How good is the Michigan men’s basketball team?
At this point, the answer is still up in the air.
Six games into the John Beilein era, the Wolverines (3-3) haven’t done anything unexpected. They’ve beaten their weaker opponents and lost to their stronger ones, most recently a 73-69 defeat at the hands of 1.5-point favorite Western Kentucky in the fifth-place game of the Great Alaska Shootout on Saturday.
“We are going to play an awful lot of teams that are as good as Western Kentucky,” Beilein said through the athletic department. “There isn’t a team on our schedule that isn’t as good as Western Kentucky or better. From here on out, we are going to have to go in there and play with the same intensity we had today and learn from what we just learned.”
Michigan showed the same resiliency Saturday it displayed all weekend, cutting Western Kentucky’s 15-point first-half lead to two in the game’s final minute.
Junior point guard Jerret Smith hit a pair of 3-pointers between the 10- and six-minute marks to spark the Wolverines back into the game. Still, Michigan trailed 71-64 until sophomore forward DeShawn Sims hit a 3-pointer with 1:11 left.
On the ensuing Western Kentucky possession, Wolverine junior point guard C.J. Lee got a steal that led to a Manny Harris dunk.
With eight seconds between the shot clock and game clock, the Wolverines elected not to foul and forced a Hilltopper miss, but Western Kentucky forward D.J. Magley tallied the game-clinching putback.
The Hilltoppers built their big lead with 16 points off 10 turnovers in the first half.
“The whole game they pressured us,” Beilein said through the athletic department. “They just rotate 10 guys in there and just try to wear you down.
“We knew what they were going to do against us, but it is almost impossible to prepare for it, especially with a one-day prep with a young team.”
Michigan apparently adjusted well as the game went on, holding Western Kentucky to just five points off eight Wolverine second-half turnovers.
But it wasn’t enough for Michigan, which averaged 13 turnovers per contest in the three-game tournament.
Wednesday, the Wolverines lost their opening game of the Shootout 79-65 to No. 22 Butler, which made a tournament-record 17 3-pointers.
Michigan rebounded with a 61-53 over Eastern Washington behind 19 points, five rebounds and five assists from Harris.
“We will need to now go back and find all the little things that we need to change,” Beilein said through the athletic department. “A simple box out, landing on two feet, hit the guy when he went backdoor, don’t go backdoor too late, don’t go backdoor too early … all the little things that will teach us how to get better. If we would have gotten a few of those things we would have walked away with a win (Saturday). But it didn’t happen.”
If Beilein is right about the level of Michigan’s upcoming competition, the Wolverines better solve their shortcomings quickly.