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Posted on Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

The Michigan basketball team can't get taller, but it'll have to get tougher

By Nick Baumgardner


From left, Michigan State's Adreian Payne, Michigan's Zack Novak (0) and Stu Douglass (1) and Michigan State's Draymond Green (23) battle for a rebound in the Spartans' 64-54 win Sunday at the Breslin Center. The Spartans out-rebounded Michigan 40-16 and Green grabbed as many boards as the Wolverines did as a unit.

AP Photo

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.

Anything else?

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.

But tougher?

Well, unless anyone finds that bottle of Miracle-Gro, that just can't happen.

Not in Columbus. Not in East Lansing.

Not anywhere.

Nick Baumgardner covers Michigan basketball for He can be reached at 734-623-2514, by email at and followed on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.

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Tue, Feb 7, 2012 : 3:29 a.m.

Lack of toughness has been the calling card of Beilien recruits. Izzo and Matta have out recruited JB every single year he has been here. The total lack of recruiting has put us in this hole. Yes next years class looks promising but what the heck happened the last few years. It seems this staff was asleep at the wheel. We need 2 or 3 more years of top 5 classes of recruits to get Michigan back to playing Meechigan BB. Another fab five class would not hurt! GO BLUE!!!!


Tue, Feb 7, 2012 : 12:03 a.m.

..enough already with the "they're taller, bigger, jump higher, etc mumbo jumbo.. ..had not The Wolverines just defeated sparty 3 straight games??.. there is no backing into this "rivalry".. self-depreciating analyst about sparty competition is beneath a Wolverine coach.. Michigan should expect to beat sparty .. ..more importantly Coach B needs to figure out what all this "chemistry" mess is all about, does someone need a Team attitude adjustment? made shots eliminate rebounds.. Go Blue! v


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 9:08 p.m.

MSU adapted to Michigan's defense from the game in Crisler. When Michigan double teamed a player down low, which worked in the first game, the ball was passed to the open man. It worked out really well. MSU showed how important rebounding is, something Michigan just does not seem to care about. Michigan players do not follow their shots, they run away. When you rely on 3 point shots you have to make them and while Michigan has some players who make them from time to time, they just are not good enough to keep taking so many. I thought that they were getting the ball to Jordan Morgan better off picks. He is open all the time after he set picks. We need another big guy at least his size and more emphasis on shorter shots and rebounds.

Shlobodon Dobodon

Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 8:30 p.m.

Green outrebounded your whole team.... ha. He's only 6'6", the same height as timmy junior.


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 6:59 p.m.

Addendum: I forgot the BigTen Tournament where I expect Michigan can win its first game. If so, then Michigan may have a chance for an NCAA selection with only two wins in its last seven games. However, losing so many games over recent weeks will not favorably influence the selection committee. Michigan needs to find its Wisconsin game and the first half of the Indiana game and bring it to every one of the final seven games and the BigTen Tournament.


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 6:54 p.m.

If 20 wins are needed to assure that Michigan receives an invitation to the "Big Dance" then Michigan must find three wins in its next seven games. The three home games should guarantee achieving twenty wins except that one of the home games is against Ohio State. Therefore, Michigan will have to steal an away game win after winning only one game out of seven on opponents courts. Michigan may succeed and actually win more than one away game since Michigan plays three away games against teams at the bottom of the standings. Michigan may already be eligible for the NIT. Go Blue!


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 5:24 p.m.

"You can see (Sunday) why Michigan State is so highly ranked,", "They really have a lot of ways that they can take you out of what you want to do." said Beilein It's tough to win on the road, especially in East Lansing, especially after the Spartan's lost to Michigan in Ann Arbor. I've been so impressed with Michigan this season, Beilein and Michigan have taken away teams height advantage in many of the games I've seen, they can do that. Lets move on and beat Nebraska tomorrow, Go Blue


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 5:06 p.m.

Let's not forget McGary was WAY over rated. ESPN and both dropped him into the 20's in ranking and will probably drop even further when he fails to produce against players 3-4 years younger than him in high school. He was completely exposed on national TV when he only scored a few points and mildly effective on D. The problem goes beyond UM bigs. They have very few athletes and the ones they do have were dominated by MSU. Good luck in the NIT.


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 5 p.m.

