Wolverines enter Atlantis looking to solidify rotation
The Michigan men’s basketball team has been scheduled to appear in the 2015 Battle 4 Atlantis for almost a year, but this week, its travel schedule seems to be a perfect response to the weather.
The Wolverines left for the eight-team tournament, hosted by the Atlantis Paradise Resort off the shores of Nassau, Bahamas, on Monday evening — barely 48 hours after Saturday’s record-setting snowstorm in Ann Arbor.
While Ann Arbor is currently almost 50 degrees colder than the Bahamian beaches, Michigan coach John Beilein said he doesn’t expect the trip to prove distracting.
“We’ll keep (the players) pretty busy,” Beilein said. “Hopefully, we don’t have anybody coming back with tans. … It’s the fans that get to have some break time before the winter hits. It won’t be us.”
The Wolverines can’t afford break time, anyway. Their 86-70 loss to Xavier at Crisler Center on Friday highlighted the team’s question areas, like their ability to defend against a physical post presence, or run an offense heavily reliant on ball-screen action around the perimeter against a larger, more experienced defensive backcourt.
Michigan fans will see changes come Wednesday’s first-round matchup against No. 18 Connecticut, but Beilein is keeping them close to the vest.
After Friday’s loss, Beilein indicated that junior Mark Donnal’s status as the starting center would depend on his performance, and that of other big men, over the course of the next few practices. Beilein acknowledged there will be changes to the starting lineup but wouldn’t say at which positions.
“I do know where they’ll be,” Beilein told reporters Monday. “You just don’t know.”
Beilein said he’ll continue his quest to trim his team’s rotation from 12 closer to eight over the course of the tournament.
That process, however, is complicated by senior guard Spike Albrecht’s extended rehab process from the same surgery former forward Max Bielfeldt underwent prior to the 2014-15 season. Given the program’s experience with the procedure, Beilein said the recovery process was initially expected to be similar, but listed two main differences.
For one, Albrecht had the surgery on both hips, while Bielfeldt only needed it on one. Meanwhile, the nature of Albrecht’s position as a perimeter player makes the procedures more difficult to recover from, as his role requires more overall movement.
Working Albrecht back into a rotation presents a challenge for a roster that currently has a multitude of players with a foot in and a foot out of the regular rotation, like freshman forward Moritz Wagner and sophomore guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. Several other players’ roles remain undefined, like sophomore forward Kameron Chatman, redshirt freshman forward D.J. Wilson and redshirt sophomore guard Duncan Robinson.
“We’ve got to make decisions now,” Beilein said. “Get some guys off the bubble, play some guys, and then, if that thing changes, play some new guys and put other guys on the bubble.”
The experiment of playing 12 in a given contest is unsustainable, Beilein added. All the same, the Wolverines are set to play three high-profile games in a 48-hour window, and depth can only serve as an asset.
The Michigan-Connecticut matchup begins at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday. With a win, the Wolverines would play the winner of the Charlotte-Syracuse game in a second-round matchup at 3:30 on Thanksgiving Day. With a loss, Michigan would play that game’s loser at 9:30 p.m.