It’s a good thing exhibition games are intended to work out kinks and find cohesion, because the Michigan men’s basketball team showed Monday that it still has a few things to resolve.
The Wolverines thumped Wayne State, 86-43, but looked out of sync at times, especially shooting the ball — likely a result of a rotation that had six true freshmen and one redshirt freshman on the floor.
Michigan will rely heavily on its younger players to find productive roles, and while that process always takes time, Michigan coach John Beilein said after the game he has been slower to implement his full offense with this group.
“We don’t have a very big package in,” Beilein said. “We’re creeping along, and I probably overanalyze it. I want things to be run perfect before we move on. I think we’re moving in the right direction, but it’s really slow.”
Still, Beilein was quick to assert that the freshmen shouldn’t be grouped together, saying they are each learning at their own rate.
That learning curve showed Monday, as the six first-year Wolverines produced a smattering of different results.
Forward Kameron Chatman put up the most impressive stat line — nine points, six rebounds and four assists, leading all freshmen with 25 minutes.
The only true freshman to start, Chatman got on the stat sheet early with an assist on a Caris LeVert layup. Minutes later, Chatman air-balled a 3-pointer, but he came right back on the next possession to make an acrobatic finish on a layup.
At the start of the second half, Chatman displayed a bit of poise. Trapped by two Wayne State defenders under the hoop, it looked like he might panic and turn the ball over. Instead, he held the ball for an extra second and found sophomore guard Derrick Walton Jr. for an open look behind the arc. Walton missed the shot, but Chatman’s patience created a solid scoring opportunity.
That patience, though, was not as evident in some of the Wolverines’ other newcomers.
D.J. Wilson threw down a dunk 10 minutes into the game, but looked too eager for much of the first half. The lanky 6-foot-9 forward/center had a jump shot blocked and then missed on a clean finish off a pick-and-roll with Walton on the next possession, prompting Beilein to briefly pull him out of the game.
However, Wilson did show a couple instances of strong recovery.
With 7:51 remaining in the game, sophomore forward Zak Irvin lobbed an alley-oop for Wilson. The pass went wide, and while Wilson could have tried to force the issue, he calmly brought it down and scored an easy bucket.
Wilson saw time at both forward positions and could be used in the other frontcourt spot as well, a testament to his versatility.
“D.J. is a really exciting player,” LeVert said. “He can pass, shoot, finish well inside and defend multiple positions. It’s going to be tough (for other teams) guarding him and just knowing what to do against him.”
The moment of the night, though, belonged to freshman forward Austin Hatch. After surviving two plane crashes and a medically induced coma, Hatch scored his first points with Michigan on a free throw.
Ever humble, Hatch came off the floor, hugged Beilein and, even during a standing ovation, gave his coach a reminder that the free throw was just one step.
“I said, ‘Well, coach, we’ve still got a lot of work to do. I’ve got four more years here. There will be a lot more things like tonight that will happen in the next four years,’ ” Hatch said.
The most contested lineup spot appears to be the center position, where redshirt freshman Mark Donnal started, but true freshman Ricky Doyle saw the most minutes.
Both Doyle and Donnal put up four points, but the Wolverines were plus-39 when Donnal was on the floor, far superior to Doyle’s plus-20.
Beilein said Doyle has been hampered by nagging injuries, so it’s hard to read too much into the position at this stage.
Rounding out the class, freshman forward Aubrey Dawkins came on and nailed two 3-pointers late in the game, while frosh guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman missed all his attempts from the field but sank a pair of foul shots.
With so many young players, the Wolverines were expected to look disjointed at times early in the season. But Beilein’s comments after the game reinforced that Michigan won’t know what it has from its freshmen until it is deep into non-conference play.
“It’s hard to believe we went to Europe and we’re not farther along,” Beilein said. “But I’m not moving as quickly as I would have, maybe, in past years. I just don’t think we’re there yet.”