Taller, talented players will certainly help Michigan but Michigan has still won 17 games with their present personnel. However, you have to compare team play during winning games with play during losses. And then there is the best game played against Wisconsin. The difference has consistently been aggressiveness and focus. Neither followed Michigan to East Lansing yesterday. Michigan appeared lethargic and tentative. For some reason Hardaway has been in a persistent slump and hit only one of ten shots yesterday. Trey Burke has been less consistent lately also, hitting only four of eleven shots again MSU. I do not know why Beilein can not get Michigan to play each game as if it is a Sweet Sixteen game where if you lose you are out. And it seems to me that Hardaway jump starts himself by driving to the basket of which I have seen little lately. Michigan's defense is usually tenacious and active but appeared to have been left in Ann Arbor yesterday. Michigan State is a good team but Michigan beat them this year and played better doing it. These kids need to show more desire for winning games because when every member of the team performs well they can compete with anyone and win.


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 9:16 p.m.

I think Hardaway has bad mechanics. He does not square up and he kicks his legs when he jumps. Also it looks to me like he just stands around. Maybe that is the offense, one guy dribbles around and the others just stand there watching, but when I played you were supposed to move, get open, set picks, rebound, follow your shot. Hey Beilein is the coach, not me but I have never seen an offense like this. It sure is easier to guard someone when they just stand there. Watch Richard Hamilton, with the Bulls, former Piston. He is always moving, never stops.


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 3:47 p.m.

The team CAN get taller. And bigger. Not this season (though Horford's return will help a little), but hopefully next season. That's how recruiting is supposed to work. The problem is, though Beilein has shown that he's a heck of a coach, I'm still not convinced that he's a heck of a recruiter. He's got a nice incoming class for 2012-2013, with the 6'10" Mitch McGary, but his other two recruits are both 6'5" guards. Just look up and down the roster — paying special attention to heights and weights — and you'll get an idea of what the problem is. There's some height there, but nearly all of the tall kids are too skinny to battle down low. Smotrycz and McLimans have outside game, but they can't body up against the likes of Jared Sullinger. Morgan is strong enough to take the punishment in the lane, but he's only 6'8". Simply put, Michigan will never win a Big Ten title, much less an NCAA championship, until Beilein can consistently recruit tall, bulky centers and power forwards who can dominate on the glass and score in the paint. Too many times during yesterday's game Michigan put up long-range shots that turned into uncontested rebounds for the Spartans — almost as if the Wolverines know they can't contest those rebounds so they don't even try. I understand the importance of getting back on defense, but you can't just give up on the idea of offensive rebounding and expect to win games against tough opponents. Maybe all that money the athletic department spent on basketball facilities will finally lure some up-and-coming big men to Ann Arbor.


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 9:21 p.m.

I agree completely. I think the best winning combination is a big center and one power forward who can rebound well and make short shots, one smaller mobil forward who can score from outside and two quick guards who can shoot from outside. Michigan emphasizes the 3 point too much. You can win, but be a champion? No. I like Morgan, but we need at least one more just like him and I would like to see his shot better from 5 to 12 feet.


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 2:41 p.m.

This UM team has been "surviving" all season long they win small and they lose every other game. Almost all of them regressed since DMo left this year and Burke cannot score for them all the time, with the way they were outplayed today, this team will not get far in the Big 10 tournament and in the NCAA tournament.


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 9:23 p.m.

Think so? I think Burke is a vast improvement over DMo. He shoots and dribbles much better. Their success is based on tone thing: making the 3s. They can't rebound and the defense is iffy, so live by and die by the 3.


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 1:44 p.m.

There's only so much Michigan can do when they're up against bigger, more athletic teams. In this case, we need to hit outside shots and play better defense. Morgan is the only player we have available that is big and strong enough to compete and he's not on the floor all the time. Novak is scrappy enough, but people grab rebounds right over him sometimes. Horford could really help, but he's been injured. And Smotrycz and McLimans just aren't tough enough - they play soft most of the time. The solution is Beilein must recruit more athletic front line players. Fortunately, he is starting to do that and next year we'll get McGary and Robinson to help.


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 5:43 p.m.

Your comments fit the picture very well. Wonder if McGary will watch the rebounding like Morgan does.


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 1:28 p.m.

I love the typical overreaction on a single loss! Michigan has not had one losing streak this season! They always bounce back from a tough loss! They already have that big body recruited for center next year. His name is Mitch McGary.


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 12:14 p.m.

I'm NOT a basketball fan, but, I am a UM fan. Michigan was pushed round the court....Spanky, in the last 4:mins. 'allowed' Michigan to close within six points...then, simply pushed UM out of the way. Whom ever is recruiting, better recruit big, strong and smart. Just chucking up 3pts'rs, off one foot.....Air-Balls..... 29% from the floor, NIT has a spot for Michigan if they don't get it together.....