Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman has spent the first month of the 2015-16 season competing for minutes. There’s not much time to go around in the backcourt for the Michigan men’s basketball team, but John Beilein’s clarification Monday that Abdur-Rahkman would remain a regular part of the Wolverines’ rotation made his plans for the future clearer.
The statement rang true a day later, but not in the way the Wolverines’ coach intended.
Abdur-Rahkman, a shooting guard, became a de facto point guard on Tuesday at North Carolina State when junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. suffered a sprained ankle midway through the first half.
“It was certainly a hell-fire day, because Derrick’s been playing so well,” Beilein said.
Walton entered the Wolverines’ 66-59 win averaging 10.4 points and 3.8 assists, and his confidence on the court was noticeable in the Wolverines’ wins against Charlotte and Texas last week.
With senior Spike Albrecht continuing his slower-than-expected rehabilitation process following two offseason hip surgeries, Beilein had few options. Albrecht did see the court, but he was clearly limited in his abilities, picking up a personal foul on a loose ball and recording no shot attempts in five minutes played.
Even junior guard Andrew Dakich, who played substantial minutes toward the end of the 2014-15 season as Michigan’s backcourt suffered one injury after another, was unavailable. Dakich, a walk-on, is planning on spending the 2015-16 season as a redshirt to preserve another year of eligibility.
Abdur-Rahkman’s 25 minutes were a season high — he played just six in the Wolverines’ previous game, a 78-72 defeat of Texas on Nov. 27.
Abdur-Rahkman and senior Caris LeVert, who are both typically considered shooting guards, ended up splitting the lion’s share of ball-handling duties. Abdur-Rahkman didn’t turn the ball over and served as a perimeter distraction for the North Carolina State defense. LeVert scored 18 points on the night, and redshirt sophomore guard Duncan Robinson added 17.
With Walton out, somebody still had to defend the Wolfpack’s Anthony “Cat” Barber, and Abdur-Rahkman drew the short end of the stick.
“Muhammad-Ali did a wonderful job with just staying with Barber and keeping him from getting the ball in the places he likes it,” Beilein said.
Barber, who is averaging 20.3 points per game this season, finished with 16. He dealt with second-half foul trouble, and his efforts proved too little to complete a late comeback attempt.
Abdur-Rahkman was quiet in terms of scoring, recording just four points on 2-for-4 shooting from the field, but slowing Barber and providing another capable ball-handling presence in the backcourt proved to be his biggest contributions.
As injuries go, Walton’s is well-timed. The toughest portion of the Wolverines’ non-conference schedule is behind them, and Michigan has just one road game — Tuesday’s visit to Southern Methodist — between now and its Big Ten opener at Illinois on Dec. 30.
Beilein, however, doesn’t see things in that light.
“You’re not going to hear that from me,” he told WTKA radio’s Matt Shepard, who suggested that Michigan would have no trouble without Walton in its game at SMU.