Hoops Picture Pages: Defensive Rebounding Woes

Submitted by Ace on March 13th, 2013 at 2:13 PM

The main reason Michigan lost a heartbreaker to Indiana on Sunday—yes, even more than their late-game free throw misses—was their inability to keep the Hoosiers off the offensive glass. Indiana rebounded 24 of their 40 missed shots; once second in the country in defensive rebounding, the Wolverines are now eighth in their own conference.

What's odd about this at first glance is that Michigan boasts a trio of centers who are all proficient rebounders. Jordan Morgan (#9) and Mitch McGary (#5) both rank among the top Big Ten players in defensive rebounding percentage, and Jon Horford would rank just ahead of Morgan if he played enough minutes to qualify.

After looking at the film, it's apparent that Michigan's bigs lack the support they need to defend the boards; the team's overall inexperience and poor perimeter defense are most apparent in this area. One play in particular from the Indiana game bears this out:

Let's look at this frame-by-frame, starting with the defensive lapse that begins the sequence—Tim Hardaway Jr. falling asleep in the corner and allowing Victor Oladipo to beat him on a backdoor cut:

Zeller has no problem getting the ball to Oladipo in great position for a shot. With Zeller and Jeremy Hollowell (#33, on the other side of the FT line from Zeller) at the top of the key—drawing Jordan Morgan and Glenn Robinson III way from the basket—Hardaway must fend for himself:

Here's where Michigan's rebounding issues begin in earnest. This is the point where Oladipo releases his shot. Note that Zeller, Morgan's man, has stayed on the perimeter, while Hollowell is crashing the paint behind Robinson. Hardaway is accounting for Oladipo and Robinson should be responsible for Hollowell; both are in decent position right here, while Nik Stauskas has been beaten to a good rebounding spot by Will Sheehy:

At the moment before Oladipo secures his own rebound, however, it's clear that Michigan's perimeter players haven't done their job. Hardaway first goes for the block and then reaches for the ball instead of putting a body on Oladipo, who will easily step by him and get the board. Robinson has watched the ball the entire time and allowed Hollowell a free pass to the basket. Stauskas is lucky not to give up a putback after letting Sheehy get right under the basket. Morgan is in solid position but the ball doesn't bounce his way. This is not good:

Oladipo kicks the ball out to Jordan Hulls, who gets a wide-open look from three after Trey Burke drifted away from the play. At the moment Hulls releases his shot, most of Michigan's players have at least partially recovered—Burke is attempting to close out, Morgan is on Zeller, and Hardaway and Stauskas have found their men. Robinson, however, is still watching the ball, unaware that Hollowell is on the complete opposite side of the lane:

As the shot comes off the rim, you can see three Wolverines—including Robinson—trying to box out two Hoosiers on the left side of the lane, while Morgan is left with the unenviable task of being one guy having to guard two guys:

This, predictably, does not go well. Zeller taps the rebound to Hollowell, who's able to gather the ball and go up for a layup despite Morgan's best efforts to be two Jordan Morgans.

To sum up, on this play we've got:

  • Hardaway falling asleep on a backdoor cut
  • Stauskas getting beat along the baseline
  • Hardaway not boxing out Oladipo
  • Robinson not boxing out Hollowell
  • Robinson not boxing out Hollowell again, nor even being in the same general area

Watch Robinson throughout the play, here in handy gif form:

He never leaves an area covering about 15 square feet until it's far too late. You know how coaches say the key to a freshman succeeding is having the game slow down for him? On defense, at least, the game is going about 200 mph for Robinson, who's trying to defend with his eyes instead of his feet—while he's watching the ball, he's losing his man.

One play doesn't make a trend, of course, but there were several other instances of Michigan's non-centers being the culprit for an offensive rebound.

[For more rebounding pain and suffering, hit THE JUMP.]

