Dec. 5, 2012
By Morgan Bailey, U-M Public & Media Relations
A few months ago, there was a lot of preseason hype surrounding the University of Michigan men's basketball team. The Wolverines earned their highest preseason ranking in years, the new Crisler Center was sure to impress fans, and the team had new leaders coming off their first Big Ten championship in 26 years. Perhaps most exciting of all, however, was the expectations surrounding the incoming freshman class.
Throughout the preseason, the Wolverines insisted that the hype was not important. Rather, what really mattered was what they brought to the court once the season began. With eight games under their belt, Michigan is undefeated and ranked third in the nation, according to the AP and ESPN/USA Today national polls. The 8-0 record is the best start to a season the Maize and Blue has seen since the 1996-97 campaign.
With a decisive 73-41 victory over the Western Michigan Broncos on Tuesday night (Dec. 4), the Wolverines cruised to another 'W.' All five of the freshmen saw game time, and 33 of Michigan's 73 total points were scored by freshmen. In addition to two freshmen making the starting lineup (Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas), there were times throughout Tuesday's game when as many as four freshmen were playing at one time.
"The biggest thing is that you don't usually rely on freshmen to enhance team chemistry, that usually comes from veterans," head coach John Beilein remarked after Tuesday's victory. "The five of them are very close, and they bring that energy to the team. It's amazing to see the energy we have in the locker room as a team -- it's a pretty good feeling to be in there."
In the first seven games for the Wolverines, Stauskas had been shooting 57.7 percent from the field and 62.1 percent from three-point range. His impressive ability to knock down baskets earned him Big Ten Freshman of the Week two weeks in a row (Nov. 26 & Dec. 3), as well as a position in the starting lineup for the Wolverines. Against the Broncos, however, Stauskas was 50 percent from the field in 31 minutes of play.
Filling the gap when Stauskas was not dropping shots, fellow freshman Mitch McGary was a perfect 5-for-5 from the field, finishing with 10 points in just 14 minutes of play.
"We have a saying called 'next man up,'" McGary commented. "If another guy isn't hitting shots, we have a lot of people on the bench that can come in and score points for us. Luckily, tonight I was able to come in and have guys find me when I was open. I appreciate Nik and Trey (Burke) assisting me, and I was capable of knocking them down."
'Next man up' has been an important motto for the freshmen as they acclimate to college play and where they fit in on a very talented team. With the Big Ten season beginning in less than a month, these early games have been vital in getting the young players experience at the collegiate level.
"This early experience is really important," McGary said. "Just to see what the level of play is like and see how fast the play is. I need to slow down some. I play really fast and I had a couple of times when I had a few turnovers because of it. In my mind, I know what I'm doing, but my body is moving too fast."
After the Wolverines' first six games, the coaching staff decided against redshirting freshman guard Caris LeVert, who saw his first game action against Bradley last Saturday (Dec. 1). Now adapting to being ready to play at any minute, LeVert is taking advantage of the early-season experience in order to learn the plays and acclimate himself to Division I basketball.
"It's great getting out there with my team," LeVert commented with a grin. "They help me out a lot on the court, offensively and most importantly defensively. Tim (Hardaway Jr.) is helping me out offensively, telling me where to go; there are certain plays where I need to learn that, and defensively as well with the 1-3-1 zone and 2-3 zone and all of the switching patterns. It's fun getting out there and getting acclimated."
"The experience is one of the reasons why we burned the redshirt on Caris LeVert," Coach Beilein remarked. "There's plenty of time to burn it, but we just wanted to get him in there. Playing against an opponent that is 6-1 like Western Michigan, it is good to get him out there and making plays. I'm really pleased with what all of the freshmen did today."
Moving on from Tuesday night's victory, the Wolverines are looking forward to their next opponent, Arkansas, on Saturday (Dec. 8). With the momentum gained from the first eight games, the Wolverines will hope to continue their perfect record and continue benefiting from the talent of the freshman class.