Ann Arbor — It doesn’t have to happen today. It doesn’t have to happen tomorrow. But, soon, Michigan basketball coach John Beilein would like to whittle down his rotation from 13 players to eight or nine.
The first two games of the season hasn’t determined anything, yet.
“There’s just dead heats running at several positions,” Beilein said Thursday. “This is all part of the process we’re going to go through to select who is playing as the season progresses.”
One of those positions where there’s a noticeable battle is forward, where No. 24 Michigan has been rotating three players — junior Mark Donnal, sophomore Ricky Doyle and freshman Moritz Wagner.
All three are expected to see a fair amount of playing time against Xavier at 9 Friday night at Crisler Center.
After all, Michigan might need them all against Xavier’s 6-foot-10, 238-pound junior, Jalen Reynolds, who attended Livonia Stevenson.
“We have fouls to give there now,” Beilein said. “He is an excellent player, he passes the ball out of the post, he scores the ball, he’s a tremendous offensive rebounder. It’s gonna be a challenge.
“He’ll be really tough for any of our guys to defend. (Former UM defensive standout) Jordan Morgan would have his hands full, as well.”
Reynolds averaged 9.9 points and 6.1 rebounds a year ago for Xavier, which is averaging 41 rebounds through its two regular-season games. Michigan is averaging 32.
Beilein emphasizes practice when picking his starting lineup, so he wasn’t going to pick Friday’s starters until after Thursday night’s practice. Energy on defense and rebounding, specifically offensive rebounding, will get you more minutes, too.
That’s the message Donnal, Doyle and Wagner are hearing really well, though Wagner, given his youth and transition to the American game from Germany, probably is getting a little more rope.
“Our biggest thing, everybody’s just gotta block out,” Beilein said. “We still have some guys, that’s all they need to do to play is block out, and they’re going to get on the court. We have a couple guys that watch the ball in the air.
“We cannot break the habit with some of them, and that’s what we have to do.”
Beilein has been mighty impressed with Wagner’s basketball IQ.
That’s a big reason why he won’t be redshirting this year.
“I realize he’s still a freshman. He’s making energetic mistakes, he’s not standing around,” Beilein said. “He just is a pleasure to coach.”
Recently, when UM players and coaches were discussing a zone offense, Wagner went to Beilein.
“He wanted to show me a play that he’s run before that really works against a zone,” Beilein said. “I love my guys. I don’t have too many guys that can grab a board and do a play. That really shows he’s thinking the game, he understands the game.”
Beilein also said Wagner picks things up very quickly, whether it’s the language or a certain skill.
For instance, he wasn’t rebounding. Beilein and coaches got on him, and all of a sudden he’s rebounding.
“He just gets things really easily,” Beilein said.
A big factor in his development, Beilein said, will be the time he puts in the weight room, bulking up that 6-10, 225-pound frame.
Beilein couldn’t rave enough about Xavier, a Big East power which has made the NCAA Tournament 16 of the last 20 years.
It’s an excellent early season test for Michigan, which breezed past Northern Michigan and Elon to start the season.
“It is time to play a team like this. This team has had incredible success,” Beilein said. “They just continue to win, no matter what league they’re in, they win, they win, they win.
“I wish Michigan had the same consistency over the past 20 years.
“They are loaded up with a really good team. We’re gonna have to play great basketball.”
This is the beginning of a stretch of tough foes for Michigan, which on Monday will travel to the Bahamas, where it will play three games against a loaded field — starting with No. 19 Connecticut — before road games against North Carolina State and SMU early next month.
Xavier at Michigan
Tip-off: 9 p.m. Friday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
Records: Xavier 2-0; Michigan 2-0
Outlook: Xavier has two former Metro Detroit stars on its roster — junior forward Jalen Reynolds (Livonia Stevenson) and freshman guard Edmond Sumner (Country Day). ... The last time these teams met was in the opening round of the 1989 NCAA Tournament, a 92-87 victory that kicked of the Wolverines’ championship run. ... Xavier has won seven of its last 10 games against Big Team teams.