This is another example of Robinson failing to stay with his man. Off a baseline out of bounds, Indiana gets the ball to Yogi Ferrell, and the pre-inbounds screen action leaves Robinson on him after a switch. Ferrell drives the baseline and has to chuck the ball back out to to the top while falling out of bounds. While Indiana resets, Robinson fails to pick Ferrell back up, eventually getting beat baseline off the dribble. Jon Horford has to rotate over and help, allowing the Hoosiers to grab two more offensive rebounds before drawing a foul:

While bad rotations often lead to offensive rebounds, plain getting beat off the dribble tends to have the same result, as well. In this clip, Robinson is beat clean to the basket on a Christian Watford drive. Jordan Morgan has to slide over and attempt to take a charge. Watford misses, but Morgan is on the floor as Watford tries a putback, and in no position to box out Zeller when he tips in Watford's second miss:

Finally, there's simple bad decision-making. On this Zeller post touch, Trey Burke reaches for an improbable steal attempt instead of putting a body on Sheehy, who slips right by him for a critical second-chance basket:

While the Indiana game provided the most recent—and most painful—example, Michigan has struggled to rebound in most of their games against top conference competition (Wisconsin is an outlier in more ways than one). The concern, this deep in the season, is that it's too late to fix the issue before next season. If the light hasn't gone on defensively for Michigan's freshmen—especially Robinson and Stauskas—it's probably not going to happen in the next couple weeks. Hardaway is the veteran in the rotation, but three years into his career he still has regular defensive lapses (he also failed to close out on two critical second-half Hoosier threes). Burke's stepped up his on-ball defense significantly, but as a point guard he isn't going to have a big impact on the glass.

Michigan has enough talent and ability to make a deep run both this weekend and in the NCAA tournament. To go far, however, they're going to have to overcome their rebounding problems, and at this point offsetting them with an offensive explosion seems more likely than eliminating them entirely.


Naked Bootlegger

March 13th, 2013 at 2:25 PM ^

Nice analysis, Ace.   Rebounding is a team effort.   I saw a lot of complaints about our bigs not grabbing enough defensive boards, but these examples are clear cases where our bigs have been hung out to dry by the guards/wings not putting an ass in someone's stomach (BOX OUT!) after the shot goes up.    The only way Morgan gets a rebound in example #1 is if the ball caroms directly to his position.  Any off-angle carom is advantage IU. 

I absolutely loved boxing out on perimeter shots or on the free throw shooter.  Nothing pisses a shooter off more than getting a stomach-full of ass immediately after releasing the ball - except maybe getting their elbow grazed while shooting w/o the refs noticing.


March 13th, 2013 at 3:09 PM ^

Yea. On offense he's a wing but on defense he has to be a "big". It's just not working out for him right now and not to pick on him because he's a true freshman - in my opinion it's the single biggest cause of our rebounding and defensive issues.

It sure would've been nice to still have Smotrycz as an option at the 4. He would have provided equivalent offense (at least in the half court) and much better rebounding/defense. Especially during stretches of games like this when the pace slowed down. 


March 13th, 2013 at 9:32 PM ^

I agree with GRIII being part of the rebounding issue, but it's not because he is a wing playing a forward position. As previously stated:
What turns a 7' center into a 5'10" guard? Being boxed out.

GRIII doesn't need to be taller to simply put his body on somebody. I guarded taller players all the time. If you get into their core and don't let them use their advantage you win more battles than you lose.

Blue boy johnson

March 13th, 2013 at 2:40 PM ^

Good stuff and exemplifies rebounding issues being a team issue.

I don't know the answer, and I think the reasons are many, but down the stretch Mitch McGary's  rebounding regressed. Starting with the first MSU game, McGary was rarely a factor on the boards, and this team is at it's best when Mitch is effective rebounding the ball.

5 defensive rebounds in the final 7 games.  1 defensive rebound in the final 4 games. Yikes.

Mitch McGary rebounds down the stretch:


Opponent mins oreb dreb  total fouls
at Michigan State 26 2 2 4 0
Penn State 20 2 1 3 2
Illinois 16 1 1 2 3
at Penn State 8 3 0 3 1
Michigan State 21 3 1 4 2
at Purdue 13 0 0 0 3
Indiana 8 2 0 2 4



March 13th, 2013 at 2:32 PM ^

Always keep both your man and the ball in your vision and don't get caught watching. It's the first things they teach you in grade school basketball but It happens to all our guys more than it should.


