The Michigan basketball team is a 38-point favorite over Binghamton in Tuesday night’s game. But that doesn’t necessarily equate to an easy week for the Wolverines.
Aside from the added stress of finals week, freshman forward Glenn Robinson III described practices as “way harder than the games.”
Michigan coach John Beilein echoed those sentiments, calling the scout team “cagey, son-of-a-guns back there.”
“Our scout team gives us the best games that we get sometimes,” Beilein said.
And that’ll likely hold true this week, when Michigan (9-0) welcomes the Bearcats to Crisler Center, where it has lost just once since the start of last season. Binghamton (2-8) is riding a four-game losing skid, including a 22-point loss to 5-3 Bryant on Sunday.
The Bearcats have just one player, freshman Jordan Reed, who averages in double figures. Reed is scoring 18.3 points per game, but has probably never played in an atmosphere like the one he’ll face in Ann Arbor.
Several blowout wins have allowed Beilein the flexibility to reach deep into his bench, sometimes playing upwards of 12-to-13 players. Weeks like this and games against foes such as the Bearcats allow Beilein the opportunity to continue putting the pieces together in his rotation with Big Ten play just a few weeks away.
“(The rotation is) set, but it’s never really set because foul trouble can change the whole rotation, or an injury,” Beilein said. “Generally, you shorten it later on in the year — I think every coach does — but nine or 10 would be good. Nine is always a pretty good number.”
The fight for a spot on the floor is an everyday battle, and eight players are scrapping for minutes, making practices this year some of the most intense Beilein has seen in his 34 years of coaching. He said that only two players, sophomore guard Trey Burke and junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr., don’t necessarily have to prove themselves on a daily basis, but that doesn’t hamper their effort in practice.
“Tim and Trey set the stage because they know they’re not — their minutes aren’t at stake like other guys’ may be at stake, (but) they’re the hardest two competitors we have,” Beilein said. “Everybody knows that we’re watching everything, because that’s how we dole out the minutes.
“So when (Tim and Trey) set that, it’s like Zack and Stu all over again — that set type of demeanor for every practice. It’s easy, everyone else just follows along.”
Redshirt freshman forward Max Bielfieldt, who sprained his ankle in practice last week, is questionable for Tuesday’s game. The forward hasn’t played since registering nine minutes against Bradley on Dec. 1, but was expected to practice Monday.
Even with an injured Bielfeldt, Beilein has more frontcourt depth than he’s ever had at Michigan. While redshirt forward junior Jordan Morgan, freshman forward Mitch McGary, and even redshirt sophomore Jon Horford see most of their action as the only true post presence on the floor, the sixth-year headman said he’d like to have two big men on the floor for about 10 minutes per game.
And even with a little time before conference play kicks off on Jan. 3, Beilein was careful not to push his players too hard on Sunday following the 80-67 win over Arkansas and its ‘40 minutes of hell’ playing style.
“The exams are here, everything is really tight,” he said. “After the Arkansas game, I needed a rest, let alone our team.”