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November 1, 2012What can you really take out of an 83-47 blowout exhibition win over Northern Michigan? Quite a bit, head coach John Beilein said following an impressive opener for the Wolverines.
Beilein and his staff have spent the last several weeks cutting video of scrimmages and five-on-five situations. Tonight and tomorrow they'll break down 17 assists, 19 offensive rebounds - and yes, the eight turnovers - as learning tools for a team that's going to be extremely young in spots, but undoubtedly very talented.
The unselfishness went beyond the 17 assists. They made the extra pass to a fault at times, Beilein noted, but usually with great success. They crashed the glass as though they were battling Indiana, defended as though former captain Zack Novak was still on the floor trying to squeeze every last bit of energy from his teammates.
As for first game nerves from the freshmen? Glenn Robinson III (13 points in 23 minutes) admitted he had more jitters addressing the media in the postgame for the first time than he did taking the floor.
"I hope selflessness is a trait, but not to a fault," Beilein said. "You also want them to know the difference between hitting the next pass and making a play for yourself, but I hope we'll get better and better in that area, keep having those type of assist numbers.
"I'd like a better mix inside and outside, exploring more with still how much to throw it in. We need to drive it in there more and get a little more open on the threes, but I do like the way some of these guys can shoot it."
Freshman Nik Stauskas, for one, who arrived with a reputation as a sniper and didn't disappoint. He finished with 17 points in 19 minutes to lead the scoring, making four of his six triples, two beautiful passes off of penetration and showed a little swagger after his fourth trey.
Veteran forward Jordan Morgan worked the glass like his job depended on, hauling in 12 caroms and adding nine points, while freshman big man Mitch McGary (five points, nine rebounds - six offensive) showed Novak type hustle and ran the floor relentlessly, often losing his breath.
"Jordan is not as big as he was - he's more agile and jumps a little higher and moves a little quicker - and Mitch, we've got to get him in better shape," Beilein said. "While we were being more cautious with his foot and his calf, it didn't get him in great shape.
"He's slowly getting that with water workouts, pool workouts, bike riding. Now he can sprint in practice, which is going to get him in better shape. He tires himself out with some energy. He's going to be a high-energy guy, which means he's going to have to learn to do what all freshmen need to. You've got to eat right, sleep, lots of things."
He was also diving for loose balls and "putting his life on the line," Beilein quipped, adding, "we'll take it every time."
U-M's quick start - 17-0 and 20-2 behind a barrage of triples - almost made it easy to forget who wasn't on the floor. All-American candidate Trey Burke (one-game suspension) and big man Jon Horford, the talk of camp for his early practice play, sat and watched their teammates put on a show. Freshman point guard Spike Albrecht filled in for Burke as though he'd been training for the moment for years, scoring 16 points, knocking down three of six triples and running the offense like a veteran.
If back-up point guard was a question mark before, it isn't anymore.
"He surprises me every day," Beilein said with a laugh. "I'm just telling you, he just plays out there. I said yesterday, he makes you smile to watch him play. Everybody just says, 'how's he do that?' I don't know either. He just has a presence out there.
"I'll make a football analogy. Doug Flutie, Joe Theismann and Joe Montana don't pass the eyeball test for NFL quarterbacks, but somehow they'd get things done. He certainly doesn't pass that test, but he continues to be productive."
Northern Michigan won't be the standard by which the Wolverines will be measured, Beilein cautioned. At the same time, U-M did plenty to earn the blowout win.
"They didn't come in and just throw it up and allow us to get 80 points," Beilein said. "We had to guard them for 30 seconds a lot. That's really key for us that we had to work defensively, stay in a stance so we could get out and run. For young teams, that's our best offense - playing defense. It wasn't as good as the game went on in spots, but at least they were buying in and trying."
Many times they were successful, especially on the effort plays. Given the talent on the floor and how much it's going to improve between now and the Big Ten season, there was plenty to like.
"I told Tim, who was so unselfish, 'we need you to score points now,' Beilein said. 'You've built a little more trust.' But just the way they passed it around and saw each other, that's good. When you're making threes like we did at the start of both halves, that's pretty good for us."
"Obviously with the suspension of Trey, we needed to get them in there, but they've been playing really well in practice," Beilein said. "They've never been on the same team before, always separated in practice. That's why it was good to play against somebody else.
"I wanted to get 20 minutes, but I'm not sure how many we got for Caris LeVert. I wanted to get him enough to try and judge his progress. Nik we wanted to get 20 or 30, we knew Glenn we were trying to get 30, just to get that feeling in there that they know what they're doing. Then we were feeding off Jordan and Mitch, who could go the longest and when they could play together."
LeVert finished with three points on one-of-five shooting, making a triple.
"I like the five assists, no turnovers," Beilein said. "He's got to continue to see his role as a guard as a different role sometimes. I just liked that he went in there and rebounded the ball - those first couple defensive rebounds, he hasn't done a lot of that. He's trying to do more things, be a better assist guy, a better defender and still hit big shots for us.
"He's becoming more of a playmaker, as well. What I like about Tim his he can get his own shot, doesn't need a lot of space on the perimeter to get his shot. I saw a couple takes today, slashing, that might have been a charge his freshman year. He's getting in there and finding people. He's got that ability to be a slasher, a shooter, a scorer. I know we'll be calling his number a lot at different times this year."
"It was who is the most consistent for that fifth starter, offensively and defensively?" Beilein said. "Nik and Matt have both been shooting the same way Nik shot today. Defensively we said we had to get off to a good start, and we had two freshmen out there. Maybe if Trey had started - but two freshmen was enough. We need a veteran out there, and he deserved it. He's really played well these first two weeks.
"Nik now knows both the two and the three as we are experimenting with some things. I still want him to get a rebound and go. He still wants to pass it to the point guard, but I think you can see he can see the floor very well. I want him to take the ball up and make some plays, as well."
"My assistants like some things we can do to score the ball, but I think we still have to keep working in a lot of areas," He said. "The right play, executing, and I didn't think we set good ball screens. Who knows? That's still a division two team with lots of freshmen, so we've got to get a lot better to score points in the Big Ten."
"We thought long and hard about this," Beilein said. "Michigan does a great thing, a survey with 40 or 50 student athletes. Josh scored as high just on leadership in the whole university. Here he is every day for us we see it. That is the most selfless team, team, team guy I have every coached. It was natural.
"That young man has the ear of this locker room and the coaching staff as well, and he listens to the coaching staff. He has the ability to relate to teammates and be another coach on the floor and in the locker room."
"He's handled all this very well," Beilein said. "Make no mistake, tomorrow he'll be back in that lineup ready to roll. I like the way he's handled this as a real mature young man."