Michigan Basketball: 5 Ways Wolverines Must Improve Before March

Zach Dirlam@Zach_DirlamSenior Analyst IIFebruary 14, 2014

Michigan Basketball: 5 Ways Wolverines Must Improve Before March

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    Michigan has improvements to make, despite the fact it sits atop the Big Ten standings.
    Michigan has improvements to make, despite the fact it sits atop the Big Ten standings.Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

    Yes, the Michigan basketball team is tied with Michigan State atop the Big Ten Conference standings, but there are five improvements it still needs to make before the most important month of the season. Without taking steps forward in the following areas, the Wolverines will be hard-pressed to return to the Final Four in April.

    That being said, the Maize and Blue are doing just fine right now. Michigan has already played its toughest road games and are nearly at the end of the most grueling stretch of its 2013-14 campaign.

    The Wolverines can already see the light at the end of the tunnel. To get there as champions, however, and make yet another deep run in the NCAA tournament, they have to get better in these areas.

Offensive Rebounding

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    Jon Horford and the Wolverines have to get better on the offensive glass.
    Jon Horford and the Wolverines have to get better on the offensive glass.Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    One area Michigan tends to struggle in due to its undersized rotation is on the offensive glass. The Wolverines are only grabbing 27.4 percent of available offensive rebounds, which ranks No. 235 nationally, per Team Rankings.

    Up to this point, the Maize and Blue have done just fine without cleaning up very many of their own misses. However, come March, games are much closer and second-chance points have the potential to decide those tight contests. 

    Michigan does not have to become one of the nation's elite offensive rebounding teams by the time the NCAA tournament rolls around, though. Simply finding a way to get back to the 30.2 offensive rebounding percentage the Wolverines put up a season ago would be enough of an improvement. Last year's figure would rank No. 155 in the country.

    It will be up to Glenn Robinson III and the Wolverines' group of big men to be more aggressive and do a better job of boxing out on the offensive glass down the closing stretch of the 2013-14 campaign.

Transition Defense

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    Transition defense has to become a priority heading into the NCAA tournament.
    Transition defense has to become a priority heading into the NCAA tournament.Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

    Michigan's transition defense has been an issue all season long. Recent games against Iowa and Ohio State further exposed the Wolverines' problem, which does not appear to have an easy fix.

    Against the Hawkeyes, no one seemed to find Roy Devyn Marble in transition. This led to several clean looks and contributed to Marble's 26-point performance. Three days later in Columbus, the Buckeyes took advantage of Michigan's struggles with switching ends. Aaron Craft's alley-oop to Sam Thompson is one of the more lasting images of the Wolverines' failure to defend on the fly.

    Far too many times, there is an opposing player running free and spotting up for an open jump shot in transition while Michigan is simply trying to figure out its defensive assignments. 

    The Wolverines excel when they are the ones piling up points in transition. Unless they find a way to keep opposing teams from getting open shots when changing ends, though, Michigan could wind up making an early exit in the NCAA tournament. 

Caris LeVert's Mid-Range Jumper

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    Caris LeVert is struggling to knock down two-point jumpers.
    Caris LeVert is struggling to knock down two-point jumpers.Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Caris LeVert has taken significant strides forward since last season, but he is still struggling to knock down mid-range jump shots. The sophomore shooting guard is shooting just 29.4 percent on two-point jumpers this season, according to Hoop-Math.

    One factor dragging down LeVert's percentage from inside the arc is the amount of shots he is asked to take when the offense is not flowing well. When teams were able to limit Nik Stauskas' scoring, more often than not, the lanky Ohioan was forced to create offense on his own. This usually results in a forced shot, which explains why his efficiency inside the arc is dropping.

    If Glenn Robinson III continues to struggle, LeVert will be called upon to carry a heavier load at the offensive end of the floor. For that to happen, he has to start knocking down mid-range shots.

    When those attempts are falling, LeVert is a difficult matchup. The more mismatches Michigan is able to create in March, the longer its season will last.

Interior Defense

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    Michigan has to do a better job of defending the paint.
    Michigan has to do a better job of defending the paint.Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

    In addition to Michigan's woes in transition, defending the paint has proved to be just as challenging. Over the past two games, the Wolverines have surrendered 70 points on the interior.

    It is a bit understandable for Michigan to give up 34 points to a much larger Iowa group. Allowing Ohio State, which only has the incredibly inconsistent Amir Williams to go to in the post, to score 36 points in the paint is completely inexcusable.

    The only reason the Wolverines were able to overcome being dominated in the paint is because of the Buckeyes' inability to shoot the basketball. For much of the second half, Michigan continuously sagged below the perimeter and dared Ohio State to win the game by knocking down jump shots. The Buckeyes were not up to the task, but upcoming opponents Wisconsin and Michigan State are much better shooting teams.

    The Wolverines have to find a way to keep opposing clubs from dominating the paint. Otherwise, it will be a short postseason run for the Maize and Blue.

Glenn Robinson III's Consistency

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    Glenn Robinson III has to improve his play in marquee games.
    Glenn Robinson III has to improve his play in marquee games.Adam Hunger/Getty Images

    Tuesday night's clash with Ohio State was another opportunity for Glenn Robinson III to silence his doubters with a stellar performance on a national stage. Unfortunately, the sophomore small forward went just 3-of-10 from the field and scored nine points. Meanwhile, true freshman Zak Irvin gobbled up the spotlight with a pair of three-pointers and 10 points off the bench.

    Oh, and Robinson's latest performance came right on the heels of a 1-of-7 effort against Iowa. 

    The issue for Robinson right now is his jump shot. The 6'6", 220-pounder is shooting a mere 28.9 percent from beyond the arc and 37.4 percent on two-point jumpers, according to Hoop-Math

    The only positive is that the Wolverines will play their toughest remaining games at home, where Robinson's numbers are actually very good. In 11 home contests this season, he is knocking down shots at a 51.2 percent clip and is a respectable 15-of-46 (32.6 percent) from distance. On the road, Robinson only makes 42.7 percent of his attempts and is 3-of-18 on three-pointers.

    Hopefully, he can find his shooting stroke against Wisconsin this weekend. Without Robinson playing at a high level in the NCAA tournament, though, Michigan's chances of returning to the Final Four take a hit.