The Michigan basketball team can't get taller, but it'll have to get tougher
EAST LANSING -- While assessing his team's interior deficiencies Sunday, Michigan basketball coach John Beilein nailed it.
Well, sort of.
"We can't get taller," Beilein said. "We can't get bigger."
Unless there's a magical bottle of extra-strength Miracle-Gro somewhere inside the Crisler Center, Beilein's right. From now until the end of the season, the Wolverines can't get any taller.
But that doesn't mean they can't get tougher.
Michigan wasn't just beaten in the paint by Michigan State on Sunday during a 64-54 loss at the Breslin Center.
The Wolverines were brutalized.
The Spartans out-rebounded Michigan 40-16 and Draymond Green grabbed as many boards as the Wolverines did as a unit.
Twelve of MSU's rebounds were on the offensive glass, the Spartans out-scored Michigan 36-20 in the paint and 16-3 on second chance opportunities.
Yes, actually. The loss marked the second straight weekend that Michigan was handled on national television by an arch-rival, with the main reason being a lack of any type of interior production.
"They've got more size than us," Michigan senior guard Zack Novak said. "But when that happens, you've just got to focus and make better hits and box outs."
On Sunday, the Wolverines did neither.
A basic glance at the rebounding margin is staggering. But purely looking at it as a raw statistic doesn't tell the whole story.
In Ann Arbor earlier this season, Michigan State out-rebounded Michigan by 13, but the Wolverines were able to overcome that for two reasons: They shot better than 50 percent, and they limited interior damage by competing physically on every possession.
On Sunday, Michigan did neither.
The Wolverines didn't compete on the glass, not even close. Michigan State grabbed a ridiculous 48 percent of its missed shots and shot 61 percent from two-point range. When Michigan played Ohio State a week ago, the Buckeyes grabbed 42.4 percent of their misses and dropped in 16 points on putback attempts.
That's not pretty.
In reality, both Ohio State and Michigan State dwarf the Wolverines in the size department. They can't control that.
Their toughness and aggressiveness, though, certainly can be controlled.
"They were just the better team today," Michigan point guard Trey Burke said. "It's not just the size, we weren't as aggressive tonight as we were at home (against MSU).
"That was the first issue."
Michigan can do a lot of things to combat size issues. They can make open shots, take advantage by using a more speedy lineup and be more precise with their block outs.
However, in the end, toughness and aggressiveness will always be the key.
"We're not athletic big like when they go athletic big," Beilein said. "(Branden) Dawson jumps out of the gym, (Adreian) Payne jumps out of the gym. We work hard at trying to be versatile with what we do, and after this, if we play them again, we'll come up with something.
"And maybe we can do better."
Opposing teams can be more athletic than Michigan. They can be taller, longer and heavier, and the Wolverines can still prevail.
Well, unless anyone finds that bottle of Miracle-Gro, that just can't happen.
Not in Columbus. Not in East Lansing.
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