Albrecht's insertion in Michigan lineup pays dividends

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

University Park, Penn. — Michigan coach John Beilein decided it was time for a change.

Renowned for his teams' offensive prowess, Beilein wasn't happy with the way the Wolverines were playing and did something about it, moving junior point guard Spike Albrecht into the starting lineup.

UM has been a Jekyll-and-Hyde team on offense in recent weeks but seemed to emerge from the rubble with Tuesday night's 73-64 win at Penn State.

Adding some stability with one of their best ball-handlers and caretakers helped the offense, as the Wolverines (9-6, 2-1 Big Ten) shot 53 percent from the field and 60 percent (9-of-15) on 3-pointers.

"I wanted to get more passers out there, more guys that really understand the nuances of what we're doing and just ease the freshmen in off the bench at different times," Beilein said.

With two point guards in the starting lineup, Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin combined to go 12-of-17 from the field and score 35 total points.

"We just slowed the game down. Derrick and Spike did a great job of controlling the game, making it a lot easier," LeVert said. "We took a lot of easier 3s and when the shot clock came, we got good shots."

The move takes pressure off Kameron Chatman, a 6-foot-7 freshman forward who had started all season but was only producing 4.5 points and 3.8 rebounds. That gave UM two juniors, two sophomores and freshman Ricky Doyle in the starting lineup, a mix that Beilein seemed to like a little better.

"Our bench was fantastic. The freshmen, bring them off the bench and play roles where you can do things," Beilein said. "It was the whole idea of get more rest and the bench is maybe more ready or we're going to find out — but we can't keep pressing these guys 37 minutes a game, waiting."

Having the reserve group consisting mostly of freshmen — they contributed 24 points, including eight each Tuesday from Doyle and Aubrey Dawkins — seemed to develop better chemistry. That's starting to carry over from the practice court to game situations.

"There would be one guy breaking down and now we're taking that freshman group and they're playing together every day," Beilein said. "They're getting more reps (in practice) than just playing against the scout team.

"We're playing every day. The freshmen took that starting five to the woodshed yesterday; it's good they're getting more confidence; we just changed what we're doing in practice."

Irvin's development

Although Irvin had been struggling with his shot, he broke out, going 6-of-9 from the field and attacked the rim off the dribble a bit more, which Beilein appreciated.

Irvin, at 6-foot-7, can play the power forward spot for UM, although it's not a traditional big-man position. Irvin's career-high nine rebounds were a bright spot, as was his improved shot selection.

"My teammates and coaches told me to stay confident out there and that's what I was able to do — get in a flow and rhythm early by trying to get to the basket and free-throw line," Irvin said. "I was able to get rebounds down the stretch to help us get the win."

For Beilein, it's an improvement that he's been awaiting and came at a good time for the Wolverines.

"Zak Irvin is driving the ball hard for the first time in his life, really hard. He's driving it and he's going to get reward but there's going to be some risk as well as he figures it out," Beilein said. "That's the next part of his game that he's got to do more — he can't just shoot 3s."