The Michigan basketball team is now through the brunt of its non-conference schedule.
NIT Season Tip-Off title? No problem. Big Ten/ACC Challenge game against a preseason top-10 opponent? Next. First true road test of the year? Check.
So with three straight home games coming up against a MAC team that went 14-20 last year, a 3-3 Arkansas squad and 2-6 Binghamton, it might be a prime spot in the season for coach John Beilein to add some complexities to the offense.
“Oh no, no,” Beilein said. “We have enough offensive wrinkles right now. We’re trying to close it up a little bit. We need to cut it down and we’re trying to.”
That may have been easier to do if not for the emergence of Nik Stauskas. The freshman guard was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the second consecutive week after scoring 22 points on 4-for-5 3-point shooting in his first start Saturday, a 74-66 victory over Bradley. The Ontario native also dropped 20 points in Michigan’s previous game, Tuesday’s 79-72 win over North Carolina State.
“With the evolution of Nik Stauskas, well, that opened a new can of worms to go in one direction in certain areas,” Beilein said. “With Jordan Morgan, and Jon Horford, Max Bielfeldt and Mitch (McGary), that was another thing, playing big/playing small, we got a lot in the package. We need to shorten it up.”
Of the four big men, Morgan has seen the most minutes, and notched his second career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds Saturday. He sees 20 minutes per game, with the other half distributed among the other three.
McGary has been the first forward off the bench in each game, usually replacing Morgan five minutes into the game. Horford is usually the next in line, but Saturday, Beilein played Bielfeldt for nine minutes because the redshirt freshman was returning to his native Peoria.
Future playing time, however, is up in the air.
“We’ll evaluate every practice,” Beilein said. “We’ll keep looking at that.”
In both games last week, the Wolverines (7-0) saw big leads late in the second half evaporate in a hurry. A 68-53 lead with just over four minutes left became 70-65 in the final minute against Bradley.
Tuesday, another 15-point lead with under six minutes to play was shrunk to five before the Wolverines closed it out.
“We haven’t been really focused out there, to me, in my eyes,” said junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr. “That just comes with practice. Just got to get more practice, get more reps in situations where we’re up by a lot or up by a certain amount of points.”
A comfortable lead is something Michigan can expect to have tomorrow night against Western Michigan. A close game at the end is something the rest of us can expect won’t happen.
Though the Broncos are 6-1, they’ve scarcely been tested. Cornell took them down in the season opener, and since, Western Michigan has been able to brush by South Florida, High Point and Oakland by single digits.
Senior forward Nate Hutcheson leads the underclassmen-heavy team with nearly 14 points per game, which doesn’t match sophomore point guard Trey Burke, Hardaway or Stauskas’s output.
After a series of high-energy games, including a hostile road game, the North Carolina State contest, as well as the tournament in Madison Square Garden, a matchup with Western Michigan would seem to be a step down in terms of intensity.
Again, nonsense as far as Beilein is concerned.
“When you walk out in our building and we have great fans, the energy is easily created. And now it’s a state team. We have a lot of pride in being able to play against teams within the state.”