Without Walton, Michigan readies for Houston Baptist
Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein is a stickler for details, and when he was prepping for the Wolverines’ (5-2) upcoming contest against Houston Baptist on Saturday, one number stuck out to him: five. That’s the number of teams that lost a guarantee game after winning in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge last year.
Michigan was one of those five. After the Wolverines edged Syracuse at home last season, it suffered one of the program’s biggest upset losses, falling to New Jersey Institute of Technology at home. Beilein wants to make sure that isn’t the case this year as Michigan comes off a win on the road at North Carolina State before it hosts the Huskies (2-5) Saturday afternoon.
“You win and you’re up and all of the sudden you don’t take that next opponent the way your want to take it, or that next opponent just plays a great game,” Beilein said. “So we’ve got to be very careful about that.”
Michigan may be without junior starting point guard Derrick Walton Jr. after he left the game against the Wolfpack with a sprained left ankle in the first half. Beilein said he would wait and see about Walton’s status after the team’s practice on Friday, but said that senior guard Caris LeVert would run the point if Walton were to be absent.
The injury to Walton means that senior Spike Albrecht and sophomore Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman could also carry some of the minutes at the point guard position. Beilein said last week that he wanted Albrecht to concentrate on rehabbing more from his two hip surgeries over the summer, but he didn’t hesitate to put him in on Tuesday night against the Wolfpack once Walton went down.
As for Abdur-Rahkman, Saturday’s game could provide him an opportunity to showcase why he should be a more consistent part of Michigan’s rotation.
“Muhammad-Ali was really down our depth chart when we started practice,” Beilein said. “He’d been injured a little bit in the summer, had a (hamstring injury), had come out and hadn’t practice well the first couple weeks. We said, ‘OK, the injuries set you back,’ and now all of the sudden, he’s really playing well, and so now we can count on him in the game.”
Regardless of who Beilein opts to use at the point in Walton’s absence, it will provide a new look for the Wolverines. The coach noted that Walton runs the point as a pass-first guard whereas LeVert is more of a threat to score. That means that defenders have to give more attention to LeVert, something sharp-shooting redshirt sophomore guard Duncan Robinson doesn’t mind.
“Derrick’s obviously a great point guard, but Caris you know has taken a lot of reps at point in practice and we were always kind of prepared for that,” Robinson said. “Caris gets a lot of attention, inevitably, so it’s nice for guys like me when he draws all the other (defenders).”
Robinson — who is shooting better than 60 percent from 3-point range this year — could have plenty of opportunities Saturday. Houston Baptist’s opponents have gone 35 percent from deep this year, and with LeVert drawing extra help on defense, expect Robinson to take advantage.
This will be the second matchup with the Huskies in three years. When Michigan hosted Houston Baptist two years ago, it set a new record for largest margin of victory during the Beilein era after a 54-point win, one that it just broke by riding to a 55-point win over Charlotte last week. But the Huskies have some new faces, and Beilein said that their coach has worked on implementing parts of Michigan’s offense recently.
Leading that offense is guard Anthony Odunsi, who’s pacing 13 points a game. But as a unit, the team has failed to find much success, losing by double digits in each of its five losses.
The game could serve as a good practice run without Walton, before the Wolverines take on a more challenging Southern Methodist team early next week. If Houston Baptist is able to keep it competitive, it means that Michigan is far from where it wants to be right now — with or without Walton.