After completing one of the most challenging stretches in program history earlier this month, the Michigan basketball team now finds itself in the softest part of this season’s schedule.
On Saturday, the Wolverines dominated Detroit Mercy, 90-58, in the inaugural college basketball game at Little Caesars Arena. Thursday, Michigan (10-3) looks primed for a similar result, when Alabama A&M (0-11) labors into Crisler Center for a 9 p.m. tipoff.
As their record shows, the Bulldogs have simply been abysmal this year. They’ve lost each of their games by 10 points or more — including a 90-57 loss to UAB last Saturday — earning them the fourth-lowest RPI rating in college basketball.
Predictably, Alabama A&M is among the country’s worst on both sides of the floor, scoring roughly 60 points-per-game while allowing 82 a contest.
Despite those ugly statistics, Beilein still sees value in his team’s upcoming matchup.
“I look at Alabama A&M’s record, and you think they are that record,” Beilein said. “I don’t think they are. Their new point guard right now is changing the dynamic of the team. They’re really doing some good things, they just haven’t been able to convert it into victories yet.”
That point guard is senior Julian Walters, who was suspended for the start of the season. But in his first two appearances, Walters led the Bulldogs in scoring, quickly establishing himself as the team’s best offensive option.
The Wolverines, meanwhile, will again miss their leading scorer in junior forward Moritz Wagner, who has been hobbled with a bone bruise in his foot since an injury at Texas on Dec. 12.
That means sophomore Jon Teske and redshirt freshman Austin Davis will have to anchor the frontcourt — just as they did in Detroit.
Their respective performances in the absence of Wagner, however, were far different.
Against the Titans, Teske scored 15 points and collected 10 rebounds — good for his second-career double-double.
“Now, he’s really amped up his stamina, and his desire to work harder in the little things of the game,” Beilein said. “So, we’re really looking forward to it. We’re doing some stuff with him today that, hopefully you’ll see in games later on that can really help us.”
Davis, meanwhile, struggled on the defensive end and fouled out after just seven minutes of action.
“His head is spinning around out there,” Beilein said. “It’s the typical thing where a kid is a really good practice player, and then when the lights come on, he doesn’t look like the same guy.”
Against an even less-skilled team than Detroit, Thursday provides Davis a chance to gain the in-game experience he’s sorely missed.
But the game also marks a scheduling conundrum for Michigan. With the school semester ending later than most around the country, the Wolverines have limited options when scheduling December non-conference games. This forces Michigan into playing weak opponents which, even with lopsided victories, could lower the Wolverines’ RPI — a crucial statistic come Selection Sunday.
“We have scheduling issues every year — trying to find the right teams,” Beilein said. “So, we’ve worked at this, and I think we’ve got a really competitive schedule. Certainly, (Alabama A&M and Jacksonville) aren’t top-200 teams, but at the same time, sometimes you don’t have a choice.”
Still, Beilein stressed Michigan’s commitment to preparing for Alabama A&M like it has for other opponents all season.
“We really have emphasized that we’re not running for the bus — that we have to be ready for this game just like any other game,” Beilein said. “We’ve had a really good last few games, and this one can be no different.”