March 13th, 2013 at 2:40 PM ^

When we're trying to teach our second graders defense, that's the phrase.  The three things you need to see are the ball, your man, and you (which means your hands need to be UP).  If you can stay between your guy and the basket and see Ball-Man-You you're doing it right (until you need to learn how to front a guy...). 


March 13th, 2013 at 2:33 PM ^

Simply do not want to rebound and play way too soft. I can tolerate some of the steal attempts or reach ins getting you out of position (at least that is aggressive). But as soon as the ball is up get between your man and the hoop (which is where you should be anyways) and put a body on him. Oladipo is what 6-4 and crashes the boards. MSU wings have done this for 10+ years.

Look at Stauskas on the gif. Sheehy is bossing him around even when Stauskas is paying attention. Robinson routinely gets out muscled (more than Novak even did).

Mental lapses are excusable for the frosh (probably shouldn't be this late in the season but whatever). But the lack of intensity is troubling.

And the fact that THjr still can't do this makes me think this is on coaching and doesn't bode well for Robinson and Stauska's future.THjr has started for 3 years now and obviously its not getting drilled in. Just being a good shooter shouldn't guarantee you PT at the 2-4. Maybe with more depth Belein will be able to bench people who do not hustle on both ends.

Would Belien bench a shooter for a wing that plays D and rebs??? I dunno.

Blue boy johnson

March 13th, 2013 at 2:39 PM ^

Beilein took the blame for the poor rebounding in the post game IU presser, basically saying the coaches had to coach better. Coach also mentioned they go over every rebound in every practice and the guys are boxing out in practice but lapsing in the games.

Blue boy johnson

March 13th, 2013 at 3:09 PM ^

I don't have answers and I am not here to ream any individual on the team. I truly think it is a team issue. Last years team seemed to box out much better than this years team, but then again, we had two seniors playing big minutes last year.

As far as THJ, whatever his mental lapses, he's a good rebounding guard, and does get a lot of tough rebounds. In the overall scheme of things, I don't think THJ is the coaches biggest concern vis a vis rebounding.

THJ's final five games rebounding:

Opponent mins oreb dreb  total fouls
Illinois 36 1 6 7 0
at Penn State 34 0 7 7 1
Michigan State 38 0 7 7 0
at Purdue 31 0 5 5 0
Indiana 36 0 2 2 1



March 13th, 2013 at 2:58 PM ^

I think the coaches absolutely would bench a shooter for a defensive player who rebounds.....but we don't have them.  In this post you saw Robinson and Stauskas make major mistakes and Hardaway make a few himself.  Those are your three wing players.  Who do you replace them with?

On the bench you have two tiny freshmen (Spike & Caris), a senior who never plays and isn't known for either defense or rebounding (Vogrich), and a big freshman who isn't athletic enough to play the wing (Max). 

They are really missing an athletic PF who can come off the bench for D and rebounding.  As much as I like Max Bielfeldt, I sort of wish they would have signed Larry Nance Jr. for that role.  He'd be a 6'7" athlete who could play some D and rebound.  By playing him at the 4 off the bench you could rotate your wings more and give GR3 some minutes at the SF spot where he might have an advantage physically. 

Indiana Blue

March 13th, 2013 at 2:48 PM ^

we lost because of rebounding.  But we did actually lose because of the free throws at the end of the game.  

The reason we didn't win by 20 points was rebounding.

Go Blue!


March 13th, 2013 at 2:51 PM ^

Rebounding is undoubtedly an issue but all teams aren't good at everything, and this team was excellent at something that almost nullified the slaughter on the boards - turnover margin. Indiana turned the ball over 10 more times than we did, while we allowed 11 more offensive rebounds than we secured. The two stats basically nullify each other. So...we really did lose because of the Free Throws.

Indiana Blue

March 13th, 2013 at 3:35 PM ^

sometimes the truth isn't what peoiple want to hear or read.   There are so many facets to any basketball game that you could blame any one category ... but how many people remember the details of a football game when the FG kicker misses a "chip shot" FG on the last play of the game and your team loses.

