The Michigan Wolverines failed to pass their first major test of the 2013-14 college basketball season.
Previously unranked Iowa State exposed some flaws other teams are likely to exploit down the road in its 77-70 victory over the Maize and Blue.
Head coach John Beilein's club does not have anything to be ashamed about, though. As much as an early loss stings, it is by no means a crushing defeat. Anyone near the panic button in Ann Arbor needs to back away. There were plenty of positives to take away from the loss.
Mitch McGary returned to the lineup and looked impressive. He finished with nine points on 4-of-7 shooting, grabbed six rebounds and notched four steals in 22 minutes. It wasn't too shabby for a guy who has only gone through one full practice this year.
Freshman point guard Derrick Walton got to the basket well and looked much more assertive in the second half.
Spike Albrecht chipped in seven points off the bench and proved he will continue to be an asset.
The highlight of the evening, though, was none other than Nik Stauskas. It is quite amazing to see how far he has come since last season. The sophomore shooting guard made 3-of-5 three-pointers after starting just 1-of-5, dished out six assists and snatched four boards. Had some of his teammates knocked down open looks, Stauskas could have finished with close to 10 helpers.
Then there was this, of course:
The Wolverines are only going to improve every time they hit the floor. Last season, Michigan knew what it was and played at a high level for most of the campaign. This year's team is still figuring out how to work as one cohesive unit. It's not very surprising since a Wooden Award-winner and All-Big Ten shooting guard left early.
"It was a step forward for everyone on our team. We’ve got guys out there playing huge minutes who have not played huge minutes," Beilein said in a post-game press conference, according to UMHoops. "There’s a whole evolution going on here with this team where only games can move us in the right direction to fact-find what works the best."
Michigan is barely scratching the surface of what it will be by the end of the 2013-14 campaign.
Going forward, however, these four things have the potential to derail any hopes the Wolverines have at a league title and deep postseason run.
Glenn Robinson III's Shooting Struggles
There is no way Michigan can accomplish any of its goals this season if Glenn Robinson III does not play at a high level. Through three games, one major flaw remains in Robinson's game—consistently shooting the basketball.
In 2012-13, Robinson converted 48.9 percent of his two-point jumpers and 32.4 percent of attempts from beyond the arc. To take the next step this season, those numbers both had to increase.
So far, neither one is trending upward. The 6'6", 220-pounder only knocked down 4-of-14 shots against Iowa State. Through three games, he is shooting 16.7 percent from distance and 31.2 percent on jumpers inside the arc.
Making matters worse, Robinson has looked completely out of rhythm being "the man" for this team. He has consistently settled for jump shots rather than attacking the basket. Only 17.6 percent of his shots have come at the rim this season. Beilein and Co. have to figure out ways to raise that number.
Unless Robinson can be an effective scorer, the Wolverines are bound to disappoint.
Caris LeVert's Post Defense
After being effective at both ends of the floor early on, sophomore shooting guard Caris LeVert found himself overmatched.
The lanky Ohioan only made 2-of-9 attempts in 37 minutes. The Cyclones also made sure to get LeVert into the post at the defensive end of the floor, an area in which he will struggle until he packs on more muscle.
Take this play for example. LeVert is matched up on DeAndre Kane to begin the sequence, which is an ideal situation.
The mismatch is created once Georges Niang comes over to set a screen for Kane. As a result, LeVert switches and takes Niang, while Stauskas winds up on Kane.
Immediately recognizing the desirable matchup, Kane throws the ball to Niang near the lane. LeVert is backed into the post, where he is easily overpowered. This basket ended any hopes Michigan had at coming back late in the game.
Opposing teams will look to take LeVert into the post as much as possible. On the perimeter, his length is a great asset and can bother opposing shooters. Anywhere near the paint, though, he simply does not have the strength to stand up to stronger 2s, 3s or 4s.
Too Much Shooting, Not Enough Driving
This tweet from CBS Sports' Seth Davis basically sums up Michigan's evening in Ames:
Lotta jump shots from the Wolverines these last few possessions. Gotta get to the rim on the road.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) November 17, 2013
Three-point shooting is an important part of the Wolverines' offense, but they relied on it far too often against the Cyclones. The Maize and Blue were a mere 8-of-29 (27.6 percent) from long range. Most of the looks their shooters had were open. It is hard to fault players for taking open shots. Down the stretch, however, it would have been better for Michigan to attack the basket.
It is not as if Iowa State completely stifled the Wolverines in the paint either. Michigan managed to score 38 points inside. Settling for jump shots will not amount to a lot of victories in pivotal games for this team.
Entering Enemy Territory
Throughout the past three campaigns, Beilein and Co. have struggled in true road games.
|Michigan's Road Woes|
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Winning on the road is one of the most difficult things to do in college basketball. Still, with the talent Michigan has, it is not unreasonable to expect it to win a marquee game or two in a hostile environment.
For most of Sunday's tilt with Iowa State, the Wolverines remained composed. Down the stretch, the game slipped away from them and the crowd certainly contributed to their downfall. Over the final 8:48, the Cyclones outscored Michigan, 24-10. It was a clear indication of fading on the road.
This season's road slate is going to be rigorous. Trips to Duke, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State stand out. Traveling to Purdue and Illinois will not be easy either.
Thankfully, the young Wolverines were exposed to a raucous environment early in the year. They will be much better off for it. Will it be enough of a learning experience for Michigan to end some of its road woes, though? That remains to be seen.
Want to talk more Michigan basketball? Follow me on Twitter @Zach_Dirlam.
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