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January 31, 2014
Hoops Notebook: Defense still needs to improve
It's hard to find fault with a team that's 8-0 in Big Ten play and alone atop the standings, riding a nine-game winning streak. Defense might not qualify as an Achilles Heel - more like a toe blister given how well the Wolverines are playing offensively (though even that will get you mention on ESPN if you want to draw attention to it) - but head coach John Beilein knows the day is coming when offense alone won't be enough to carry U-M to victory.
Michigan ranks third in the conference in scoring offense at 77.2 points per game, first in field goal percentage (49.4) and three-point percentage (39.5), first in assist to turnover ratio (1.6) and triples made per game (8.5).
When they need stops, though, they'll need to step up, Beilein said Thursday.
"I don't think you ever rely on that," he said of outscoring everyone. "The one thing learned first as a coach, the only thing that can be really consistent is your defense. We're not there, but we're working on it. But that's one thing we can plan on. We have tough games coming up, a tough road game Sunday.
"If [great offense] keeps happening I'll be happy as hell, but I do know there will be a day shots wont fall and the defense will have to help us win the game."
The Wolverines rank 11th in the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense at 43.3 percent. That included 43.1 against Purdue, a number with which Beilein wasn't entirely displeased. Many of the points came on 16 offensive rebounds, including on tip-ins.
Even then, Kenpom.com ranks the Wolverines No. 61 in defensive efficiency, not great but among the top 20 percent in the country. Combined with the No. 3 offense you get a top 10 team nationally.
Still, quick point guards have continued to be a struggle for the Wolverines. They'll face another one Sunday at Indiana in Yogi Ferrell. Zone could be a counter, though the Wolverines haven't played much of it and Beilein seemed reluctant after using it a handful of times against Purdue.
"My assistants talked me into that several times. Each time they'd score, one moves a little further down the bench," he quipped.
"We wanted to change tempo because htye were going downhill, downhill, they have [big man A.J.] Hammons. You do not want to et in the bonus with this team 10 to go because they'll just drive downhill and the way game is called, they'll score two every time from the foul line."
They'll keep tinkering on defense, but chances are you'll see mostly man from here out. The good news - last year's team wasn't what you'd consider great defensively, either, but it was a missed tip-in away from a Big Ten title and was national runner-up.
Thoughts and observations
The threes, then, were sporadic but huge. Freshman Zak Irvin and sophomore Spike Albrecht hit two key ones down the stretch.
"That was huge they made those two," Beilein said. "That was the separation. It was seven, eight all of a sudden we get to 13. We had to have that to win this game late."
"He reminds me of Manny with his speed right now," Beilein said. "He can get to places and you try to figure out how'd he just get there. Getting that third guy, now Derrick Walton is doing some things that have really helped us offensively."
LeVert is doing it within the freedom of the offense, Stauskas noted, and a lot of it is residual. One area in which he differs from Harris - he wants to be a good defender and is embracing the role of stopper, something Harris never seemed to. He's also a better shooter.
"He finds spots, and very few things are called for him other than he's in space where he can attack or get open for threes," Beilein said. "Having him become a knockdown shooter right now important. He'd got a good handle and he's got good length to him."
"We think you can get a layup in four seconds even if you zig zag a little," Beilein said. "It was simple action, he ran one on one, north and south, no pulling up for a jumper just right to the rim."
Walton, last week's Big Ten freshman of the week, will be in line for another one if he has a similar outing against Indiana.