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November 26, 2013

Beilein still looking to find the right mix

Michigan's loss to Charlotte in the finals of the Puerto Rico was disappointing, no way around it. The expectation, of course, is that the team that dropped a 63-61 loss isn't the same one we'll see when Big Ten play rolls around.

Injuries, for one, hampered the Wolverines against the 49ers. Sophomore Glenn Robinson III left in the first half after taking a hard fall and suffering a back injury. Fellow soph Nik Stauskas (20 points, five rebounds) was a shell of himself after turning his ankle midway through the second half. Sophomore Caris LeVert (11 points) missed most of the first half with foul trouble.

That meant more playing time for freshman Zak Irvin, who struggled to a 3-for-14 shooting night.

"We had two starters out for most of the game. The first two fouls on Caris were a tough break for us, then Glenn goes down, then we can't make a shot," head coach John Beilein noted.

And the latter is why the Wolverines lost. They made only 19 of 61 shots (five of 23 triples) despite getting open look after open look. They managed only eight assists against 13 turnovers after torching the nets in their previous several games to inflate the assist numbers.

Credit Charlotte's defense - Beilein did - but 14-for-38 from inside the arc won't beat many teams. The Wolverines uncharacteristically took bad shots and were too much one-on-one, not running the offense well with their starters on the bench.

It's clear Irvin, for one, needs plenty more run before he's comfortable. He was shooting under 30 percent from the field before his poor shooting night.

"I like that Zak Irvin didn't stop shooting even though he couldn't make a shot, because he hit a huge one for us late and in the first half," Beilein said. "We had pretty good looks. Unfortunately, many of those were Zak's looks. He's a good shooter, and he's going to have nights like that. We'll tell him to keep shooting."

One positive: fifth-year senior Jordan Morgan's nine rebounds in 13 minutes in what Beilein called a tournament atmosphere.

"Charlotte was really good; I was really impressed with their personnel and defense," he said. … "We're embracing this and saying, 'What a great opportunity to grow.' We had adversity tonight like we hadn't had, and we just kept plugging away, so it's all good. I know that sounds crazy, but it's all good to come into that environment, play as hard as we did and fight back to have a chance to win."

Charlotte shot only 39 percent, turned the ball over 17 times and scored 62 points. As some of our esteemed readers point out, .9 points per possession will win 99 percent of games - the one percent came Sunday night amid a perfect storm of foul trouble, injury and disjointed offense.

Kids were passing up open shots at times, a sign of waning confidence in the perimeter game, and big man Mitch McGary - still nowhere near what he'll be in a month or so when he's in better shape - remains U-M's only scoring option down low.

A healthy Stauskas might well have pulled one out for the Wolverines. He remains U-M's best offensive option, but he was obviously hobbled by his sore ankle.

"The injury was tough, especially defensively, because they noticed it real quick and whoever I was guarding just started running around a bunch of screens," he said. "It was definitely difficult just to move around and put pressure on them, I was kind of limited."

They were still there at the end against a solid team, but couldn't pull one out. It's disappointing, but Beilein's teams communicate better, run the offense better - simply play better - as they year goes on. This is a good team that will - yes - only get better.


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