I love THJ and Trey - but the facts are if they hit 4 free throws - Michigan wins.

Go Blue!


March 13th, 2013 at 4:48 PM ^

It is easy to fixate on the things that take place at the very end of a game, but we simply would have never been in that situation had we rebounded better throughout the entire ballgame. Look at it this way: Had we kept up with Indiana on the boards, we probably would have won this game by 10-15 points. Those free throws at the end should have been meaningless potential points tagged on to a double digit victory. It's not poor free-throw shooting that's going to potentially kill us in the tournament, it's our inability to rebound the basketball with consistency. In my opinion, it's the primary thing that is preventing this team from being elite.

Indiana Blue

March 14th, 2013 at 7:34 AM ^

the game is what happens at the time.  IU missed tons of layups, especially in the first half.  What if ...   The odds are overwhelmingly in favor of Michigan winning that game.  Up by 5 with 52 seconds ... how many contested rebounds occurred in the last 52 seconds ?  Everyone knew they were going to foul us AND everyone knows that if we hit free throws we win the game.   It really is that simple.

Go Blue!



March 14th, 2013 at 10:43 AM ^

Not trying to be mean, but I don't really understand your logic here. fixating on missed free-throws at the end of a game is also a "what if" scenario. My point is that if we are going to play the "what if" game, then our focus should be on the rebounding rather than missed free-throws since the rebounding issue has basically been a common denominator in all of our losses this year. On the other hand, poor free-throw shooting hasn't been a huge problem in our losses. Focusing solely on the things that take place at the very end of a game is a pretty impulsive thing to do. If you look at the big picture, rebounding is the main problem, and it is going to continue to be the main problem going forward. When opposing teams consistently get 2-3 shot attemps on one offensive possession and you only get one shot attempt on most of your possessions, you are going to have an incredibly difficult time winning. We do a lot of things well, but the rebounding issue basically negates all of it.


March 14th, 2013 at 11:37 AM ^

the youngest team to be great at rebounding while already being great on offense and not turning the ball over.

Yes, we all want a perfect team.  Maybe we'll get it one day, but the program is still growing.  It also helps when the top talent we get sticks around.

Imagine if Darius Morris and Ekpe Udoh (even Smot too) stuck around.  Much more experience, much more depth.  We probably win the B1G this year.


March 14th, 2013 at 12:36 PM ^

"being great on offense and not turning the ball over" actually require skill, which this team obviously has. Rebounding, on the other hand, doesn't really require skill. It is basically something that any given team can do. Identify your man, put a body on him, and box him out. You don't have to be an athletic freak to do this, even though we have some athletic freaks on the team. You don't even have to be taller than the player you are defending. If you box your opponent out, even if he is taller than you, it will be difficult for him to get a rebound over you without fouling.

I don't expect this team to be "great" at rebounding, but I do think that it is reasonable to expect them to hold their own on the glass, which they have not been able to do against decent to good Big Ten teams. Because this is not really a matter of skill, there isn't much of an excuse for it. It would be unreasonable for me to expect an unskilled team to all of a sudden become skilled, but this is a totally different issue. This team has so much potential. It's simply frustrating to watch them lose games that they would win easily if only they could rebound--a thing that doesn't take much skill to do.


March 14th, 2013 at 11:31 AM ^

Both teams are nearly equal (IU being better), but our best players literally had free opportunities at home to be the equal of IU.  Michigan had its opportunity and didn't take it.  IU doesn't get blown out all that often.  Last year, yes; this year, not so much.

Hopefully Michigan learns from that loss and continues getting better.

Rusty Knuckles

March 13th, 2013 at 2:52 PM ^

If Hollowell misses that shot, I'm pretty sure Zeller would get the rebound.  Sheesh.  Need help from everyone.

And yes, seeing your man and the ball is basic and half the team got lost on 1 play.  Figure it out, please.


