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Michigan throttles Northern Michigan in exhibition opener

By Everett Cook, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 1, 2012

It’s hard to draw conclusions from preseason basketball games, especially for a Michigan basketball team that has the hype of the No. 5 team in the nation playing against a Northern Michigan team that went 9-17 in Division II last year.

There are takeaways from these preseason games, but again, it’s only an exhibition game.

Still, even though it’s November and even though it was against Northern Michigan, it was easy to tell on Thursday night that this Michigan team, from top to bottom, can really shoot. And even that might be an understatement.

Michigan shot 42-percent from beyond three point range en route to a 83-47 win over the Wildcats in its’ exhibition opener. The game was never close, as the Wolverines started off the game on a 17-0 run — and that was only their first 17-0 run of the night.

The first three and a half minutes of the game started like this for the Wolverines: 3-pointer, 3-pointer, 3-point play, 3-pointer, 3-pointer. Five possessions, 15 points.

“That was really big for our team,” freshman forward Glenn Robinson III said. “I think it got everyone going, especially for me and Spike (Albrecht) being the two freshman out there, I think that that calmed our nerves a little going into the game. We just found our rhythm as a team.”

Albrecht, the freshman point guard, had six of those 15 points, showing off some of the skills the veteran Wolverines promised the unheralded freshman would display early on. Albrecht was thrust into the starting role in place of preseason All-American Trey Burke, who was suspended for the Northern Michigan game by Michigan coach John Beilein for a “violation of team standards.”

“Spike surprises me every day,” Beilein said. “He just plays out there, and I said yesterday, he makes you smile to watch him play. Everyone says, ‘Well how did he do that,’ but I don’t know either. He just has a presence out there … he certainly doesn’t pass the (eyeball) test but he continues to be productive.”

Albrecht, who seems to have a hold on the backup point guard role, finished the night with 16 points and led the Wolverines in minutes, playing his first game in the Crisler Center like he was already comfortable in his new digs.

“Spike’s been playing really well all fall,” redshirt junior center Jordan Morgan said. “He’s a really solid player who read defenses and just takes what they give him. He’s smart and is really willing to learn. He played really well. But it’s not that much of a surprise. He’s been doing that all fall.”

As the game went on, Beilein had plenty of time to experiment with his lineups, trying to see where all of his athletic guards, forwards and centers should play. Junior wing Tim Hardaway Jr. and Albrecht were constants, but the players around them rotated early and often.

Nine minutes into the game, every starter was off the floor, and with four minutes left in the first half, Beilein trotted out the five members of his highly-anticipated freshmen recruiting class.

Those five Wolverines — Albrecht, Robinson III, guard Nik Stauskas, and forwards Caris LeVert and Mitch McGary — combined for 54 of the Wolverines’ 83 points, and didn’t show any of the nerves associated with a collegiate debut.

“It was a lot of fun,” Robinson III said. “When we sat down at the scoreboard, all five of us checked in at the same time. We kind of looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s go, let’s give the fans something to talk about.’ ”

The Wildcats got within 10 points with little more than two minutes left in the first half, but Michigan put on its second 17-0 run of the game — spanning the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half — to squash any sort of comeback.

Stauskas led the team in points with 17, but Hardaway had the most complete game of the night. The veteran scored 13 points, and also tallied eight rebounds and five assists with no turnovers.

“He’s got to continue to see his role as a guard, it’s a different role sometimes,” Beilein said. “I just like that he went in there and rebounded the ball. He’s trying to do more things — be more of an assist guy, he’s become a better defender — and still hit big shots for us.”

The game was never close and won’t count, but that doesn’t mean Beilein won’t use it as a valuable evaluation tool, especially for his young freshmen. One thing that stood out after the game was the number of offensive rebounds Michigan secured — 19 in all.