Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein walked briskly into Saturday’s postgame press conference like he always does, ready to answer questions.
After his team handily beat Iowa, 60-46, something was slightly out of the ordinary. Beilein hadn’t gotten a chance to look at the stat sheet before talking to the media.
He joked about finally finding his glasses, and glanced down.
“Nineteen offensive rebounds? Wow, wow,” Beilein said softly.
He paused, letting that sink in. It’s a staggering number, especially for a team whose tallest starter is listed at 6-foot-8. (That would be senior forward DeShawn Sims, who pulled down eight offensive boards alone.)
“It wasn’t a great offensive showing, but that’s what you have to be able to do,” Beilein said.
He was likely referring to the Wolverines’ rebounding effort as a whole (42), which certainly set the tone in the dominating defensive victory.
“They set a tone from the get-go, and we couldn’t match it,” Hawkeyes forward Aaron Fuller told Iowa reporters after the game. “They took advantage of that, and they got second-chance points. Adding it all up that’s a lot of points, and that’s really why they won.
“We were soft really. They just punked us down there. They got every rebound that they wanted.”
Beilein made a point of it, and it remains true — the Iowa roster doesn’t have nearly as much height as other teams Michigan has faced and struggled against. But the Wolverines still look at those overall stats and their effort on the boards and see a positive sign.
“It’s been a big emphasis, especially (after) last year,” sophomore guard Stu Douglass said. “We were basically embarrassed last year about giving up offensive rebounds. … I don’t know where we are in the Big Ten, but we’re definitely a lot improved from last year. It’s just a mindset.”
The Wolverines were the Big Ten’s second-worst rebounding team last season in terms of rebounding margin (-2.8). This season, they’re outrebounding their Big Ten foes by almost a full rebound each game. Michigan still ranks last in the conference in defensive rebounds, but it has moved up to seventh in the Big Ten in offensive boards, averaging 10.67 rebounds per game after this weekend’s performance.
Considering how badly the Wolverines were outrebounded during the first two months of the season and how tough the Big Ten traditionally is on the boards, that’s quite a statistic. Along with an improved defense, the increased rebounding could be a good sign heading into the final stretch of the regular season.
Saturday’s game shed light on many positive aspects of Sims’s game, in particular. He posted his sixth double-double of the season with 12 total rebounds and 20 points. Usually, 6-foot-5 sophomore Zack Novak is the Wolverine known for leaping over taller opponents to snatch rebounds out of the air. But against the Hawkeyes, Sims got in on the act, too, pulling in rebounds from all over the court.
“It goes to show the heart of (Sims) and Zack,” Douglass said. “They’re battling inside. They’re quote-unquote undersized, but it doesn’t really matter.”
It may not matter much in the upcoming games, either, as the Wolverines prepare to take on teams with taller, more physical players. If Sims’s performance against a small Iowa squad is any indication, he does well when he’s comfortable in a game.
When he has a preference?
“I like playing against bigger guys,” Sims said.
The big men of the Big Ten might need to take note.