March 13th, 2013 at 2:54 PM ^

I coached HS ball for decades,if I learned anything it's that defensive fundementals must be drilled daily,not 'talked about','pointed out in film study'etc.I also learned that 90% of coaches are either offensive or defensive minded.Beilein is a clearly an offensive minded coach.The way this team plays def. (and lack of improvement) indicates to me that Beilein simply doesn't spend enough time at practice on it.I've had JV teams that were better fundementally than our team is on def.Indiana got the ball to Zeller with ease and I saw no def adjustment ie zone,double Zeller on dribble,front him etc. I blame Beilein for the defensive shortcomings on this team.


March 13th, 2013 at 3:17 PM ^

Maybe, maybe not.  But if you look at Beilein's teams here and his teams at WVU, they all have some things in common - mainly that they were efficient on offense, took care of the ball really well, and struggled on the boards.  I can't remember where he was before WVU (Richmond, maybe?) but I think looking at the past 6 or 8 years at WVU and Michigan, you can come to a clear conclusion that the strengths of Beilein's teams are never defense or rebounding.  It seems to be a clear trend, something you have to live with.  As other posters have mentioned in this thread, the lower turnover rate does cancel out the bad rebouning to an extent.  I just wonder why we can't have both?  Also, we don't seem to crash the boards nearly as hard as other teams, and Beilein will often (such as at the end of the IU game) not even put offensive players along the lane for free throws.  I think it's just his philosophy.

Don't get me wrong, I still like him and think he's a good coach, but I've always had this personal criticism of Beilein.  I don't think he's going to change any time soon and start fielding teams whose strengths are D & rebounding, so I think we need to learn to live with that while enjoying the efficient offenses.


March 13th, 2013 at 3:53 PM ^

But our strength was rebounding and defense in the first half of the season.  We were #2 in defensive rebounding, if memory serves correct, at one point.

Then we started playing teams like Minnesota - who will kill every team they play on the boards - and Indiana - who has two POTY candidates as their leading rebounders.

It's just really naive to say things like "he's not focusing on defense."  Naive bordering on trolling/stupid.

It's jimmies and joes, not x's and o's.



March 13th, 2013 at 9:11 PM ^

I'm not going to go back and look at the tape, but is it that hard to believe?  We are a small team. We play a bunch of freshmen. Yeah, I would expect to get outrebounded on many nights. We have to make up for it in other ways (protecting the ball).

You can practice boxing out all you want until you're blue in the face. I've done it. In the end, it comes down to players getting the ball. You can instill the desire, work on the technique all you want. Sometimes players are bigger and taller and quicker. Boxing out someone bigger and more athletic than you is not an easy task for any player.

I've thought all year that our suppossed talent advantage was overrated. The conference play proved that. We lack rebounders. So, no, I'm not surprised we get outrebounded when you're relying on THJ to be your second leading rebounder and Mitch McGary's minutes are always limited due to foul trouble.  We lack size.


March 13th, 2013 at 3:34 PM ^

I coached HS ball for decades,if I learned anything it's that defensive fundementals must be drilled daily,not 'talked about','pointed out in film study'etc.I also learned that 90% of coaches are either offensive or defensive minded.Beilein is a clearly an offensive minded coach.The way this team plays def. (and lack of improvement) indicates to me that Beilein simply doesn't spend enough time at practice on it.I've had JV teams that were better fundementally than our team is on def.Indiana got the ball to Zeller with ease and I saw no def adjustment ie zone,double Zeller on dribble,front him etc. I blame Beilein for the defensive shortcomings on this team.

If you truly were a coach, or at least a decent coach, you'd realize you're falsely assuming a lot of things in this post.

Coaches are either 90% defense or 90% offense?  Who comes up with that?  You really think they don't spend "enough time" on defense? You really think Michigan doesn't know the fundamentals of basketball as well as your JV team?

John Beilein has forgotten more about basketball than you ever will know.


March 13th, 2013 at 3:37 PM ^

"Coaches are either 90% defense or 90% offense?  Who comes up with that?"

Just for the record, that's not what he said.  He said that 90% of coaches are either offensive minded or defensive minded, meaning that they focus on one above the other.  NOT, as you seem to be implying, that they spend 90% of their time on one and 10% on the other.

