ARLINGTON, Texas -- We’ve all been warned. The server at any restaurant walks up to the table, sets down the food and says: “Be careful, this plate is very hot.”
But in life, knowing is feeling, just like seeing is believing. That’s why, even after we’re told time and time again we touch that hot plate and, inevitably, get burnt.
Lesson learned -- at least until next time.
The Michigan basketball team isn’t all that different from everyone else. Experiencing more success early in the season than even they envisioned, the Wolverines faced few challenges, routinely blowing out opponent after opponent. But despite that welcomed offensive success, Michigan coach John Beilein knew back in November that there were growing pains ahead. He knew that the learning curve defensively -- particularly with five freshmen in the rotation -- would be a steep one.
“We could see things where we said, ‘now this is going to be difficult,’” said Beilein. “Because defense is the hardest thing for them to learn and some of our veterans might be better defensively at this point.”
Listening to the coaches emphasize defense and toughness is one thing, but as a 19 or 20 year old kid, does it really sink in when the press notes say, ‘No. 1 team in the country?’
So the Wolverines touched the hot plate and were promptly stung with a burning sensation in their first loss of the season at Ohio State, then in a 23-point blow out loss at Michigan State, and once again as they gave Penn State their first conference win of the season in an 84-78 loss.
“The problem for those six losses were a lot of defensive lapses and rebounding the ball -- we weren’t doing a good job of that,” said freshman guard Nik Stauskas.
“Offensively, even if we are playing well, if we’re not locking up on defense, we can’t win games against good teams like Kansas. Everyday the emphasis we put on defense is huge and we’re spending the majority of our practices working on that.”
Michigan’s most recent ‘burn’ came in their second round Big Ten tournament loss to Wisconsin. Since then, the Wolverines handled South Dakota State and ran away from VCU, giving up just 54.5 points per game.
“That’s 100 percent the reason why we’re here,” said freshman Glenn Robinson III. “As long as we still stay committed to defense and keep approaching the game with a defensive mindset I think we’ll see what happens but that’s how we’ve got to approach the game because it’s worked the last two.
“As long as we listen to our coaches, we’ve got a lot of experience there, and that’s something that’s been helping us.”
To watch video of Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas, press play below.