Arkansas spent a good portion of Saturday's 80-67 loss at Michigan pressuring the ball, taking the Wolverines out of their offense and making them earn every inch of the floor. Shooters struggled to find looks, and point guard Trey Burke - though still outstanding - was gassed at times in the second half when the defense dictated he do more off the dribble.
That left it up to the muckers to - well, muck. Redshirt junior Jordan Morgan started early by working the glass for putbacks in racking up 10 points and five rebounds in the first 10 minutes alone, while fellow bigs Mitch McGary (six points, five rebounds in 16 minutes) and Jon Horford (four rebounds, three blocked shots in 10) helped U-M account for more offensive rebounds (18) than Arkansas had defensive (16).
Michigan, though the nation's No. 3 team, isn't without weakness, Morgan (for one) admitted, but the rebounding is another sign of head coach John Beilein's ability to adapt to any type of personnel and win with them.
"With the new ball screen offenses everybody employs, there's pressure on the rim a lot of ways," Beilein said. "There are rebounding angles because you're forcing everybody into help side. You've got to have some muckers in there that are going to go in and get the loose ones.
"Mitch, Jon and Jordan, they make a huge difference in that. It's rare for one of our teams to do that, but we've sort of seen the trends in the game. The coaching staff got together and said, 'we've got to do a little of this, a little of that' - still be versatile, but in a game like this, call it a no catch game. They're not going to let you catch the ball. You can't run five, six passes and get to your play. It's more of a dribble game. You need guys that are going to get in there and attack the rim without the ball by getting offensive rebounds."
Horford made the most of his 10 minutes by making an opposing big man feel his presence for the second straight game, Beilein noted.
Morgan, though, was the early catalyst. He was aggressive on the glass, defended and played the role Beilein asks him to play.
"I'm never going to be the 20-shot guy," he said - nor does he want to be.
"It was really big for him," Beilein said of his start. "This has got to be his M.O., a high energy guy who gets all the garbage buckets, defends the heck out of my man and everything will just come his way. When he's got that, we're a much better team."
Burke, though, will always be the straw that stirs the drink. He set up teammates for several good looks early, with freshman Glenn Robinson III (two, first half triples) one of the beneficiaries. Frosh Nik Stauskas didn't get great looks but still knocked down two of his five behind the arc and a few, high contact drives and finishes that should help prepare him for Big Ten play.
The supporting cast, including freshman Spike Albrecht (whose key, second half triple helped extend a lead that had been cut from as many as 13 to one), also continues to impress. This Michigan team could legitimately go 10-deep, when healthy, and the options were on display Saturday.
"What I really like is that we did respond during that time," Beilein said of Arkansas' run. "We didn't respond with some pretty play. We got just gutty, garbage buckets that made the difference, and then hit a big three after we missed a shot … now all of a sudden it's four, five, Spike hit a shot and we got separation.
"Runs by other teams this year have been 17 to nine, not nine to one. A lot of teams have trouble responding to that the first time. I loved the way we came up, got stops so we could run or made baskets so we could set our defense."
Proving again that they can match anybody on the schedule - so far. A tough Big Ten will be challenging, but the last two games gave them a glimpse of what the test might resemble.
The pre-conference quizzes, though, have been passed with flying colors.
"We went from two extremes, Western Michigan, who is going to let you make six, seven, eight catches but guard the perimeter, to this team saying, 'no catches,'" Beilein said. "I like it because it's the same thing when you'll go from Northwestern to Purdue, Nebraska and Michigan State, contrasting styles right in a row.
"This was perfect to go from Western to this one, great prep overall. Purdue plays a lot of no catch defense. We've got to learn to play against it."
Beilein lauded the offensive rebounding, a stat Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson called the difference in the game.
"It's big for us to get extra possessions, but it's good for them not to," Beilein said. "They didn't get a lot of extra possessions today."
Depth was key, he added.
"There are two positions in basketball you have to be in big time shape - it's the big man and it's the point guard," he said. "If this was 15 years ago, everyone was in motion, everybody was moving - you don't stand around. The two, three and four on a lot of teams do a lot of spacing. With the three of those [bigs], we have a lot of luxury.
"Much like last year, the speed of the game can wear you down a little bit. When we had choices during this game whether to give in to fatigue or keep on fighting, and we kept on fighting. We still limited their possessions. I'm proud of the way we played, but they are a tough team to match up with. We don't see as much of that in the Big Ten. We saw a little with North Carolina State. I think Arkansas has the potential to a very good team, so I'm glad we came out on the top side of that."
Albrecht provided eight quality minutes against a high pressure defensive team.
"Spike was terrific wasn't he? I don't think he had a turnover today, so his numbers continue to be like a five-to-1 ratio or something," Beilein said.
In actuality, Albrecht has 10 assists to one turnover this year.
"It really helps, and then you have the longer CBS timeout, give Trey more time there," Beilein said. "Once again, that ball is in hands. Try to dribble a basketball and run and defend for an hour and a half. It is really difficult at point guard. He has to live a good life and be in great shape to be able to handle that. It was nice to have Spike in there to help him."
Beilein notched his 100th career win at Michigan.
"I've been fortunate to be in a lot of good places where if you're there four or five years,
you might have the ability to do that," he said. "Hopefully the next 100 are easier than the first. Those first three years were a difficult transition for us."
Beilein was also wired for sound by CBS.
"We have a lot to sell at Michigan the way our team operates, the way the coaching staff acts, the culture we have," he said. "Why not let America into that?
"I had Lloyd Carr sitting next to me. Does it get any better than that? My comments to Lloyd were these guys are as quick as Alabama's secondary. It's great to be able to share some quick, candied innocent moments, and hopefully it brings others closer to our program whether it's alums, whoever it is."