New Crisler Center. New uniforms. New point guard, at least temporarily.
Entering Thursday night’s exhibition opener against lowly Division-II Northern Michigan, the focus easily could’ve centered on what was unveiled before the game’s tip-off. The flashy and vibrant Crisler concourse was revealed to the public for the first time, but the spotlight was shifted instead to freshman point guard Spike Albrecht, starting in place of suspended sophomore Trey Burke.
Like Burke last year, Albrecht showed the poise of a grizzled vet, hiding any sign of inexperience in the Wolverines’ convincing 83-47 victory.
Albrecht knocked down a 3-pointer 51 seconds into the game, moments later assisted on a 3-point make from freshman forward Glenn Robinson III and then lofted in a floater that hit the bottom of the net and sent him to the line, where he completed the three-point play.
Michigan coach John Beilein spoke highly of Albrecht, comparing the Crown Pointe, Ind. native to famous NFL quarterbacks Doug Flutie, Joe Theismann and Joe Montana.
“They don’t pass the eyeball test for an NFL quarterback, but somehow they get things done,” Beilein said. “He certainly doesn’t pass the test, but he continues to be productive.
“He surprises me every day. He just plays out there. … He makes you smile to watch him play, and everybody just says, ‘How’d he do that?’ Well, I don’t know either.”
Before the Wildcats scored a single point — or Michigan missed a field goal — the Wolverines jumped to a 17-0 lead, with the two freshmen starters accounting for 12 of the points.
“We just started rolling,” Albrecht said. “It felt good (to) get in there and get your feet wet a little bit, for all of us, actually. We had great energy. We came out, got out to a nice little run, and it was smooth sailing from there.”
Albrecht finished with 16 points and six assists, while turning the ball over just twice in 30 minutes. Robinson added 13.
“Wow,” a wide-eyed Robinson said of the experience. “It was like nothing else. (Michigan assistant coach Bacari Alexander) told me to just go out there and have fun and that’s what I wanted to do. Once I saw (the crowd), I knew it was going to be a great night.”
Freshman guard Nik Stauskas also wasted little time putting points on the board. The sharpshooter spotted up in the corner and drilled a three just six seconds after checking into the game. He finished with a game-high 17 points — in just 19 minutes — thanks to 4-of-6 shooting from deep.
Freshman forward Mitch McGary added five points and nine rebounds, but it was his energy and willingness to draw a charge and dive for balls that reminded Beilein of another Chesterton product, Zack Novak.
“That’s indigenous, apparently, to Chesterton,” he said. “They’re tough kids. I would think you’ll see him dive a lot during this time. That’s a big man putting his life on the line to dive, but we’ll take it every time.”
The final freshman, guard Caris LeVert, knocked down a 3-pointer for his only points.
At one point, Beilein got so caught up in making sure that everyone played enough minutes that he unknowingly sent all five freshmen to the scorer’s table to check in at the same time. It was the first time the highly-touted recruiting class played together on one unit in a Michigan uniform, including during practice.
“We sat down at the scoreboard — all five of us checked in at the same time — and we kind of looked at each other,” Robinson said. “I said, ‘Let’s go. This is our time. Let’s give the fans something to watch and to talk about.’ I think that’s what we did.”
BURKE’S RETURN: Despite Albrecht’s impressive outing, his spot atop the point-guard depth chart was relinquished to Burke immediately following the conclusion of Thursday night’s game.
While offering no further insight into the reason behind the suspension, Beilein praised his sophomore for the way Burke carried himself in the wake of the suspension.
“He’s handled all of this very well,” Beilein said. “Make no mistake, tomorrow he’ll be back in that lineup, ready to roll, but I really like the way he’s handled this as a really mature young man.”
Though Beilein did hint at the possibility of using the two young guards on the floor together, he laughed when asked if there’s any chance Albrecht will push for a starting role.
“There’s no point-guard controversy.”
OH CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN: In his first blog of the season for MGoBlue.com, senior guard Josh Bartelstein wrote that one of his personal goals this season was to be named captain. This week, the seldom-used walk-on got his wish.
“(Bartelstein) is a one-of-a-kind guy,” said junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr. “He knows how to talk to his teammates whenever they’re down, he does a great job talking and communicating to everybody, and that’s why he’s our captain. And we don’t want anyone else.”
Beilein noted that nominating a captain who rarely sees the floor — he has scored just six points in 46 career minutes — is a rarity, though Bartelstein was the “natural” selection for him and his coaching staff.
“That is the most selfless, team-team-team guy that I may have ever coached, and as a result, it was natural,” Beilein said. “That young man has the ear of this locker room and also he has the ear of the coaching staff, as well. He listens to the coaching staff and he’s really got that great ability to relate with his teammates and also be another coach.”
Beilein said the other captains will be determined on a game-to-game basis. Hardaway and junior forward Jordan Morgan were Thursday’s other captains.