Michigan found production from unlikely faces in the first weekend in the NCAA Tournament. Tess Crowley/Daily. Buy this photo.

Starters are starters for a reason.

At least that’s Michigan associate head coach Phil Martelli’s philosophy. And for the majority of the season, the Michigan men’s basketball team had no choice but to rely almost exclusively on its starters. Its entire starting lineup averaged at least 27 minutes per game in Big Ten play and not a single bench player scored over five points per game.

The Wolverines were all in on their starters, and if a couple had off nights, they likely left the court with a loss.

“They earned that spot,” Martelli said on Feb. 23. “So if we can get them through, we’re going to try to get them through.”

Despite what Martelli believes, it was clear that for Michigan to make an NCAA Tournament run, it would need some semblance of consistent bench play. Otherwise, one poor outing from multiple starters would send it packing.

Through the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and even dating back to the last week of the regular season, the Wolverines have gotten considerably more production from their bench players than they could have bargained for. The two main sources: sophomore forward Terrance Williams II and freshman guard Frankie Collins.

“I think it adds more to our arsenal,” sophomore forward Jace Howard said. “I think having more options as a team is going to make us more dangerous in this month.”

Without Williams and Collins, Michigan’s season would likely be over. First came Williams’s 17-point performance in the Wolverines’ regular season finale at Ohio State, with sophomore center Hunter Dickinson sidelined.

Then came Collins’s effort against Colorado State in the Round of 64 filling in for injured graduate guard DeVante’ Jones. Collins’s career-high 14 points and complete control of the offense sparked the Wolverines, spurring them to a second-half comeback.

And Saturday against Tennessee, Collins and Williams both shined. After Jones was forced to leave the game, Collins played the entire second half. And while his statline wasn’t as flashy as it was against the Rams, he still effectively ran the offense. Williams, meanwhile, converted on two consecutive putbacks in down the stretch, both of which tied the game.

“(Collins is) an aggressive guard who is able to get downhill and finish,” Dickinson said after the win over Colorado State. “He was doing that out there. We have full confidence in him to do what he does. We’ve seen him practice throughout the year, and so we all have full confidence in Frankie.”

Added Dickinson after the win over the Volunteers: “(Williams is) a prime-time player. But I don’t care how much minutes he plays, or what, my man is going to make winning plays when he’s out there, and he did that today. We don’t win without Terrance Williams II today.”

Almost as important as their scoring, though, is the other ways they have been able to contribute. Back in January, when Michigan’s bench struggles were at its worst, assistant coach Howard Eisley emphasized that scoring isn’t necessarily the primary factor that earns reserves playing time:

“We’re just looking for, wanting guys to really impact the game positively,” Eisley said. “So it doesn’t always have to be scoring. It can be to make the right plays. It can be bringing a defensive mindset to the game, rebounding, creating turnover situations for the other team and being able to make shots.”

For much of the season, Williams and Collins struggled to stay on the floor for reasons other than a lack of scoring. Williams struggled on the defensive end at times, often giving up blow-bys resulting in easy buckets. For Collins, his overly aggressive play occasionally led to a multitude of turnovers.

But this past weekend, the duo’s improvements in those areas were obvious. Williams closed Saturday’s game, holding his own on defense as the Wolverines racked up key stops down the stretch, while Collins committed just three turnovers in 61 minutes over the two games.

It’s still a small sample size, and Collins and Williams have taken steps back at times this season after seemingly taking significant strides in their development. But now, they’re delivering on the biggest stage, and starting to do so with more consistency. Michigan is still going to lean heavily on its starters — like Martelli said, they’re starters for a reason.

But as the Wolverines look to continue their improbable run, their newfound depth will be vital.