By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Writer
Published December 29, 2012
With the music blaring, the lights dimmed and announcement of his name over the Crisler Center public address, freshman guard Caris LeVert walked out slowly, barley smiling. In the first start of his young career, LeVert shook hands and saluted as starters normally do, before patiently waiting to begin the game.
Despite starting in place of the injured junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr., his relaxed demeanor epitomized how the No. 2 Michigan men’s basketball team behaved in its rout of Central Michigan, 88-73.
It was a tune-up game before the important competition begins. Entering Saturday’s contest, the Chippewas (7-6) stood between the Michigan and a long Big Ten conference schedule that looms in 2013. The Wolverines (13-0), played like they had nothing else on their mind, cruising through their last non-conference game like an exhibition.
With Hardaway and his 15.4 points per game out with a right ankle injury, Michigan coach John Beilein inserted LaVert into the starting give. LeVert, who has seen increased action as of late, didn’t slow down the high-powered offense, scoring nine points in 32 minutes.
“It’s really tough to say,” Beilein said of Hardaway Jr.’s injury. “We made an educated decision thinking that it’s the long road in the Big Ten that’s more important than having him ready for every game.
“If it was a Big Ten game he still would have sat.”
It took time for the Wolverines to build up the large lead they are accustomed to — they used an 18-12 lead to begin.
But behind sophomore guard Trey Burke’s 10 points in the opening five minutes, Michigan broke away from Central Michigan. Burke finished with 17 points in the first half, making shots from both beyond the arc and in the paint.
Both teams ran up and down at the game’s start, throwing up quick shots to try to form some kind of momentum. The Chippewa’s often appeared out of place on defense though, allowing for fancy dunks from freshman guard Glenn Robinson III and junior forward Jordan Morgan.
Feeling comfortable early, Beilien put in senior guards Eso Akunne and Matt Vogrich, who normally see more time on the bench in the underclassmen-heavy lineup. The duo did little to help the potent offense, failing to record a single point, as Burke continued to lead the way.
But with the half winding down it was easy to see the Wolverines had little trouble in their defeat of the Chippewas. Morgan walked to set picks and Robinson jogged to grab rebounds from his missed shots, yet Michigan still cruised to a 46-29 lead at the half.
Looking no more energized out the locker room, the Wolverines continued to handle Central Michigan with ease for the remainder of the game.
With the game slowly progressing through the first five minutes of the second half, Morgan put little effort into his attempt to grab a defensive rebound, allowing a hungrier Olivier Mbaigoto to grab the board and collect an easy two points for the Chippewas. Mbaigato led Central Michigan in scoring with 14 points, more than his 6.7 average per game coming in to Saturday’s contest.
But it made little difference as the Wolverines marched back down to the other end, handed the ball to Burke and watched their point-guard deliver with another basket to make the score 62-41. The standout guard ultimately ended the game with a double-double — 22 points and 11 assists.
“When I came off a ball screen I felt like no one was guarding me,” Burke said. “It was just a matter of going off whatever their defense is.”
Added Beilien: “He is as veteran as any sophomore I have ever coached. I’m looking at him like he is the old man out there running the offense, because we needed it. He is just as steady as cane be.”
Guard Nik Stauskas stepped up in the second half after looking sluggish to begin. The freshman hit five 3-pointers in the second half to make up for only two points in the first.
Central Michigan, in its attempt to stop the Michigan offense from getting out of hand, switched to a 1-3-1 zone, but it had little effect. The result left more open looks Stauskas and less for Robinson and Burke. Stauskas native was also able to snag more rebounds in the second half, leading the team with seven.
“I have no clue what defense they were in the first half,” Stauskas said. “I was always covered, but everyone else was always wide open
Stauskas, combined with Robinson, contributed 27 points in second half (39 total) to ensure that the game never slipped away.
With his first conference game of the season against Northwestern on Jan. 3, Beilein, played all but one active player to prepare his team before the brutal conference slate begins.
The 13-0 start is the best since a 16-0 start in 1985-86 when the Wolverines advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. With three opponents in Northwestern, Iowa and Nebraska ahead, Michigan has an opportunity to make history again, but Beilein still knows that it doesn’t carry much significance.
“The intensity level, the coaching level is as good as it gets,” Beilien said of the Big Ten. “The group that we’re ready to go against now is the best of the best and we have to be ready for a lot of things.”