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December 11, 2012Michigan's starting lineup appears set for the near future with freshmen Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III joining Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jordan Morgan on the floor to begin games, including tonight's game with 2-8 Binghamton. From there, it gets a bit tricky.
Freshman Mitch McGary continues to improve and will get his minutes. Big men Jon Horford and Max Bielfeldt have also ramped up their play in recent weeks, while true freshmen Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht have also played well in practice. Senior Matt Vogrich, too, could play a role.
It's a good problem to have, head coach John Beilein said.
"We're evaluating the performances," he said. "You look at the Bradley game and Max did a great job and got injured right after that. Jon Horford's last two performances have been outstanding.
"The depth is wonderful. We also just don't want to play guys - it's the guys that earn it, and sometimes to get more comfortable they have to get more minutes. It's a work in progress."
The lineup is set in a way, but never really set because of the possibility of foul trouble or injury.
"I would like to be in a situation where Caris and Spike can get a little bit more time, and play big a little more as well," Beilein said. "It depends on who it is. Some games that's not the way to play. There are many games it is the way to play.
"You'll generally shorten the lineup later on in the year. Every coach does that. Nine or 10 would be good. Nine is always a pretty good number."
Of them, at least eight are vying for significant playing time. That's made practice scrimmages extremely competitive. Add veterans like Josh Bartelstein, Corey Person and Eso Akunne to the mix - "cagey sons of guns back there who know all our plays, and our offense inside and out," Beilein noted - and you've got situations that can be as difficult as many games.
"Our scout team gives us the best games we get sometimes," Beilein reiterated. " It's really competitive in our practices. Everybody knows we're watching everything because that's how we dole out the minutes, obviously.
"But Tim and Trey, they set the stage. They know their minutes aren't at stake like other guys' minutes might be at stake, but they're the hardest two competitors we have. When they set that, it's like Zack [Novak] and Stu [Douglass] all over again. They set that type of demeanor for every practice, and everybody else just follows along."
Playing time will work itself out, he added.
"It's natural. When you don't have depth everywhere or have injuries, guys sitting out, it's a little bit different," he said. "You can have too many players or not enough. You want it to be somewhere in between."
"Max could not practice yesterday, so we'll see," Beilein said. "We're going to take a shot at it. Usually if they can't practice a day before the game, unless you really don't have any depth at that position, we don't want to make it worse."
"We smile. He adds some things," Beilein said. "His arms seem like they go forever, and his quickness adds to that.
"It's going to take time to learn all the things. It's either used as a gimmick a couple times, or you really have to learn it. We're trying to not be a gimmick team, trying to learn it. It can also hurt you if you don't know what you're doing. He's still learning it."
LeVert and Stauskas have both shown they can play up top, Beilein said.
"I don't think we're like this incredible offensive rebounding team," he said. "We got a huge percentage of our misses the other day, which is rare. I think we're a great defensive rebounding team.
"I just think we're big enough and skilled enough. Two things are happening - we're getting more stops and we outlet better. It's taken Jordan Morgan a few years to really outlet quickly. Mitch is a real natural at it, and Jon Horford has done a great job getting the ball over the top.
Horford's offensive progress hasn't matched his work on defense, but he's getting there.
"He's been moving forward at a good pace. It hasn't been a fast pace, but a good pace," Beilein said. "This is the first time I've been able to see him play bigger, block shots really consistently the last couple weeks. That has a lot to do with balance, footwork and posture.
"His ceiling is pretty high. He's just looking for opportunities, and we're trying to give them to him."
"It was really good except for a few times," he said. "We had people back - we practiced it forever.
"We want to score the ball in four seconds, and we want to have four guys, five guys inside the three point in four seconds. Try that. Four seconds to one end, four to the other. Believe me, Arkansas scored a couple four second baskets on us. It's tough."
Especially for guys who take the ball to the basket, like Burke.
"Sometimes you're out of position," Beilein continued. "How many times is Trey on the seat of his pants underneath the basket? We're playing five on four and the basket went in. When you're playing through contact and going the other way, that's hard to defend."