BLOOMINGTON –

It wasn’t surprising that Indiana jumped out to an 11-0 lead on Saturday.

The Hoosiers came off a tough road loss against Illinois, and the best cure for the common road loss is a home game the very next contest.

What’s surprising was the utter shock etched on the faces of the Michigan men’s basketball team. The roster says four seniors are starting, but it’s hard to spot them with the types of mistakes that continue to bury the team on the road.

“I’m concerned with that,” said Michigan coach Tommy Amaker of his seniors’ performance. “There’s no question we addressed that earlier in the season, and it’s certainly something that hasn’t gone away completely.”

With another road loss under the Wolverines’ belts, one wonders if the seniors are going into road games expecting to lose.

The class continues to fall deeper into a losing culture on the road, and the remaining road schedule only gets tougher. Amaker must think of something drastic and it may require shuffling the starting lineup again.

While it’s unrealistic to expect a team to be completely oblivious to a road environment (they are, after all, just kids), with four seniors in the starting five, Amaker should expect a little more than a complete breakdown from his most experienced players.

One game, it might be turnovers. Another game, it might be a lack of rebounding. Or (as was the case in the loss to the Hoosiers) it may be a porous defense mixed with lackadaisical starts to each half.

It doesn’t matter which road loss you look at, there’s always some aspect of the game that the Wolverines severely underachieve in. And since the seniors have talked about carrying the team in the past, the blame of Michigan’s shortcomings should be placed on them.

“I just don’t know what to say about how we perform on the road,” senior Dion Harris said. “I haven’t figured it out yet.”

Maybe it means starting freshmen Ekpe Udoh and DeShawn Sims and bringing Courtney Sims and Brent Petway off the bench. The younger players are still raw but their intensity has impressed many this season, and with the ship sinking faster and faster, why not give them a shot to prove themselves?

Maybe it means starting Jerret Smith at the point to allow Harris to play his natural shooting guard position. Smith may not be the conference’s best point guard, but until his injury against Wisconsin, he’d strung together a couple of good performances.

Smith may not average 11 points, six boards and seven assists (his totals against Purdue on Jan. 20), but if Harris can catch fire, Michigan won’t need Smith to score.

Making Abram, Petway and Sims come off the bench wouldn’t be the end of the world. A reduction in minutes may be what they need to play sharper basketball. By introducing some true competition rather than symbolic competition, Amaker may finally get the best out of these players.

This column could’ve been about the first time the Wolverines had won in Bloomington since Nickelodeon still aired new episodes Guts and Legends of the Hidden Temple.

Instead, it must question why Amaker is still loyal to the seniors. Have they earned a “benefit of the doubt?” In four years, has this class done anything to give the fans reasons to believe that Amaker should stick with them?

It’s not that the seniors aren’t trying. And Amaker shouldn’t consider benching them solely to send a message. They know they played poorly, and they remember all to well their up-and-down past.

The time has come to try something new.

During the second half of the game, three Indiana students dressed as Flintstones characters held up a sign that read “Beating ‘M’ is so easy, even a caveman can do it.”

Unfortunately for the seniors, that has become their legacy: an easy home win for the best teams in the Big Ten.

At least give the younger players a chance to forge a new identity.

For themselves and for the program.

– Bosch can be reached at hectobos@umich.edu

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