The Michigan men’s basketball team didn’t lose back-to-back games last season, and coming off a loss to New Jersey Institute of Technology, the Wolverines will look to continue that trend Tuesday when they face Eastern Michigan.
Michigan dropped a 72-70 contest to the nation’s lone independent Division I team Saturday, a result Michigan coach John Beilein called humbling.
So when the Eagles visit Crisler Center Tuesday, it’s a safe bet Michigan will be itching to get rolling. But as has been the case for the Wolverines’ last two games, they’ll have to do so with limited contributions from sophomore guard Derrick Walton Jr.
Walton sprained a toe in Michigan’s loss at Villanova in the Progressive Legends Classic Nov. 25 and hasn’t been at full strength since. He posted 16 points against the Highlanders in 38 minutes, but he played more as a result of surprise necessity than because he was fully ready, and he turned the ball over a season-high four times. Beilein said Walton sat out all of Sunday’s practice.
“I held him out yesterday 100 percent,” Beilein said. “He just did a little bit of light shooting and did his weight training. I thought that was key, because he wasn’t moving well defensively in the game.”
Beilein said he still expects Walton to play, but the guard is still in recovery mode. Meanwhile, junior guard Spike Albrecht is apparently dealing with a hand injury, but hasn’t been bothered enough by it to miss any time.
“Spike probably is all banged up,” Beilein said. “But he doesn’t talk about it, so I don’t talk about it.”
Albrecht, who was instrumental in Michigan’s win over Syracuse a week ago, will likely be looked to against an Eastern Michigan team that plays the same 2-3 zone as the Orange. The junior carved up Syracuse with bounce passes and a dagger 3-pointer. While the Eagles don’t present the same level of athleticism, they’re a threat in their own right, especially on the glass. If Michigan wants to rebound from its loss, it will have to, well, rebound.
The Wolverines enter the game ranked 263rd nationally in boards per game at 32.8, nowhere near the Eagles’ impressive mark of 42.5, good for 16th in the country. Boasting 6-foot-11 center Mike Samuels, Eastern Michigan should have a height advantage in the post all night.
And when the Eagles turn to offense, Ray Lee, coming off a 26-point effort against Dayton on Saturday, has proven he can score points in bunches. Michigan can afford to give up some scoring to Lee, but only if it can produce on offense against Eastern Michigan’s zone.
“The good news is that it is very similar to the zone Syracuse plays,” Beilein said. “The bad news is it’s very similar, so now we’ve put our whole package out there. Now, they actually have a real scout (team), where usually you can’t really tell that.
“They have depth, they really have put together a good run here, they gave Dayton a heck of a game. Just the physical bodies, how big they are inside (is a challenge).”
Key to that effort will be junior guard Caris LeVert, who scored a career-high 32 points against NJIT. LeVert shot six-of-eight from beyond the arc and, while he won’t be expected to duplicate those numbers, it is becoming clear he is the go-to guy when things break down for the Wolverines.
Eastern Michigan is no “guarantee game,” but it’s hard to imagine Michigan overlooking the Eagles after Saturday’s loss.
“We’re looking to get out there and play as hard as we can,” LeVert said. “I know we’re going to respond well. We really pride ourselves on not losing two games in a row, especially at home.”