- Alden Reiss/Daily
By Colleen Thomas, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 14, 2013
In a season full of success and promise, the youthfulness of the No. 5 Michigan men’s basketball team has been the storyline all season.
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First, it was freshman guard Nik Stauskas’ impressive shooting abilities that helped earn him a spot in the starting five. Then, it was the development of freshman forward Mitch McGary in the post as he lost weight and learned to control his body. Next, it was freshman forward Glenn Robinson III who went on a hot streak, scoring at least 10 points per game in a stretch between Dec. 20 and Jan. 9.
All of the doubts about a young team struggling early in the season had slowly disappeared over the course of the Wolverines’ 16-0 start. But after an ugly 56-53 road loss to No. 11 Ohio State on Sunday, in which Michigan trailed by as much as 21 points, the inexperience in a tough conference game was noticeable.
“I don’t like to make excuses about our young team, but we found out the way that game started (Sunday) about the speed and the strength of the Big Ten,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “Our young guys — and once again, we have two juniors playing, a sophomore playing and five freshmen that are playing a lot of minutes — are going to really learn how this game is played in this league very quickly. It will be a very hands-on experience for them.”
Stauskas, McGary and Robinson have continued their improvements on both sides of the ball through the first few games of the conference slate. The recent emergence of freshman guard Caris LeVert as one of the team’s best defenders coming off the bench and freshman guard Spike Albrecht’s career performance against the Buckeyes have made a case for the Wolverines as one of the deepest teams in the Big Ten with eight players — five freshmen — consistently contributing.
But Sunday was a struggle for four of the five rookies. Stauskas was held scoreless — he went 0-for-3 — due to sophomore guard Trey Burke’s inability to penetrate and kick out and Ohio State guard Aaron Craft doing his best to deny Burke anything in the lane or passing options on the perimeter. The Mississauga, Ontario native got in foul trouble early, too, which limited his playing time.
“The foul trouble is going to limit his touches, and Ohio (State)’s defense is going to limit his touches as well,” Beilein said. “You don’t know (the limits) until you see it. They did the same thing last year to some of our guys, and they locked the rails and make you play two on two through the middle.
“We said that between having Craft and (Evan) Ravenel, those are tough guys to be able to beat. They said, ‘Somebody else is going to beat us besides Nik Stauskas.’ ”
Robinson scored eight points, close to his average of 12 per game, but was held to only one rebound. Coming in from the wing, Robinson is one of the team’s greatest rebounding assets, averaging almost six per game, but struggled against a more physical Buckeye squad.
Stauskas and Robinson, the two freshman starters, shot a combined 27 percent on Sunday. The duo, along with Burke and junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr., have combined for 59 of Michigan’s average of 79 points per game but on Sunday, they tallied just 40 points.
In addition to Stauskas and Robinson, McGary, the Wolverines’ leading rebounder, was limited on the boards and LeVert played just nine minutes and missed both of his free throws.
So as much as the freshmen struggled on Sunday, how do you prepare the youngsters for a challenging Big Ten road game?
“It’s hard to do that,” Beilein said. “We thought we did as much as we could by playing Arkansas, by playing North Carolina State, Kansas State, Pittsburgh, going to Bradley, you do everything you can. There’s a process, there’s some things in the process that you can’t speed up, no matter what you do.
“They have really performed way above what many freshmen accomplish at this time. (Ohio State) was too difficult a task.”