In Brooklyn, another chance to make a statement
After falling short against No. 1 Arizona last week, it appeared the Michigan men’s basketball team had let its last chance for a signature non-conference win slip by.
But after Stanford upset No. 10 Connecticut on Wednesday, the Wolverines (6-4) will have one more shot at a statement victory Saturday night against the Cardinal at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. in the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational.
The game will be the first matchup between the two schools in over 50 years — they last met in the 1959 Pacific Coast Tournament — but won’t be the first time that either program has played at the home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets.
While Michigan will make its second trip ever to the arena after beating West Virginia there last year, Stanford (8-2) will be making its third appearance at the Barclays Center this season. The Cardinal played there twice in the Legend Classic during the week of Thanksgiving.
With two games in Brooklyn already under its belt, Stanford will look to continue its hot shooting — especially from guard Anthony Brown, who has made eight out of nine 3-point attempts during his time in the borough.
While Brown, along with his 15.2 points per game, will be something to watch for Michigan on defense, so will the play of guard Chasson Randle — who leads the Cardinal with 18.6 points per game — and forward Dwight Powell, Stanford’s third-leading scorer. Powell also leads the team with 8.1 rebounds per game and 4.2 assists per game.
“They have two great shooters,” said Michigan coach John Beilein to reporters on Friday. “They have a point-forward at (6-foot-10) in Powell that can do so many things. He can rebound. He leads them in assists.”
The Wolverines will be faced with the task of playing against Powell, a big man with an ability to distribute, and there remains the possibility that they will be without their forward with similar talents — sophomore Mitch McGary.
“There could be (a chance we put him back on the bench),” Beilein said to reporters. “We’ll see. If he doesn’t practice well or can’t practice well (Friday), you won’t see him at Stanford.”
With a week off since their last game, Beilein and the Wolverines have been cautious with the Chesterton, Ind. native, who is still recovering from a lower back injury that held him out for Michigan’s first two regular-season contests.
And while the forward has played in every game since that point, it’s clear he isn’t close to the level he demonstrated in the Wolverines’ NCAA Tournament run last year.
“He’s injured,” Beilein said to reporters. “He’s injured in more places than I care to mention. And so we tried to put a weekend of no contact, no jumping, no bounce — just cardio. And then put him in the action and we’ll practice him (Friday). … He is not even close to 100 percent.”
With McGary’s availability uncertain, the playing time of fifth-year senior and redshirt junior forwards Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford could go up. And with that added playing time comes an emphasis on rebounding, especially after Michigan’s poor second-half performance against Arizona.
“Coming into this game, I think rebounding is going to be a priority for us, and we’ll definitely be focused on that,” sophomore guard Nik Stauskas said to reporters on Friday.
Though whether McGary will play Saturday remains unknown, at least two of his teammates have different opinions on if he should compete despite the injuries.
“Any Mitch is a good Mitch,” sophomore guard Spike Albrecht said to reporters on Friday. “He brings a lot of energy to this team and a lot of passion.”
Added Stauskas: “Having Mitch out there makes a big difference for us. We need him to be 100 percent out there to be the Mitch we know he can be.”