After posting two blowout wins over Division II opponents, the Michigan men’s basketball team hosts Bucknell on Monday night in the season’s first taste of Division I play.
The Bison — fresh off a season-opening win over Marist — went 16-14 last season, including wins over Penn State and Columbia, and a four-point road loss to Stanford. The Daily breaks down what the matchup could mean for the Wolverines as they continue their development in the season’s infancy.
DEFENSIVE SHORE-UPS: After allowing 68 points to Hillsdale, Michigan coach John Beilein readily admitted that there was work to be done on the defensive side of the ball.
“We have to learn,” Beilein said Saturday. “We’re still trying to find out who we are defensively.”
Beilein complimented the Chargers’ ability to exploit shortcomings in the Wolverines’ defensive switching patterns. Besides, he said, there are some things that simply can’t be achieved defensively.
“Frankly, there are some things you can’t stop,” Beilein said. “You’ve just got to hope they miss, because the action is so good.”
Among the things Michigan couldn’t stop Saturday was Hillsdale forward Kyle Cooper, who racked up 28 points and 10 rebounds.
Bucknell’s Chris Hass — a Michigan native — profiles somewhat similarly to Cooper, standing two inches shorter at 6-foot-5. Hass averaged 11.1 points per game last year, and will likely be the Bison’s most prolific scoring presence.
DEPTH AND DISTRIBUTION: The Wolverines had no trouble scoring in their exhibition win over Wayne State or in their season opener against Hillsdale College. In Saturday’s 92-68 barnburner against the Chargers, three Michigan players scored at least 20 points for the first time since a December 10, 2011 victory over Oakland.
But the Wolverines knew coming into the season that they could count on production from their emerging “Big Three” — sophomore forward Zak Irvin, sophomore guard Derrick Walton, Jr. and junior guard Caris LeVert. Walton, Irvin and LeVert scored 22, 21 and 20 points, respectively, on Saturday afternoon, accounting for 64 percent of Michigan’s scoring.
That said, younger offensive presences like freshman forwards D.J. Wilson, Aubrey Dawkins and Kameron Chatman will have plenty of opportunity to shoulder more of the scoring load against Bucknell and in other relatively weak non-conference fixtures. Beilein knows the installation of his offense could be moving more quickly with his talented freshman crop, but with matchups against talented squads like No. 15 Virginia Commonwealth, No. 23 Syracuse and No. 22 Southern Methodist looming, the results need to become apparent fast.
BACKUP IN THE POST: Redshirt freshman forward Mark Donnal has clearly established himself as Michigan’s starter in the low post, but he can’t be expected to contribute 30-plus minutes of productivity just yet. The question is who can help him, and right now, the answers aren’t quite there.
Freshman forward Ricky Doyle played just nine minutes against Hillsdale, scoring seven points in the short span. He’s still in the process of recovering from an ankle tweak and other undisclosed health issues that had kept him periodically sidelined throughout preseason practice.
Wilson, meanwhile, is capable of playing the low post at 6-foot-9, though his lean 220-pound frame and remarkable athleticism mean he fits better at power forward.
Who the Wolverines use at the No. 5 spot when Donnal is on the bench will be a key question moving forward. They might try to answer it in the week’s upcoming games against Bucknell and Detroit-Mercy, one of Michigan’s last remaining stretches of low-pressure opposition.
GAME INFORMATION: Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. from Crisler Center, with Big Ten Network picking up the television broadcast.
Start times for Michigan home games are extremely varied this season, ranging from noon to 9 p.m. and landing on at least seven other tip times throughout the season. Thursday’s game against Detroit will start at 6 p.m. and ESPNU’s Dec. 9 broadcast of Eastern Michigan’s visit to Crisler Center is set for 9 p.m.