Michigan freshmen face big test vs. Wisconsin
Ann Arbor — In their first game without Caris LeVert, Michigan looked like much the same team they did in the first 18 games with him.
The Wolverines, who lost Levert, their leading scorer for the remainder of the season because of a complete fracture in his left foot, soldiered on with a road win against Rutgers on Tuesday but face a much bigger test Saturday against No. 6 Wisconsin.
Michigan (12-7, 5-2 Big Ten) will face the Big Ten favorites — and national championship contenders — without LeVert and will try to mesh quickly to play better than they did in winning their second straight on Tuesday.
That'll mean increased minutes from freshman Aubrey Dawkins, who assumed LeVert's role in the starting lineup and played a season-high 31 minutes and scored 11 points. Another freshman, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, also is seeing extended quality minutes and having to play a more integral role in the rotation.
It's a huge leap from earlier in the season, when each was relegated to fewer than 10 minutes a game for most of the nonconference season.
"Whether it's attention to detail of the scouting report, they have to know much more. They can study all that and if they play five minutes, 95 percent of it they might not come across," coach John Beilein said Friday. "It's important that we have all hands on deck in everything because you just don't know. That's a perfect example of Muhammad's play against Northwestern and the other day, then Aubrey is in there the whole game.
"The more chances they get this and the more success they have and adversity they face, they're going to learn more."
Dawkins had a breakout game with 20 points in 24 minutes in the Big Ten opener against Illinois and Abdur-Rahkman, getting his first start against Northwestern when Spike Albrecht was out because of an upper-respiratory infection, had a season-high nine points in a season-high 26 minutes.
It's part of the growth process for the young Wolverines, who have five freshmen in their main playing rotation. Learning on the fly can be trying at times — but riding a 5-2 conference record into Saturday's matchup has shown Beilein that it's all building up to something more promising — whether it happens this season or in the future.
"You hear coach-speak all the time, saying it's about the process," Beilein said. "This is a real process we're going to go through. It's not good yet — the big word is 'yet' — but it's going to get there."
Michigan looks to be getting healthier after a harried first half at Rutgers that saw 11 players enter the game. Big man Ricky Doyle (upper-respiratory infection) was limited to seven minutes in each of the last two games, but appears to be coming around and will have a challenge Saturday against Wisconsin All-America center Frank Kaminsky.
Derrick Walton Jr., playing through a sprained toe, hit two big 3-pointers down the stretch and four free throws in the final minute to help seal the victory.
Walton has been limited in practice this week, as he has been in recent weeks, to ease the strain on the toe and save him for game action.
"The only one we held back a little bit was Derrick Walton because the foot hurts a little bit because of the toe," Beilein said. "We're just trying to manage him through this."
Albrecht returned against Rutgers, but wasn't at full strength. Beilein said that Albrecht is recovering and had a good practice Thursday and should be ready to go against the Badgers.
"That was the best he's been in a long time, yesterday," Beilein said Friday. "I shot with him extra in the morning yesterday and he's coming around."
Beilein is concerned mostly with Albrecht's passiveness on offense, passing on open shots and not being as aggressive as needed at certain junctures.
"Hopefully, we worked through it because for 20 minutes, he didn't miss. He's got to be more comfortable. Shooters like (Nik) Stauskas never thought they'd miss so they weren't afraid to shoot. Anybody that has any doubts, we don't want them shooting, because it's probably not going in. we had to give him that confidence back. Hopefully in today's practice, he'll have more success."
GameDay on hand
As part of the ESPN GameDay presentation, the crew of host Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Jay Williams and Seth Greenberg will broadcast from the 10 a.m. show on ESPNU and continue on ESPN at 11 from Crisler Center.
Fans can park for free at Crisler and enter in the northeast and southwest entrances.
It's the second GameDay visit to Michigan, following the 2012 game against Ohio State, which the Wolverines won, 56-51.
Wisconsin at Michigan
Tipoff: 7 p.m. Saturday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
Record: Michigan 12-7, 5-2 Big Ten; No. 6 Wisconsin 17-2, 5-1.
Outlook: Michigan walks into the spotlight in a national broadcast with all the festivities of ESPN's GameDay celebration during the morning. The Wolverines won at Madison last season but lost at home and will have one of their biggest challenges of the conference season. UM has a 2-12 record against the Badgers under Beilein.