During Sunday’s game against No. 2 Indiana, the Michigan men’s basketball team did an excellent job of forcing the Hoosiers to take bad shots and miss easy layups in its best defensive effort of the conference season. But it was the second- and third-chance opportunities that caused the seventh-ranked Wolverines’ demise in their chance to secure a second consecutive Big Ten Championship.
Michigan was manhandled on the glass, outrebounded by the Hoosiers 53-30, and gave up 17 second-chance points to Indiana off an absurd 24 offensive rebounds.
“(Indiana) crashed three or four guys and somebody always seemed to be missing someone,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “Rebounding was a huge, huge part of this game. It’s a shame when we defend so well, and they walk in and get a layup after. It happened over and over again, but as a coaching staff and a team we have to find a way to get better in that area.
“We block out every time in practice. We did not (on Sunday).”
Though the Wolverines held the Hoosiers to a 35-percent clip from the floor, Indiana kept the game within striking distance at halftime by crashing the glass. Michigan had an 11-point lead late in the first half, but putbacks by guard Victor Oladipo and easy layups by forward Cody Zeller pulled the Hoosiers within three points at the break.
Indiana had 13 offensive rebounds in the first frame, and despite how well Michigan was playing defensively, second and third possessions for the Hoosiers were where they kept the game close.
The second half followed suit. Zeller had two consecutive offensive boards, leading to six of his 25 points within the first two minutes of the stanza, and for the rest of the half, the preseason Player of the Year kept finding ways around weak box-outs to crash the glass.
And though Michigan had every opportunity to pull away in the final five minutes of the game, every sophomore guard Trey Burke floater or redshirt junior forward Jordan Morgan layup was answered by the Hoosiers with a putback by Oladipo or Zeller.
Zeller easily outmatched Michigan’s post players for most of the game, and Indiana took advantage of that, continually feeding Zeller the ball. Morgan, an undersized forward, had the most success defensively, but Zeller still pulled down 10 rebounds.
Freshman Mitch McGary was more of a size match for Zeller, but early foul trouble in both halves forced him to sit for most of the game. Redshirt sophomore Jon Horford and redshirt freshman Max Bielfeldt, the third and fourth bigs off the bench, weren’t able to handle a physical Zeller, either.
But it wasn’t just Zeller dominating the glass. Oladipo had two consecutive, easy layups for four points that shifted the momentum back in Indiana’s favor with two minutes to go, and Zeller added another two points off an offensive board to cut Michigan’s lead to a manageable three points with 38 seconds to go — a lead that ultimately disappeared thanks to a key offensive rebound by Indiana and missed free throws by the Wolverines to seal the victory for the Hoosiers.
“Part of the rebounds come off penetration,” Beilein said. “Two guys have to help the ball, so if there’s two guys, somebody’s going to be open. To find that guy is difficult, it takes time, and sometimes you can’t even do it.”
And Michigan hasn’t been a great offensive rebounding team this season, either. With undersized and inexperienced post players, the Wolverines don’t have the personnel to match up against the Big Ten’s stronger interior players. In many of its losses, rebounding has been a main factor for Michigan, but Burke believes the Wolverines will improve before the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments.
“(We have to) just keep going at it,” he said. “Just keep working at it in practice, do rebounding drills and things like that, send more to the glass. It’s something we try to get better at. I think we’ve gotten better at it. Indiana’s a good rebounding team and they send a lot of players to the glass.”