Two exhibition games, as impressive as they were for Michigan, aren't enough to back up a No. 5 national ranking. There's no question, however, that there are plenty of positives. More were on display in Monday night's 76-48 exhibition win over Saginaw Valley State.
Trey Burke was Trey Burke, the sophomore point guard scoring 16 points in 21 minutes, adding eight assists to only one turnover and getting wherever he wanted on the floor with an array of moves. Sitting out a game (suspension) helped him realize how many weapons the Wolverines really had, he said in the postgame, and he did a great job distributing while picking his spots to score.
"He was in practice in the days since he's come back, watching Nik Stauskas and Tim Hardaway, Matt Vogrich, all those options he has, the big men, how they're trying to play off each other," head coach John Beilein said. "You've got to trust that. Those two options, the bigs and shooters, have not been as strong as they are right now. As the point guard you have to make everybody think they're going to score while they're looking. He's getting better and better at that."
The defense continues to improve, Beilein added, especially the intensity. Freshman Glenn Robinson III (17 points, 3-5 on triples) is a natural, having picked things up quickly, while the others are still learning, but playing hard.
The team has an unselfishness through two games, too, evidenced by junior Tim Hardaway's play. Hardaway scored only five points in 26 minutes, but he dished six assists and grabbed three rebounds.
"Six assists, two turnovers - that's a pretty good day," Beilein said. "He made extra passes, attracted a lot of attention. I'm sure other games he'll have those numbers, and in another game he might have 28 points. People are paying a lot of attention to him, and he made the right play. He had some plays, a high low drop, a couple other plays you rarely see him make with such speed. He was right on them."
The competition will improve, of course, but the numbers were off the charts for a second straight game. U-M shot 57 percent from the floor, over 40 percent (40.7) for the second game in row from three. Assists to turnovers were 23 to seven, rebounds 34 to 18. Freshman Mitch McGary (six points, 10 rebounds in 20 minutes) and redshirt junior Jordan Morgan (seven points, seven rebounds in 24 minutes) played with great energy and ran the floor hard.
The biggest thing - they're just starting to tinker with different combinations that should make them even more efficient when the meat of the schedule arrives.
"We're experimenting more than every ever with the five freshmen, preparing to play with two big guys," Beilein said. "We've probably thrown more at Trey and Spike [Albrecht] than we threw at the point guards last year, and they're responding okay. We'll still add some things, experiment with what we can do well."
It's early, but at this point, that seems to be plenty.
Beilein said the freshmen are on an expected pace in picking things up defensively.
"They're not below what I think freshmen would be," he said. "At times there's a remarkable difference between when the veterans are out there and the freshmen. They can get paralyzed by all the thinking.
"Nik did a unique move with a screen from the opposite side, and that usually doesn't happen that quickly. Glenn is just really good defensively for a kid that age."
Jon Horford is expected to return Friday for the opener with Slippery Rock after injuring his knee in practice. He might be rusty, Beilein said, but he'll get his minutes.
Beilein has often mentioned good shooters will rarely go 1-for-6 on bad shooting nights. Stauskas wasn't automatic Tuesday night - "a bad night for him," McGary said with a smile - but still made two of five triples.
"I like having that shooter come off the bench," Beilein said. "That's why I'd hold Stu Douglass back - a guy to go in there, have confidence to go in and shoot right away. It's an adjustment with every shooter who has probably never come off the bench in his life. You expect magic every time, but he's not going to be automatic some nights.
"If he misses, I'm more confident the next one is going in. I see what I see every day in practice, and it's really special the way he can put the ball in the basket. Two for five is a bad night for him. That would be great news for me."
Robinson's shooting has continued to improve, to the point that he's become reliable beyond the arc.
"Early season workouts he was okay. Since then he's spent a lot of time in the gym on his own," Beilein said. "We do mini games at the end of a game and he's had the winning shot several times, all on threes. You don't want that type of athlete falling in love with threes, but if they're going to give him that type of space, he can really shoot.
"Trey was this way last year. You look back at Zack and Stu, they picked up things easily. It comes easily to him; he learns it. There's another gear I think he's got, so he'll keep working on it, but not defensively. It's offensively being more assertive, putting more pressure on the rim."