Simply put, head coach John Beilein can’t expect his squad to shoot 58 percent beyond the arc every night.
While Jordan Morgan‘s lingering ankle injury didn’t help, the Maize and Blue struggled to develop a presence in the paint against the Buckeyes. Freshman Mitch McGary did come through with a stellar effort, recording 14 points, six assists and four blocks in 29 minutes of work.
However, for as large, athletic and energetic as he can be, McGary’s presence alone isn’t enough. Ohio State’s big men sucked in one offensive rebound after another late in the game, which resulted in far too many second-chance points. If not for Tim Hardaway Jr.’s clutch stroke down the stretch, the Buckeyes’ put-backs would have kept the Wolverines out of reach.
Going with a smaller lineup, as Beilein did Tuesday night, certainly has its benefits. It allows him to get uber-talented freshmen Nick Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III on the court together for most of the game. Combined with Trey Burke and Hardaway Jr. in the backcourt, this gives Michigan a ridiculous amount of athleticism on the court at once.
That combo is fine and dandy when the Wolverines are playing teams that lack an inside presence. But, against a team like Ohio State or any other squad with relevant big men, it typically spells bad news.
Morgan, a 6’8”, 250-pound junior, has been a disappointment much of the year, even before spraining his ankle Jan. 24 against Purdue. Jon Horford, a 6’10, 250-pound sophomore with a lengthy injury history of his own, has played 20 minutes in a game just one time in his career.
Michigan’s lack of an inside presence cost the Wolverines dearly in a 81-73 road loss to No. 1 Indiana on Feb. 2. UM was out-rebounded 36-22 in the game and shot just 30 percent from beyond the arc, showing what happens when the three-point shots don’t fall.
Obviously Michigan proved it can still win against one of the nation’s top teams despite lacking an effective one-two punch inside. The Big Ten Conference is as strong as it has ever been, so to see the Wolverines defend their court against a Big Ten title contender on what could be considered an off night is not a bad thing at all.
Even so, Beilein has to find the inexperienced McGary some help in the paint if the Wolverines’ dream of becoming Big Ten Champions and making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament are to come to fruition.