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March 20, 2013Michigan is anywhere from a second round casualty to a Final Four candidate depending on who you read. Head coach John Beilein's task - find scoring from more than just sophomore point guard Trey Burke, and get defense from everyone.
The freshmen especially struggled in the second half of a Big Ten Tournament loss to Wisconsin, one that probably bumped the Wolverines from a three seed to a four. Second round opponent South Dakota State, a team with shooters at every position, could eat them alive if they don't close out on the gunners.
U-M also needs to get more offensively from the four position. The Wolverines are 17-1 when freshman Glenn Robinson III scores 10 points or more and have won only one of the last six games when Robinson failed to reach the mark. It's usually when U-M is defending and scoring in transition that the 6-7 standout is getting his points.
"There are a lot of different ways we try to get him in areas to score - not necessarily plays, but residual action to put in him position," Beilein said. "When he gets offensive rebounds, that's a great way. But it also depends a lot on match-ups.
"I'm aware we're better when he's scoring, when he's defending. One of the reasons he scores so well for us in those situations is we play good defense. One of his strengths is the fast break. When he gets out on the fast break, he scores a lot - but if you want to run and score points, you've got to get a stop. It's one of the biggest things every team has to go through. It's more important in a flow sport than anything."
It's hard for freshmen to defend consistently at times if they're not shooting well, Beilein noted. Freshman Nik Stauskas is one who seems to let his frustrations get to him on the defensive end, but he's not alone.
"It's more difficult than people think [to put things behind you]," Beilein said. "If you foul, miss a shot or miss a third shot in a row and now got you have to go give everything you have, it's really hard. Freshmen, if you're making shots or not, have to stay in and play defense. If not it's going to be a veteran to pick up the slack.
"We made a choice to go with it. We thought this was a year to give a lot of young guys a lot of time to see how far we could go. That's part of the downside."
It's also time, though, for them to grow up quickly. A deep postseason run depends on it.
Regardless, Beilein said, whatever happens won't sully the program's progress.
"As long as we're in contention every year for the Big Ten championship then we'll go into the NCAA Tournament every year saying, 'okay. We're going to do the best that we can.'
"We're moving forward not looking back no mater what happens in this NCAA Tournament. We are moving forward. You look at our team, the makeup of our team and the recruits coming in. We're moving forward."
Beilein showed junior Jordan Morgan the quick hook for his offensive struggles in Big Ten Tournament play, even though he was U-M's best defending big man. He congratulated Morgan for his practice work Sunday before taking the podium.
"Right now everybody has to play well," Beilein said. "If a guy misses a pass, that's one thing - but it's not fair to other guys [to not get a chance if the starters aren't playing well]. I'm confident Jordan is going to bounce back at some point in this tournament, really help us. Obviously, Thursday would be a great day to start that."
They continue to work with Morgan to keep his confidence high.
"Sometimes we put him on the scout team just to get reps, even though we know he's going to play," Beilein said. "The scout team never comes off the floor, so we get him reps, then have him watch video, just talk with him. Obviously, he's an important part of our defense, and we all know he had been a much better player before his injury. That has something to do with it. But it would be really helpful if he played at the level we've seen him play before in the NCAA Tournament."