Beilein, new-look Wolverines go from hunted to hunters
There likely isn't a quick fix to Michigan's offensive issues of the past few weeks, nor to the gaping hole at shooting guard, created by Caris LeVert's season-ending injury.
A spate of injuries and illnesses has hit the Wolverines roster, leaving coach John Beilein in a lurch to even find enough healthy bodies to have practice on Monday before Tuesday night's matchup at Rutgers.
LeVert has a fractured left foot, and UM (11-7, 4-2 Big Ten) is waiting on word on freshman forward Kameron Chatman's knee injury, also suffered in Saturday's win over Northwestern. The Wolverines already were without freshman forward D.J. Wilson, who was expected to contribute this season, but has played in just five games and has one field goal.
Wilson has been recovering from a sprained knee and was on the road to a medical redshirt, but with the new injuries, Beilein and Wilson may be revisiting the decision on redshirting this season.
"He still has not been cleared to go full-court yet. We were hoping after the Rutgers game to get some type of clearance on that," Beilein said Monday. "We'll definitely consider (burning the redshirt), but it depends on Kam's injury as well.
"If we were going to burn the redshirt on him, I would like to be able to tell him with 12 regular-season games to go that we're going to be able to play him 15 to 20 minutes a game. I don't think I can do that yet until I know this injury situation right now."
Wilson is part of a recruiting class of six freshman, including Chatman, Ricky Doyle, Aubrey Dawkins, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Austin Hatch. Beilein is striving to get a consistent contribution from any of the freshmen, but with a slew of NBA departures, the graduation of Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford's transfer, he's been left with few other options.
"Having a good bench can be really advantageous when you have the rotation rolling. Having a limited bench can be very advantageous when guys aren't looking over their shoulders and they can play through mistakes," Beilein said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to have more confidence out there for a little bit and there's not someone who can help us more coming off (the bench). They can hang in there and fight through any adversity they're having in a game."
Without LeVert, the Wolverines will have to get scoring from other sources. Beilein emphasized that LeVert's lost production — mainly minutes (35.8) and points (14.9) — creates opportunities for some of the reserves to increase their roles.
That'll put a spotlight on Zak Irvin to pick up his scoring and get back on a similar track as last season, when he was one of the breakout freshmen in the Big Ten. But as Irvin grows into a larger role, having to play more than twice as many minutes and do more than just shoot 3-pointers, he'll look to develop and now have the versatility that LeVert displayed.
"He's still doing some things that he did not do last year — he was a shooter and he defended OK. Now he's growing in all those areas (passing, rebounding, guarding) and those are important areas to grow," Beilein said. "It's important not just for him, but for everybody to get opportunities and we develop a game plan as we go forward, knowing the loss of Caris."
With 12 games to go, Michigan still has an outside shot to make the NCAA Tournament, but without its best player, the task got much more difficult. Although some are writing off the Wolverines' chances, Beilein is moving forward. Instead of being the favorite, as in years past, he'll have to get used to hunting.
"I don't pay much attention, and that's my job to keep the team challenged," he said. "I always feel like I'm a better coach when I'm hunting and we're certainly hunters for the rest of the year.
"That's our only approach that we can use, to try to find edges here or there, get our kids with that chip on their shoulder and go in and do the best we can in every practice, so we can do the best we can in every game."