ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- One position group Michigan (5-1) couldn’t afford to lose a body is center, but that’s precisely the case as the Wolverines will be without freshman D.J. Wilson for 3-to-4 weeks with a sprained knee.
The timing isn’t exactly ideal either as Syracuse (5-1) heads into Crisler Center Tuesday night for the B1G/ACC Challenge.
The Orange come in with a very productive front line led by 6-foot-9 senior center Rakeem Christmas, off to a hot start this season averaging 17.5 points per game to go with 9.5 rebounds.
“It’s going to be difficult because that’s where all our youth is,” Michigan coach John Beilein said Monday. “Now (Chris) McCullough’s a freshman and he’s a spectacular player and Christmas has been around for a little bit and has really evolved as a true low post presence.
“It’s going to be a tough one for us.”
McCullough is right behind Christmas right now boasting a 15.3 scoring average with 8.3 rebounds a contest as well.
Syracuse actually comes in with four players averaging over five rebounds per game, three of whom reel in more than 7.5 boards every 40-minutes.
“They rebound 40-percent of their misses,” Beilein said. “And it’s very hard to get out in transition if you can’t get a defensive rebound so it’s important that we find bodies -- unlike what we did against Oregon -- find bodies, box out, (and) minimize the number of possessions they get.”
Against Oregon, a game Michigan was able to win 70-63, the Ducks outrebounded the Wolverines 41-29, able to secure a staggering 18 offensive rebounds.
Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin actually led Michigan in rebounding against Oregon with five a piece, Derrick Walton Jr. also offering four, but with Walton Jr. potentially out or limited with a left toe issue, the brunt of the responsibility will fall on the Wolverines two freshmen big men.
“You look at the Ricky Doyle’s and Mark Donnal’s and then you look at the people they’re going to have to play against this year, the big men, like Christmas, like the big kid from Georgetown, (A.J.) Hammons in Indiana, (Kaleb) Tarczewski -- they’re going to learn a lot about playing low post defense at a very young age.”
A rarity so far in this early season, and really throughout Beilein’s time at Michigan, a lineup featuring two post players together on the floor at the same time is being explored to help quell the Syracuse length and rebounding prowess.
“That could happen,” Beilein said. “In some situations we could do that. With Syracuse playing 100-percent zone that’s more of a possibility than normal.”
Perhaps the most encouraging area of growth among the freshmen has been the emergence of Doyle on both ends of the floor.
Doyle scored a career-high 10-points in the win over Oregon, then quickly surpassing that with 15-points in Saturday’s win over Nicholls State.
“He’s always played hard but most young players don’t understand playing hard until they get to this level,” Beilein said. “The game is slowing down for him, all the calls, all the things that we do it’s tough for a freshman to grab it all and still have timing.
“And now that’s all coming together cause he is one that has, his dad being 7-foot-1 and I would assume was a physical player looking at his size, he’s been taught that from day one.”