DURHAM, N.C. – There will be a time when the Michigan men’s basketball team will have to hold itself more accountable, when inexperience stops being an excuse and execution starts being the norm.

Dave Mekelburg
Duke guard Gerald Henderson and his teammates ran over redshirt junior C.J. Lee and the Wolverines Saturday afternoon. (RODRIGO GAYA/Daily)

But not yet.

The Wolverines made some promising strides against Duke Saturday. Well, more like baby steps. Michigan was winning five minutes into the game.

Sure, the Blue Devils shot just 37 percent from the field in the first half. Sure, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski made adjustments and shut down the Wolverine offense. Sure, Michigan eventually lost by 28. Sure, it was the second straight game a school has the Wolverines’ number on the court and in the classroom.

But give this team some credit.

Michigan is taking its licks and moving on to its next opponent. What doesn’t kill the Wolverines can only make them stronger.

“We learned a lot, and we came home alive,” Beilein said. “I mean we came home and we got better during that time, and then we’ll use those same situations when we’re at those places that are notorious for great crowds in the Big Ten.”

It’s great the Wolverines got this experience under their belt, because now they have to refocus on the small things. With four weeks until conference games begin, the little improvements (learning the system and playing fundamentally sound basketball) are much more important than big-picture improvements (wins).

One week wasn’t enough for the Michigan men’s basketball team to prepare for Duke. One month probably wouldn’t have been adequate.

Because that’s how difficult Beilein’s job is right now. He’s trying to teach a system to a group that hasn’t grasped its concepts and doesn’t have the proper skill sets (making perimeter shots) to succeed.

It’s like sitting with your back to another person and trying to instruct him how to build a Lego model – only you can’t use colors or shapes to describe the pieces and the other person has his hands tied.

And even that is easier than Beilein’s job.

But even with far less experienced players learning a complex system, the Wolverines boldly took the court against vaunted Duke.

And despite all that was going against Michigan Saturday – youth, inexperience, the Cameron Crazies – they made it a game for the first 12 minutes.

Considering I thought Michigan would be out of the game when Duke hit its first basket, that’s improvement.

– Bosch can be reached at hectobos@umich.edu.

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