talk all they want about how hard their schedule has been and how the goal is to just keep on improving, but they are failing at the basic fundamentals of basketball.

Going full-throttle on defense at all times and hitting open shots aren’t things a Division I athlete should be struggling with. Even middle-of-the-road teams from the Horizon and Southern Leagues have players that can defend and hit jumpers.

It’s time we take a cold shower of reality. Until this program gets more quality players, the losses will continue to pile up.

– Giannotto can be reached at mgiann@umich.edu.

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