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December 30, 2012
U-M ready for Big Ten play after perfect non-conference
It didn't dawn on Michigan head coach John Beilein until he walked into the locker room that the Wolverines had won without Tim Hardaway Jr. playing a single minute, sidelined with a boot on his right ankle. U-M still managed 88 points (to Central Michigan's 73) without its second leading scorer, but they'll need all hands on deck to win a loaded Big Ten.
Freshman Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Caris LeVert picked up the scoring slack in complementing sophomore Trey Burke's double double (22 points, 11 assists), but CMU scored at will in the second half - 44 points to Michigan's 42.
"That's a team without a weakness," CMU head coach Keno Davis said in the postgame.
The Wolverines, though, showed one without their junior leader.
"The good news was we scored 88 points. The bad news was we gave up 44 in the second half," Beilein said. "I think we really missed his presence."
At the same time, he added, there were plenty of positives, including a 21 to three assist to turnover ratio.
"And then Caris LeVert just being thrown in there. A month ago he was a redshirt - now he's in the starting lineup," Beilein said. "I loved the way he performed.
"We had challenges with Central Michigan because of the speed with which they run their break, probably as good as anybody's run it. They fast break after a basket like Arkansas, N.C. State, very similar and very difficult to keep up with. But I really loved the way we defended pretty much in a half court situation. They had some kids that are really good shooters, and they run some great sets for them. We defended it very well. We got the win, and 13-0 in the non-conference? We'll take that every year if we can get it."
It was a challenging schedule, but nothing like the Wolverines will see in the Big Ten. The veterans told them to expect a more physical game, both Robinson (20 points) and LeVert (nine points, five assists) said. The coaches, too, have done their part to try to prepare them.
There's only so much they can say, though, Beilein noted.
"We've been trying to tell them all year long - the defense is so terrific in the Big Ten," Beilein said. "Look at the points we're scoring now. It's going to be tough to match that. The intensity level, the coaching level is as good as it gets, and we've seen good coaches already. The group we're ready to go against now is the best of the best, and the players, obviously. We can try to prepare them, but nothing prepares you like being in it."
Burke leads the way
Burke found that out a year ago, carrying the team at times before running on fumes down the stretch. He's got more scoring options around him now, however, and has elevated his game.
On Saturday, he scored nearly at will against an overmatched CMU team.
"He is the most veteran sophomore I've see as far as his poise," Beilein said. "He's as veteran as any sophomore I've ever been around. I'm looking at him like he's the old man out there running the offense. He knew there were going to be three or four freshmen on the floor with him a lot tonight, but he was just as steady as can be. They played matchup zone, 1-3-1 - we've seen two straight games 100 percent zone. There are a lot of different things they are doing he's reading. I'm really proud of him."
LeVert, too, played more aggressively in the first half while the Chippewas keyed on Stauskas, scoring nine points on triples, jumpers and spin moves to the basket. He also found his teammates for easy looks off the dribble, particularly Robinson III.
"We have this thing, 'next man up,'" Beilein said. "We hate to see injuries, but a guy like Eso [Akunne], Matt Vogrich, Caris, they always get extra work knowing they might not play or might have to play 10, maybe 20 minutes. Caris showed he was really ready today. He shoots from three but can get in the lane pretty well, and he sees people.
"We had no other choice [but to start him]. He is Tim's back up. It's not a depth chart like football, but he is in the backcourt. When Tim went down, there were 40 minutes waiting. He was going to play as long as played well enough to stay in there."
That was most of the first half, proving Michigan isn't just top heavy, but deep. Whether it's enough to win the Big Ten remains to be seen, but Beilein likes what he's seen so far.
"We made an educated decision thinking the long road in the Big Ten is more important than having him ready for every game," Beilein said. "Based on what I found out about the injury, we needed a little time or it could nag him all year long. I do not know when he will be back."
They'll take it slow, he added.
"We wanted to use these times to give him yesterday off, today, tomorrow. We don't play until Thursday, so we're going to give him as much rest as we can and then probably take another look at it," he added.
"That gave great openings for Caris, Trey and everybody else," Beilein said. "Once they started to pay more attention to Trey, which I think everybody should, Nik was wide open."
Robinson, meanwhile, benefited from a number of great passes and his finishing ability to finish with 20. He struggled from the outside, but did hit a triple from the corner.
"We're finding out what he does well and we'll encourage him to continue to work on that, plus some other things we want him to do more of," Beilein said. "He's starting to understand when to cut backdoor, shoot it, drive it, rebounds he can get, loose balls. He's just playing off instincts a lot.
"We try to put him in action where he can just play ball. The more he plays, the more comfortable he is in what we're doing."