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November 7, 2013

Notebook: Rebounding a concern for U-M

It's hard to find any fault at all in the Wolverines' 117-44 decimation of Concordia last week. Michigan gained control of the game from the outset and asserted their athletic will over the Cardinals for a full 40 minutes.

But if there was one thing that may have been not-so-great, it was boxing out. The Wolverines gave up 26 rebounds, including 10 offensive rebounds to the Cardinals, who were completely outmatched, size-wise for the game.

Although 10 offensive rebounds may not seem like a like, it is probably too many for a team like Concordia, who extended a few possessions and found buckets it otherwise would not have - which is kind of tough to say when a team scores just 44 points in a game.

Against Wayne State Monday, the Wolverines' rebounding ability officially became a concern. The Warriors out-rebounded Michigan, 26-22, on their way to a closer-than-expected 79-60 loss.

"It's a pretty big concern," fifth-year senior forward Jordan Morgan said. "We play in the Big Ten, and it's very physical. We have to be able to compete in that area. When shots aren't falling, that's where games are won, getting extra possessions and limiting their possessions. Their shooting percentage was where we wanted it to be, but they got far too many offensive rebounds."

Wayne State shot just 36.5 percent on the night, but extended possessions and created opportunities for itself offensively with 15 offensive boards.

"Our focus is always going to be our defensive intensity and communicating out there to get on the glass," sophomore guard Nik Stauskas said. "That's something we didn't do too well last game. It's something we have shown a lot of improvement on."

Of course, the team's rebounding prowess will likely spike upward in the near future, when sophomore forward Mitch McGary - pegged a preseason All-American by USA Today and the Associated Press - returns to the lineup.

McGary will not be available for Friday's season-opening game against UMass-Lowell.

So the Wolverines will have to make due without him for the time being, and that includes an increased focus on rebounding in practice.

"We have spent some time on that in practice, just boxing out," Morgan said. "We had the little bubble on the rim, making sure everyone is rebounding. At the end of the day, it will come down to whether we want to do it or not. The scout team can only do so much. They can't replicate the size and physicality we're going to see in the Big Ten."

Team Coming Together: Freshmen Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin will make their official Michigan debuts Friday night, but they both received plenty of action in Michigan's two exhibition games to work out some of the kinks.

""That's one of the things the exhibition games bring," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "Some of those jitters will be gone. With the exception of the banner going up and the rings, it will be very similar. We're going to have a sellout crowd again.

"I just like the way both of them have performed. They've come off the bench and hit shots like Zak did the other day, and Derrick as well. That's really been good for us."

Beilein certainly has a way with rookies. Heavily relying on Stauskas, McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Spike Albrecht and later Caris LeVert, Michigan won 16 straight games to open last season.

This year, the freshmen are, once again, fitting right in.

"It's a lot of fun playing with these guys," Morgan said. "It's obvious we have some talent, and I think we should have a fun season. We have fun playing together, and I have really enjoyed it. This summer, we played more basketball together in the gym than we maybe ever have. And I think it's pretty evident when we go out on the court together."

"Playing with those guys, we have a really good chemistry, and I think that showed in the first two exhibition games," Stauskas added. "Any time you get a group of guys who really like playing with each other and sharing the ball, you're going to be very effective on the offensive end."

Stauskas Humbled: In early January last season, Stauskas was asked if he thought he was the best shooter in the country.

"I think so, yeah," he replied, without hesitation.

Stauskas went on to have a bit of a rough patch, shooting-wise, in Big Ten play.

But he still hit 80-of-182 attempts from behind the arc (44.0 percent).

The sharpshooter hit 4-of-7 three-pointers (57.1 percent) in Michigan's two exhibition games.

But he is taking a different approach to boasting - or not - about his abilities this year.

"I think I jinxed myself a little bit last year when you asked me that question and I said I was the best shooter in the country," Stauskas said. "I'm not going to say it again this year. Just continue to get shots up in practice. Last year, I think I got a little tired, wasn't really used to the grind of the Big Ten season. I have to stay mentally focused and trust that I have shot maybe a million shots in my life, and I have put in the work. It's just another shot."


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