I have a theory as to why we are struggling, and it’s really not that complicated.
1st premise: We played a fairly easy non-conference schedule with a few big games and managed to come through with a few miraculous performances.
2nd Premise: The BigTen schedule is more difficult than our non-conference schedule.
Now here are the two MOST IMPORTANT premises:
3rd Premise: The BigTen features bigger players, and a more brusing style of play.
4th Premise: John Beilein’s response to this is to relegate two of our biggest players to the bench and cut Zack Gibson’s minutes.
Tougher schedule + Opponents with more size – Playing time for our big men = Struggle
Here is the breakdown of average minutes per game. The “1st half season” represents the first 12 games, Michigan Tech through NC Central (essentially the non-conference schedule). The “2nd half season” represents the last 12 games, Wisconsin through UConn (pretty much the BigTen schedule).
1st half season: 14.08 (and that’s with a combined 17 minutes in the final 5 games)
2nd half season: 3.67
1st half season: 15.5
2nd half season: 5.08
1st half season: 14.5
2nd half season: 12.33
Now for comparison, mighty mite CJ Lee's minutes over that same period of time....
1st half season: 6.83
2nd half season: 15.3
Our team is NOT a good three point shooting team, and we’ve been getting killed down low defensively, struggled to get the ball to the rim, and have been consistently out-rebounded.
Playing Jevohn and Anthony more fills those needs as both of them are good defenders, and Jevohn is the only player on our team other than Manny that can slash and get to the rim. Ant Wright is also a fairly adept three-pointer shooter, certainly no worse than Manny, Lee or Merritt. At the very least they are two functional big bodies on a team severely lacking in size.
We also need more size because the four guard lineup is killing us in the BigTen. Zack Novak is a huge defensively liability at the four position. Granted, the kid busts his ass to get every single rebound but a 6-4, skinny, sharp-shooting guard is going to be out-rebounded every single night by the beastly forwards in the BigTen.
I hate to question Beilein, because I know he’s a great coach, and I’m not saying that CJ Lee is single-handedly destroying our tournament hopes, but we have enough hustling guards who shoot in the mid-30% from beyond the arc. We need more size down low, and we have two guys sitting on the bench, and a third who has seen his minutes decline, each of whom would fill this glaring need.
Manny is tired (as he should be, he’s our Mr.Everything) and isn’t getting as much rest as he was in the first half of the season. It’s clear that as a result of our team’s struggles he’s trying to shoulder even more of the load and as a result of the wear of the season and his trying to do more, he has become much more inefficient as of late. No one can replace him, but Jevohn and Anthony can at least provide him with rest, and if both are on the floor at the same time, they more than compensate for loss of size in Manny’s absence.
All in all, it’s just a theory.