Once again, the Michigan basketball team is set to take on an opponent that doesn’t realistically present much of a challenge.

But that doesn’t mean the 20th-ranked Wolverines can rest on their laurels against the Bulldogs. That was their problem on Tuesday night at Crisler Arena, where they let an inferior Arkansas-Pine Bluff team make a run in the second half.

The Golden Lions didn’t come close to actually topping Michigan, but Michigan coach John Beilein wasn’t able to get many of his bench players in the game as much as he wanted do — and there won’t be many more opportunities to do so with Big Ten season opening in just under two weeks.

Freshman point guard Trey Burke, for example, was forced to play 37 minutes.

“I was hoping to pull him at any time, and then (Pine Bluff) started making a run back,” Beilein said Friday. “I thought we could get away from them, but we just kept giving it back. … I was hoping (the 20-point lead) was going to go to 30 and they’d get off the floor. It didn’t happen.”

Saturday afternoon, though, could be a golden opportunities to get the reserves some meaningful experience. Alabama A&M (2-3) isn’t the most talented bunch, having lost by 37 to Alabama in its only matchup with a BCS-conference team this season.

The Bulldogs — who haven’t played a game in two weeks — are a quick team. That factor could pose problems for the Wolverines, as Beilein has admitted plenty of times that his team still isn’t the most athletic bunch, making it difficult to simulate such speed in practice.

Beilein pointed to Pine Bluff’s quickness as a main reason that the Lions were able to mount a comeback — it allowed them to force 13 second-half Michigan turnovers. The Wolverines, then, will have to be better prepared to handle Alabama A&M’s quickness to avoid the same sloppiness on Saturday.

And they’ll also have to simply play smart.

“We got very sloppy with the big lead (against Pine Bluff),” Beilein said. “We’ve got to shore that up (and) we’ve been working on it, but a lot of that is us slowing down. (You see) things better if you go a little slower.”

Just two Lions average double figures in scoring. Senior guard/forward Casey Canty comes in at 13.6 points per game, while junior wing Demarquelle Tabb scores 11.8.

BACK IN ACTION: Sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. is fine after falling hard on his tailbone against Arkansas Pine Bluff, Beilein said. Hardaway Jr. has practiced the last two days and should be full-go against Alabama A&M. He actually returned to the game on Tuesday after the injury, though he was clearly feeling the effects of the fall.

Meanwhile, Beilein said that he doesn’t expect sophomore forward Jon Horford to play against the Bulldogs. Horford’s been dealing with a “soft spot” or minor stress fracture in his foot. He played limited minutes against Oakland before sitting all game against Pine Bluff.

“I’m not sure what we’ll do, but he has not practiced the last two days, so that’s a pretty good indication,” Beilein said. “Whether we use him in an emergency or not, I’ll make that decision tomorrow.”

SMOT THE SOLDIER: After averaging 18 points and 8.5 rebounds over his last two games, sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz is playing some of his best basketball as a Wolverine. His ability to stay out of foul trouble against Oakland and Pine Bluff has been a big factor in that, but so has his demeanor on the court.

“Sometimes less is so much more for him, by just letting the game come to him,” Beilein said. “That way he doesn’t press.”

But despite his solid performance on Tuesday night, Smotrycz did have five turnovers and no assists, certainly a troublesome ratio. Beilein had an interesting way of putting those issues in perspective for the forward.

“Sometimes, (Smotrycz is) one of my guys, I say they’re grenade guys, it’s like the ball’s a grenade,” Beilein said. “(They think) they got to do something with it or it’ll blow up, and it’s not true. It’s okay, if there isn’t something, then keep it moving.

“And he’s handling that grenade much better right now.”

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