Beilein Looking to Trust, 'Develop' Bench

Michigan coach John Beilein says the bench must improve for his Wolverines after a shocking 72-70 loss at home to NJIT.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Well one thing is clear, Michigan needs every member of the big three -- Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin -- to produce night in and night out.

And when they don’t, the Wolverines (6-2) become pretty vulnerable.

Take Saturday for example, No. 17 Michigan playing host to the New Jersey Institute of Technology (3-5), a game the Wolverines ultimately lost 72-70.

LeVert took the game over at times, particularly in the second half on his way to scoring a career-high 32-points, grabbing a team high six rebounds and four steals.

Walton Jr., he did his part tallying 16-points in 38 minutes of work despite dealing with a lingering left toe issue.

But Irvin was off all afternoon, finishing the day shooting just 1-of-8 on three-point attempts. That performance from Irvin coming from the same guy that was nearly a lock to make four or five threes every game so far this season.

With Irvin sputtering, who could Michigan go to instead? Unfortunately for the Wolverines no one else on the bench can come onto the floor and provide a scoring spark from the perimeter, outside of Spike Albrecht (though Albrecht is essentially playing starter minutes next to Walton Jr.).

“I think the big thing we have to go forward is continue to develop our bench so that when we see a guy who is not right at the time, to be able to get him out of there and put somebody else in,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “Because we see it’s not going to work. We just have to keep working at that too, to develop the bench.

“We’re working at it in practice, not using it enough in the game because they’re still earning some trust but this is really important that Aubrey (Dawkins), Muhammad (Ali Abdur-Rahkman) can come off the bench and give us more.”

Michigan had this luxury each of the last two seasons.

In 2012-13, it was Albrecht and LeVert stepping onto the floor and able to deliver a key three here, a steal there. Just last year, if Nik Stauskas struggled, there was Irvin ready to come out of his seat firing three balls, often a key component in several of Michigan’s wins a season ago.

But most importantly, each player in those roles could come onto the floor and fit in, not disrupting the offensive flow and seemingly aware of the cohesion it takes to play sound defensive basketball against a quality opponent.

This year, Michigan’s freshmen wings just aren’t there yet, not that it can be expected for all first year college basketball players.

Dawkins has played in six games this season while Abdur-Rahkman has taken the floor just five times, neither averaging more than six minutes per appearance. Dawkins played just one minute in the first half Saturday in the loss to NJIT.

Now eight games into the season and playing a non-conference schedule that features some cupcakes, teams that ordinarily would provide Michigan with some time to feature the freshmen, the Wolverines are still trying to get Dawkins and Abdur-Rahkman up to speed.

“Over in Europe we were going back and forth, back and forth, but I think as the game as got in front of us -- and maybe it’s my fault,” Beilein said. “I got to put them in the game to find out but we haven’t seen in practice the type of efficiency that would lend to game play yet in some areas.

“So we’ve got to keep working in practice. When I see it in practice, get in there. But it is a thing; we’ve got to develop this bench right now. It’s important.”

Michigan will certainly need to find some help prior to next Saturday’s showdown on the road at No. 3 Arizona (7-0).

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