Anybody who has ever been on an airplane knows how much of a drag flying commercial can be. That’s why the Michigan men’s basketball team typically charters flights to and from faraway destinations — for example, the Bahamas.
But the Wolverines’ supposedly cushy travel arrangements backfired in a big way on Saturday as they flew back from the Battle 4 Atlantis. Mechanical issues with Michigan’s charter flight left the team stranded at Nassau’s Lynden Pindling International Airport for almost 11 hours.
Such delays are never fun, but they’re worse when they come on the heels of a three-game, three-day tournament and a 5:30 a.m. wakeup. To rub salt in the wound, the Wolverines (4-2) had less than 48 hours to recover before their next long-distance trip — a Monday-evening flight to Raleigh, N.C., for Tuesday’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge contest at North Carolina State (4-2).
“We try to keep it in perspective,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “To tell you who we are, we never heard a complaint one time.”
The Wolverines were lucky, Beilein said, that the airport had bench seating, which allowed players to catch a few hours of sleep. That, in turn, resulted in senior guard Spike Albrecht victimizing his dozing traveling companions via Instagram — he posted a compilation of selfies with sleeping teammates on Instagram, set to Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” during the delay.
Once Michigan landed, however, it was time to get serious. Saturday was supposed to be a day off, but given the day’s adventures, the Wolverines’ practice on Sunday ended up being a lighter workout than planned. That’s far from ideal in the leadup to one of Michigan’s final opportunities to notch a quality non-conference win.
“We talk about that all the time,” Beilein said. “You’re going to have to have an incredible Big Ten season if you don’t have some success against other high-level teams that you’re going to play. You have to win some of those, or you have to go be 14-4 in your league, which is really going to be hard to do.”
The Wolverines, as senior guard Caris LeVert noted Monday, already have one of those résumé-building victories — Friday’s 78-72 win over Texas in the Battle 4 Atlantis fifth-place game.
To pick up another, they’ll have to get past a team facing a problem opposite Michigan’s. While Beilein has struggled to whittle the Wolverines’ rotation to single digits in the season’s first six games, the Wolfpack have struggled with depth. Seven North Carolina State players are averaging more than 20 minutes per game, but nobody else on the roster is averaging more than seven.
“I see a seven-man rotation that is really tight right now,” Beilein said. “Do they have depth? No. But do they have chemistry and symmetry? Absolutely.”
Lack of depth was likely a secondary reason behind the Wolfpack’s 17-point home loss to William & Mary on opening night. But North Carolina State rebounded for an overtime win against No. 22 Louisiana State a week later, and still has plenty of weapons to be weary of.
In particular, the Wolverines will have to keep a close eye on junior guard Anthony “Cat” Barber, who is averaging 21 points and 6.7 assists per game this season.
He’s not the only one. Beilein has spoken repeatedly of the way Xavier exploited its size advantage around the perimeter in its 86-70 win Nov. 20. North Carolina State poses a similar threat outside the low post, with 6-foot-7 Caleb Martin, 6-foot-8 Abdul-Malik Abu and 6-foot-7 Maverick Rowan all averaging double-digit scoring totals, collectively accounting for 42.2 points per game.
Rowan and Martin are the only two players on the Wolfpack roster to have made a 3-pointer this season, meaning the game will likely be won or lost down low. The post is where Michigan was beaten and bruised the most in its losses to Xavier (now ranked No. 12 in the AP Top 25) and to then-No. 18 Connecticut.
Then again, Michigan shot a combined 26-for-48 from 3-point range in its subsequent wins over Charlotte and Texas. If that trend continues, the Wolverines can likely get away with allowing a few points in the paint.