Michigan Wolverines: Rodney Williams

Loss leaves Gophers grasping for answers

January, 18, 2013
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota can no longer blame injuries and defections for the Golden Gophers' sudden issues.

Blaming the competition doesn't fly, either.

Minnesota probably shouldn't win at Indiana (Wisconsin did) or beat Michigan at home (Ohio State did). But the Gophers are no longer the Gophers from the past two seasons, when issues dogged the team.

Yet, the convincing Jan. 9 victory at Illinois was followed up by flops in the first halves at Indiana and then again Thursday against Michigan. The Gophers had chances to come back in both games, playing to their strengths by getting rebounds, spreading the floor, causing turnovers and making shots.

But it was too late in both games and now, after the 83-75 loss to the No. 5 Wolverines, the Gophers are 3-2 in the Big Ten and looking up at not just Michigan and Indiana, but also Michigan State, Ohio State and 4-0 Wisconsin.

[+] EnlargeTim Hardaway Jr., Austin Hollins
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesAustin Hollins couldn't keep up with Michigan's Tim Hardaway Jr. most of the night in Minnesota's loss.
"I'm disappointed," said Minnesota coach Tubby Smith. "Usually we respond much better. I don't know what happened."

The ninth-ranked Gophers dug themselves a huge hole against the Wolverines, much as they did against the Hoosiers. Turnovers dogged Minnesota early and often; so, too, did missed free throws. Oh, and the inability to even cover Tim Hardaway Jr., let alone Trey Burke -- arguably one of the best backcourts in the country -- led to a 19-point deficit at one point.

"We can't be digging these holes like we do," said Minnesota's Rodney Williams, who fouled out after scoring 11 points. "We can't be out there and not be on the same page."

Williams said Hardaway made tough shots in the first half, and that Austin Hollins did a good job contesting them. But over the course of the game, the Gophers couldn't stand in front of Burke or Hardaway, unlike Ohio State on Sunday. There was no Aaron Craft defending Burke, and certainly no one face-guarding Hardaway as well as possible.

Hardaway finished with 21 points; Burke had 18 points, 9 assists and just 1 turnover. Burke played 36 minutes -- and would have played more had he not ripped his shirt. The Gophers committed 15 turnovers and many turned into Wolverines points -- the most embarrassing of which Glenn Robinson III finished off with a 360-degree dunk.

"We're turning the ball over too much," said Minnesota's Trevor Mbakwe. "They scored 22 points off turnovers. We got off to a slow start and it killed the momentum [from the second-half comeback at Indiana]. We've got to figure out a way to take care of the ball."

Look, the Gophers have lost only to elite teams -- to Duke in the Battle 4 Atlantis and now to Indiana in Bloomington and Michigan at home. If those are the worst losses the Gophers suffer, they'll be just fine. But there are concerns in the way the Gophers suffered the two most recent defeats.

This team still can contend. But the players cannot point fingers, get frustrated or get out of sync too often.

"We know the winner of the Big Ten is going to have two or three losses," said Mbakwe. "It's too early. You've got to take care of your home game and win all of your home games. Everyone has a loss in the Big Ten except Wisconsin. Hopefully, when we go there next week [after a road game at Northwestern] we can hand them a loss. We still believe we have a chance to win the Big Ten."

WolverineNation Roundtable 

April, 26, 2012
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Jordan KovacsLon Horwedel/Icon SMIJordan Kovacs should be a shoo-in, along with Denard Robinson, for one of Michigan's three captain spots next season.

Every Thursday, Mike, Tom and Chantel discuss three pertinent issues in Michigan sports in the weekly Roundtable. This week, they look at football captains, basketball matchups and 2013 recruiting class rankings.

1. The Michigan football team will vote on team captains at the end of fall camp this year. Who do you think gets the three spots? Who's the first guy left out?

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The scouting reports are out: If teams want to stick with the No. 16 Michigan basketball team, they need to take away the outside shots and contain players such as sophomores Tim Hardaway Jr. and Evan Smotrycz.

And Minnesota did just that, but it still wasn’t enough as the Wolverines scratched out a 61-56 win.

But for the first half, the Gophers held the Wolverines to one of their worst shooting performances of the season -- 23 points on 28-percent shooting. Only once has Michigan shot worse in the first half, and that was in the season opener against Ferris State a month and a half ago.

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Michigan's 3 keys vs. Minnesota 

December, 31, 2011
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The No. 16 Michigan basketball team opened its Big Ten season with a convincing 71-53 win over Penn State, a team in transitional due to the loss of guard Talor Battle to graduation and coach Ed DeChellis to the Navy head coaching job.

Now, the Wolverines will welcome Minnesota to Crisler Arena. The Gophers are also slightly depleted after losing senior forward Trevor Mbakwe to injury in November. Last season, Mbakwe was the Big Ten’s leading rebounder and before his injury he had been averaging 14 points and nine rebounds per game.

The last time Minnesota came to Ann Arbor, the Gophers left with a 69-64 victory. And last week, Michigan coach John Beilein said he had been surprised with how poorly his team had played against Minnesota that time around.

There are some lose ends to tie up with the Gophers and Michigan is very serious about winning its home games this season. But in order to do that, here are three keys for the Wolverines.

  1. Redshirt sophomore Jordan Morgan and sophomore Evan Smotrycz can’t get into foul trouble. With Smotrycz now as the backup at five and Morgan starting, the Wolverines can’t afford to get into foul trouble down low. Yes, the Gophers don’t have Mbakwe, but junior forward Rodney Williams and senior center Ralph Sampson III are serviceable in the paint and if it comes down to a junior Blake McLimans matchup with either, it might get ugly for Michigan.
  2. Switch up between the 1-3-1 zone defense and man-to-man. The Gophers don’t have too many strong outside scoring threats, so if the Wolverines can throw out the 1-3-1 zone defense a bit to keep the tempo changing, Minnesota will be forced into reacting to what Michigan gives it. The only downside with the zone is that it puts players like Smotrycz and Morgan in a greater position to foul because of help defense and a greater area of coverage. But, if Beilein uses the 1-3-1 sparingly, it could be a good tool to force turnovers and get easy transition buckets.
  3. Share the ball to get balanced scoring. There will be games where sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. needs to score 20-plus points in order for the Wolverines to win. This is not one of them. Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said what made Michigan so difficult to defend was the number of options the Wolverines had for scoring. If Michigan shares the ball and gets double digits out of (at least) four of its players, the Wolverines put themselves in good position to put this one away early.

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