By Daniel Wasserman, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 29, 2013
At 7:03 on Tuesday night, the Michigan men’s basketball team finally laid last year’s Final Four squad to rest — unofficially at least.
The Wolverines won the exhibition’s opening tip — and everything else — in a 117-44 shellacking over Concordia of the NAIA.
“Offensively, we knew things were going to come for us,” said sophomore guard Nik Stauskas. “It was a lot of fun out there. It feels like a year since that Louisville game, so just to get back out there…it was just a great feeling.”
For the second time in as many years, sophomore Spike Albrecht was the starting point guard in Michigan’s exhibition opener. But unlike last season, when he was merely a fill-in for the suspended Trey Burke, fans got a real taste of the Wolverines’ backcourt — or at least as much as their Washtenaw-county neighbors could muster.
Freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. — Burke’s replacement — made his unofficial collegiate debut, doling out two assists in his first stint on the floor after checking in at the 16:27 mark of the first half. The freshman finished with 11 points and four assists, but it was a trio of sophomores that captured the night’s spotlight.
Stauskas scored 12 first-half points — at one point outscoring the Cardinals by himself, 12-9. Guard Caris LeVert picked up where Stauskas left off, racking up a game-high 14 first-half points. Proving that he can be more than just a defensive specialist off the bench, LeVert flashed athleticism that he simply didn’t have last season, driving through the lane with authority while also displaying impressive touch from inside and outside the arc.
Meanwhile, forward Glenn Robinson III put on an all-star weekend-esque clinic, winning the night’s dunk and 3-point shooting contests. The forward’s athleticism was always there, but after blowing away players and coaches in preseason practices, he publicly revealed a smooth jump shot that could make him one of the most dangerous, well-rounded players in the country. Robinson led all scorers with 33 points, knocking down four of his six long-range attempts. While his dunks will make the highlight reels, his efficient mid-range mark and improved ball handling — which resulted in terrifying drives to the basket — will encourage the Michigan coaching staff the most.
“If they keep finding me open, I’m going to keep knocking down the shots,” Robinson said. “I’ve just got to keep getting reps up and keep doing what I do.”
Concordia kept the game close in the first seven minutes, but after Michigan’s lead was reduced to five, last season’s national runner-up took control. The Wolverines scored the next 19 points to pull away, and closed the half on a 46-10 run to take a 60-19 lead into the break.
Much of the run came with Walton quarterbacking the offense. With such dangerous weapons spread across the floor, Walton described his situation as a “point guard’s dream,” but at times, he did much of the work on his own. In a consecutive sequence, he knocked down a 3-pointer, finished an easy transition layup and then turned his own steal on the ensuing possession into another finger roll.
“It’s exciting to get the jitters out, the pregame jitters,” Walton said. “Going out there and making those plays just boosted my confidence going forward.”
Robinson and LeVert closed the half with a pair of monstrous slams. Robinson then picked up right where he left off, opening his 20-point second half with a pair rim-rockers separated by just 20 seconds of each other.
Even with the contest easily in hand, Michigan left its starters and significant contributors in the lineup until the game’s closing minutes, giving the program one of its most lopsided victories (unofficially) of all time. Michigan coach John Beilein waited until the final official timeout to insert his trio of freshmen walk-ons.
The Wolverines shot 81.5 percent from the field in the first half, and finished the game with a 65.1-percent mark. And though the crooked numbers probably say more about Concordia’s deficiencies than Michigan’s offense, Beilein was pleased with his team’s decision making — a factor he stressed can be independent of the opponent.
The Wolverines’ 26 assists a sign of the team’s unselfishness and willingness to pass up a good look — which it had plenty of — for a better one. The headman was even pleased with the missed field goals he saw.
“It’s a great selling point for our team that you score over 100 points and I can recall two or three shots that I have to go talk to somebody that, you know, we could get better than that,” Beilein said.