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Michigan seeking quick growth from freshmen in New York

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

New York — Before Michigan's season began, coach John Beilein lamented the lack of progress that his freshmen were making in learning the offensive schemes.

After three games, the young Wolverines are no closer to mastering things, but there's little time to cram, with two tough games in two days in New York. UM (3-0) will face Oregon on Monday and either Virginia Commonwealth or Villanova in the championship rounds of the Legends Classic at Barclays Center.

Despite early struggles by freshmen Kam Chatman and Mark Donnal, Beilein said he's sticking with his young players, hoping they'll catch on from on-court experience rather than watching from the bench.

"We're not thinking about any changes in (the starting lineup) right now at all," Beilein said Saturday on a teleconference. "Just continue to give him more and more opportunities to grow at that position and make sure he continues and the game will slow down more for him. Usually it's more defense than offense for freshmen."

Chatman, a freshman forward, has averaged 3.3 points and three rebounds in the first three games and his ineffectiveness on defense added to Beilein's decision to play with a more veteran squad down the stretch of Thursday's win over Detroit.

The freshmen played sparingly in the second half and Chatman played a season-low 10 minutes. He's shot 3-of-16 (19 percent) from the field, including 0-of-4 on 3-pointers.

While the freshmen have looked to get untracked, the Wolverines have been led by their Big Three of Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. in the first three games. Seven players in Michigan's rotation have freshman eligibility, so Beilein is willing to go through some of the growing pains to reap the benefits later.

"We have less questions every day but there's a lot of questions. That's very typical of a team that has this type of makeup," Beilein said. "After three games we have a lot of work to do, and how quickly we can answer those questions will help us go in a more pointed direction because we're trying to figure out who's who."

Donnal, who took over in the middle, is averaging five points in 17.3 minutes and has played behind senior Max Bielfeldt in certain situations, given the difference in experience. Bielfeldt has a career-best 18 points last week against Bucknell and played some key minutes in the Detroit win.

For Beilein, being able to lean on Bielfeldt is a luxury, given his relative lack of playing time in his career.

"It's really been important for us that Max can give us the great scout-team work every day and after four years, he knows how we're playing offensively and defensively," Beilein said. "He's still small for a big man but he can shoot and he's got a good attitude. It's really important we have him to back up any of the young guys while they continue to grow."

Beilein, regarded as one of the top teaching coaches in the game, is looking forward to working with this group and to how good they could be at the end of the year after they've developed more.

In that way, it's not just about what happens on the court, but how they evaluate the improvement after each game and finding ways to work on those things. Two other bigs, D.J. Wilson and Ricky Doyle, haven't made significant statistical contributions in the first three games, but also will be tested against Oregon.

"There has to be a lot of what we really emphasize — embracing the growth mindset that this is not about me having a bad game. What did I learn today that is going to help me be a better player down the line?" Beilein said. "That's with all our freshmen. D.J., Ricky, they're all in the same situation, not unlike 95 percent of the other freshmen in the country who are going through the same thing. You try to tell them that because they're not alone in this."

Michigan vs. Oregon

Tip-off: 9 p.m. Monday, Barclays Center, New York

Records: No. 24 Michigan 3-0, Oregon 3-0

Radio: WWJ

Outlook: Michigan will get its toughest test of the season in the Legends Classic. The Wolverines have played well in New York tournament games the past few years, but their inexperience will be tested by the Ducks, who have never beaten them. ... Oregon's Joseph Young was a Pac-12 second-team selection last year.