I don't know if he's right or not on the numbers he suggested, but I'd definitely agree that Beilein is an "offense first" type of coach.


March 13th, 2013 at 3:45 PM ^

Oops, my mistake. However, my main point still stands.

Given how Beilein practically invented the 1-3-1 and has since changed his philosophy to man given the talent he has, I would say that Beilein emphasizes defense a hell of a lot.

Plus, if you've ever been to any Michigan practice or even read articles about them, you would never compare them to a high school JV team offensively or defensively.  They work on it. A lot. Obviously.


March 13th, 2013 at 7:26 PM ^

My first point is that based on what I've seen of Mich games (including rewatching tapes) is that we are lacking in basic def. fundemantals (Ace does a great job demonstating that). My second point is that those fundementals are learned by constant daily drills as opposed to 'talking about it','film study.'My 3rd point is that the practice drills require a LOT of time  because none of it comes naturally and my observations of our performance on game day "INDICATES TO ME" that the required time isn't being spent.Obviously I don't see practices so I can't be certain.I also stand by my statement that 90% of coaches (based on my years of coaching) are either offensive or defensive minded.The def effort vs IU was very good but our poor def fundementals were exposed (especially def reb) as they are in nearly every game.Beilein is a fine coach but his teams typically are poor defensive teams and this year is no exception.


March 13th, 2013 at 9:00 PM ^

Fine. As a coach myself, I'm pretty amused by this viewpoint. All the coaches I've worked with have understood the need to focus equally on offense and defense, or slightly unequally depending on personelle.

You're taking one missed box out in a game against one of the best rebounding teams in the nation as "evidence" that Beilein's teams are typically poor defensive fundamentals. Um, ok.

As someone who has attended a Michigan practice, though, let me just say that you're incorrect in your assumptions.


March 14th, 2013 at 11:22 AM ^

young legs; young minds.  Yes, I agree we have now have athletes.  But our young bigs (McGary, GRIII, Beifeldt and Horford) that play have such little experience that mental lapses result.

At this level, to win, you have to be solid at everything--at a high speed.  These guys don't have enough experience to be solid at everything every night on instinct.  It's like taking an exam.  You study all the material and may know it, but if you can't recall the information out on reflex, you probably don't know it well enough to get the right answers in the allotted time.  You might still pass, but you're not necessarily going to get an A grade.

 If our young bigs have a great night rebounding, they still might miss a defensive rotations or miss making the right pass or fail to make the right read etc.  When they do well in any of these other things, they might forget to find the right man to box out.

Just give the program time to keep growing.  We should be patient.

We all want excellence now, but each team (except the disappointment of year 3) of Beilein's tenure has been getting better than the previous one.  It's doing this despite our top shelf talent not sticking around to be upperclassmen. 


March 14th, 2013 at 2:32 AM ^

i guarantee beilein spends way more time on D in practice than O, especially given all the frosh.  you can always manufacture points with a simple offense and a guy like burke.  but it takes 5 players in sync to play solid D. 

and i've heard former beilein players say that it takes a year for all of the D instructions to take hold.


March 13th, 2013 at 2:55 PM ^

with rebounding  IU's  missed free throws in the second half? On at least three occcasions and possibly more,  IU missed the front end of a one and one but then recovered the rebound off the miss.  I understand the unexpected long bounce off the rim creates problems.  Still, it went in IU's favor so often that  I couldn't help think that IU was doing something srategic  to get those rebonds, or our guys were doing something wrong.


March 13th, 2013 at 3:07 PM ^

Good analysis. I think anyone with a pair of eyes could have seen all season that GRIII does nothing but ball watch, hoping it falls to him. Defensive rebounding is so easy from a fundamental standpoint; just find a man and put your body into him. 


March 13th, 2013 at 3:09 PM ^

This is the first offseason where we can make a case for saying that the team underachieved (though I wouldn't)

I'm interested to see how Beilein reacts. More defensive coaching? Bringing back the 1 - 3 -1 (which frustrated everyone that played against it)?