Starting the 2014-15 season off with Saturday afternoon’s home win over Hillsdale, Michigan took the good with the bad.
Michigan really does have a big three this year and a group that it appears they’ll be able to rely on. Sophomore point guard Derrick Walton Jr. led the Wolverines in scoring with 22-points along with four assists and four rebounds.
Caris LeVert, named Monday to the John R. Wooden Preseason Award Watch list along with 50 other players across the country, tipped his junior year off with 20-points, a team high nine assists and eight rebounds.
Oh, and Zak Irvin looked automatic with his jumper, midrange or from beyond the arc, scoring 21-points on a very efficient 8-of-12 shooting on field goals.
The Wolverines needed this and will certainly rely heavily on this type of production as an abnormally large group of freshmen look to get up to speed on both ends of the floor -- more on the freshmen shortly.
Michigan also faced their first bout of adversity as Hillsdale quickly, and to most of the fans in attendance, shockingly, jumped out to a 12-3 advantage Saturday at Crisler Center. The Wolverines would bounce back winning 92-68, receiving big plays and makes from the three mentioned above.
Don’t forget Spike Albrecht either, now a junior and one of the team captains along with LeVert, Albrecht will see more time alongside Walton Jr. in the backcourt this season according to John Beilein. With those two in the backcourt, that’ll be a large reason why Michigan will again rank high in offensive efficiency, turning the ball over just eight times in the opener.
In one word; youth. There’s no replacement for experience and Michigan will need to find as many minutes as possible for a very talented group of freshmen learning their way for the Wolverines.
Now a days it’s Mark Donnal and Kameron Chatman occupying those spots. Two players who in time have the potential to develop into that caliber of defensive player but physically and mentally can be considered works in progress, likely to really begin catching on by the time conference season rolls around.
“I think the freshmen it’s just like you’re looking at the film afterwards and they’ll see it and then you’re trying to work with them individually while, that’s the balance I’m not struggling with it, that’s the puzzle of don’t lose sight of the really good players, develop the young kids, you have to,” Beilein said.
“Continue to feed Caris and Zak and Spike and Derrick, so much reinforcement and individual development while you’re also trying to get the other guys to just land on two feet sometimes and go strong into the lane. That’s a balance that’s difficult for us.”
Michigan made it clear in game one that having experience on the floor will be key early, part of the reason Walton Jr. and Albrecht did see some time together Saturday.
“I think we were just trying to get as much experience on the floor as we could,” Beilein said. “And even though we’re not tiny, we’re six feet and 5-11 at that point and it did give some match-up problems a couple of times.
“If you look at our team with the way the starting lineup is, 40-percent of it is playing in their first games, that’s almost half the team. Anytime we can get Spike in there with him we just up that to 60-percent. That’s sort of the reason we’re doing that, and they’re both good players too.”
A major plus for Michigan, similar to last season when Nik Stauskas turned it on in Big Ten play, Caris LeVert can get the Wolverines a bucket whenever he wants.
Whether it be off the dribble for his own shot or an impressive dump down after drawing a defender, LeVert is vital to start the season and beyond.
“The nine assists and zero turnovers, I mean that’s just, this is something you can see; we got the ball in his hands a lot and he can see the floor, he’s very unselfish,” Beilein said. “That was a really good performance.”
Looking at Bucknell
Michigan is set to host Bucknell (1-0) Monday night to tipoff the Legends Classic at 8 p.m. from Crisler Center.
Coming off a 16-14 season a year ago, the Bison return just one starter from last year’s team that finished 11-7 in the Patriot League.
Chris Hass is a 6-foot-5, 184-pound junior guard from Pellston (Mich.), averaging 11.1 points per game and four rebounds in 23 starts in 2013-14.
Bucknell opened their season with a 75-72 win over Marist, Hass scoring just five points but the Bison did have five players reach double figures in the scoring column, including three off the bench.
Hoffman led the Bison with 14-points to go with nine rebounds against Marist, shooting an impressive 6-of-12 from the field.
Bucknell will fire it up from the outside, making it imperative for Michigan to extend to the perimeter defensively, the Bison only connecting on 7-of-20 attempts in their season opener.
Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen is now in his seventh season in charge of the Bison, a former graduate assistant at Michigan (1989-90), actually earning his master’s degree in Ann Arbor in 1993.