PARADISE ISLAND, The Bahamas — Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein said his team was looking to find itself during its trip to the Bahamas. Part of that also meant finding which players would make up his core rotation.
On Wednesday, in Michigan’s first game in the Battle 4 Atlantis against No. 18 Connecticut, Beilein made it clear whom he trusted most.
In each of Michigan’s first three games, Beilein played 11 players or more for at least five minutes. Against the Huskies, just seven Michigan players saw action for that long. Redshirt sophomore guard Duncan Robinson and sophomore guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman were the only bench players to get significant time.
The biggest change was that sophomore forward Ricky Doyle replaced junior Mark Donnal to start the game at the ‘5.’ Donnal had started every prior game but didn’t see any action on Wednesday. Sophomore forward Kameron Chatman has slowly seen his minutes reduced, too. After playing 22 minutes in Michigan’s first game of the year, Beilein has trimmed his time in each ensuing contest. Against the Huskies, Chatman was on the floor for just three minutes, missing his only field-goal attempt.
“Mark’s had 235 practices (in his Michigan career), a whole bunch of games,” Beilein said. “He’s had really good opportunities — he’ll get more. Kam has really good opportunities — he’ll get more. But right now, I don’t think we can do the 12 (players) thing. We’ll go with nine and just measure where it is. Take a benchmark and say two to three weeks from now, ‘This has worked and this hasn’t.’ ”
At the beginning of the year, Beilein said that the ‘5’ position would be extremely competitive. In Michigan’s earlier games, Beilein rolled out a bevy of rotations and mixed in four guys down low. Doyle had been Michigan’s first big man off the bench before earning the start on Wednesday. Against Connecticut, Beilein went with 6-foot-10 freshman forward Moritz Wagner as the first replacement for Doyle, but Wagner saw just four minutes in total and missed both of his attempted field goals. Redshirt freshman forward D.J. Wilson also got into the mix, tallying five points in eight minutes of play.
Ultimately though, Beilein made it clear that Doyle is his most trusted big man. Despite carrying the bulk of the minutes at the ‘5,’ though, Doyle failed to have any real contribution. In 26 minutes he had only one field goal attempt and picked up just four rebounds. He’s Michigan’s most physical option down low, and played tough defense against Connecticut’s 7-foot center Amida Brimah, but he also got beat on the boards on several occasions. Michigan’s bigs as a whole couldn’t keep the Huskies from getting to the rim — 40 of Connecticut’s 74 points came in the paint.
Another change in the rotation: senior guard Spike Albrecht played just four minutes, his fewest of the year. Beilein had said that Albrecht — who had surgeries on both hips during the offseason — would get “spot minutes.” Instead, he got next to nothing.
“With Spike, we’re really trying to get him into a rehab type of thing … he’s really not himself,” Beilein said. “Trying to get him to spend a lot of time in rehab, he’ll practice, but we’ve got to get Spike back to where he’s moving better than he’s moving now.”
With Albrecht limited, Beilein opted to use Abdur-Rahkman to play alongside junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. to give senior guard Caris LeVert a breather. Abdur-Rahkman played 20 minutes — twice as many as he played in Michigan’s loss against Xavier on Friday, but had just four points.
Ultimately, in another game in which Michigan shot miserably, Michigan’s shorter rotation just meant fewer Wolverines missing shots. On Friday against Xavier, 11 different Michigan players attempted and missed field goals. On Wednesday, eight Wolverines missed. A whittled-down lineup will be good for Michigan going forward, but if it’s unable to find the rim, no shorter rotation will help.