Even considering Crisler Arena is home to Michigan, the Big Ten’s only sub-.500 team, it was pretty barren 10 minutes before tipoff.

The half of the court farthest from the tunnel was particularly sparse, where just 11 Michigan players warmed up.

A crowd of 8,885 eventually filed in.

But the Wolverines received no reinforcements.

In the last three weeks, Michigan coach John Beilein dismissed junior point guard Jerret Smith from the team and redshirt freshman guard K’Len Morris left the squad for personal reasons.

The losses left Michigan with fewer than a dozen active players.

In the Wolverines’ first game since the departures, their offense appeared most affected. Michigan scored a mere 54 points, including just 13 off the bench, in the loss to Wisconsin last night.

Redshirt junior C.J. Lee and senior David Merritt played 15 and seven minutes, respectively, in the vacated backup guard spots. Neither score. Along with being forced to rely on a pair of walk-ons in Lee and Merritt, the trimmed roster has changed practices.

“It forces us to use team managers a little bit more, where if we had NCAA players, then it’d make it harder on us,” freshman guard Manny Harris said. “Things we do in practice, everything may look good. But we’re playing against team managers a lot, so that can affect us.”

But the new practices may also have a positive effect. There are more minutes to go around, which makes senior forward Ron Coleman think practices have become more competitive.

Lee’s energy and heady play stood out on a night when Michigan looked feistier than usual. The transfer from Manhattan College had four assists and no turnovers and started the second half over freshman Kelvin Grady.

Smith was kicked off the team Friday. He played in five games, missed two with injury and was suspended for the other five.

“We have certain expectations of the student-athletes in our basketball program,” Beilein said through the athletic department. “After over a month of evaluation and discussion, our coaching staff has decided that Jerret has not made sufficient effort to meet these expectations.”

Five players from last year’s team with remaining eligibility are no longer on the squad. In addition to Smith and Morris, Kendric Price left the team earlier in the season, walk-on Phil DeVries decided not to try out and Reed Baker’s scholarship wasn’t renewed.

Michigan coach John Beilein hopes to have help on the way. He talked to Rich Rodriguez yesterday about adding a football player to the team and said the new football coach was receptive to the idea.

“I’d like some big tight end that can set screens and guard some people,” Beilein said. “Not as much to play, as much give us a guy who wants to (help in practice).”

Beilein has one guaranteed addition. Freshman guard Laval Lucas-Perry transferred from Arizona, where he averaged four points and 1.6 rebounds in five games. The Flint native is practicing with the Wolverines and will be eligible to play in Jan. 2009.

He also perfectly demonstrates why the Wolverines need help. At just 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, he was the scout team’s power forward in practices leading up to last night’s game.

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