Losing to a coach it cautiously criticized before the season was bad enough for the Michigan men’s basketball team.
But when the Wolverines looked at the stat sheet, things were even more humiliating. Besides going 6-for-7 from the free-throw line, no statistic was pretty in their 62-51 loss to former coach Tommy Amaker and Harvard.
Michigan shot a dismal 32 percent from the field, including just 5-for-20 from 3-point range. Its assist-to-turnover ratio, a stat Michigan coach John Beilein emphasizes, was awful. The Maize and Blue committed 13 turnovers to just six assists.
All that can be attributed to youth in a new, complicated system and the fact the Wolverines had just finished a stretch of five games in 11 days. But being outrebounded by a Crimson squad that played just two players above 6-foot-7, the tallest being 6-foot-9?
Amaker’s teams were never outmuscled on the boards like Michigan has been this season. The latest rebounding discrepancy came just three days after the Wolverines were manhandled by Boston College on the glass, giving up 17 offensive rebounds – several of which came off of free throws and doomed Michigan down the stretch.
“We were just playing soft down there,” sophomore DeShawn Sims said after Michigan lost the rebounding battle, 50-32, to the Eagles. “Basically, they just outworked us.”
But Michigan’s troubles on the boards should come as no surprise. Beilein is not a coach who emphasizes rebounding. His successful West Virginia teams rarely beat its opponents on the glass.
It led some of his former players to comment on the change in style when new coach Bob Huggins took over for Beilein in Morgantown, W.Va.
“We were never really a good rebounding team – our technique was bad,” Mountaineer senior Darris Nichols said at Big East Media Day in October. “It wasn’t a big thing with Beilein. We never concentrated on it.”
It might need to become a point of emphasis now that Michigan has lost five of its last six games after beginning the year with two straight wins. The Wolverines have been beaten on the glass in three of their five losses this season and barely outrebounded Butler, a team that boasts no starters taller than 6-foot-7.
Unlike Beilein’s Mountaineer squads, which were carefully recruited and molded to fit into his unique style of play, this year’s Michigan squad is full of players he never envisioned in his system.
In the past, West Virginia overcame its deficiencies on the glass with pinpoint passing and quality 3-point shooting. Judging from their 3-5 record so far, the Wolverines don’t have that luxury just yet.
But the principles of rebounding can’t be lost on the team. Just a year ago, under Amaker, the Wolverines had a rebounding margin of plus-six per contest. Part of the problem can be blamed on the graduation of players like Brent Petway and Courtney Sims, who both averaged more rebounds than any current player.
But even now-departed wing Lester Abram, a player not noted for any sort of prowess on the glass, averaged more than the 3.6 rebounds per game that starting center Zach Gibson is averaging this season.
Whether he teaches it properly or not, Beilein can’t be on the court and hitting the glass for his team. After the embarrassment of this past weekend, players are beginning to realize, new coach or not, the onus falls squarely on them.
“Defensive rebounding, that’s just something you want to do,” sophomore K’Len Morris said. “You have to have a drive in you. You either going to box out or not. We just have to clean that up.”