UM gets big contributions from Robinson, Wagner

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

More and more, day by day, two big questions are being answered for Michigan basketball.

Namely, Duncan Robinson and Moritz Wagner.

Robinson is a transfer from Division III, while Wagner is a freshman from Germany. The talent always was there, but nobody knew how — or, more importantly, how quick — they would respond.

The answer appears to be pretty darn quick.

"As you watched them in preseason, both of them had some really good qualities, but they weren't necessarily swaggering out there," coach John Beilein said Friday. "They were just sort of out there making shots, they'd miss a couple, maybe they'd hang their head a little bit like it was the end of the world.

"What we've tried to encourage them to be able to do this, 'We're going to throw you the ball, you can do this, you wouldn't be here if we didn't believe in you. Just go out and do your thing.' "

Robinson has scored in double figures three of his last six games, including 17 points in a victory at North Carolina State on Tuesday. He's hitting more than 60 percent of his 3-point tries.

Wagner, meanwhile, was a redshirt candidate when the season tipped off against Northern Michigan, but Beilein wasted no time burning it, and since, Wagner's minutes have gone up, to a high of 23. He's become the inside presence Michigan so badly knew it needed when it lost to Xaver and Connecticut earlier in the season.

"They really responded," Beilein said.

They've gotten help, of course, from guards Derrick Walton Jr. (still nursing a sprained ankle) and Caris LeVert, who has been looking for Robinson and Wagner, and trusts them enough to keep feeding them the ball.

Home cooking

Michigan (5-2) plays five home games this month, starting today against Houston Baptist (2-5), followed by Delaware State, Northern Kentucky, Youngstown State and Bryant.

Not exactly Murderers' Row, not that Beilein is discounting the importance of every game.

"We're trying to get better every day, no matter what the competition is gonna be," he said.

For starters, Beilein continues to work out his rotation, and so there are still some competitions brewing on the Michigan roster. Beilein used Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman as an example. He was at the end of the bench to start the season, but when his number was called Tuesday — against N.C. State, after Walton left with the injury — he thrived, particularly on defense against Cat Barber. No question, more minutes are coming.

"Muhammad-Ali was really down our depth chart when we started practice," said Beilein, adding Abdur-Rahkman was battling a hamstring injury. "Now, all of a sudden, he's playing well. Now we can count on him in a game.

"Outliers are huge in our program ... If they do get a chance, they can make the most of it."

Rule adjustments

Like just about every college team in the country, UM is struggling to adapt to the new rules, which are leading to more tightly-officiated games.

Particularly, UM's big men -- Wagner and Ricky Doyle -- have struggled to adapt.

"You can't put your hands on them at anytime in anyway," Beilein said. "I pride myself in being a teacher. I haven't found a way yet to each young players not to foul until it actually happens.

"They have to learn.

"It's like, 'Don't touch that plate, it's hot.' And your child touches the plate. That's sometimes the best way they can learn."

Slam dunks

LeVert has been named to the watch list for the Naismith Award and the Oscar Robertson Trophy, both given to the top player in the nation.

Spike Albrecht, meanwhile, is a nominee for the National Association of Basketball Coach's Good Works Team.

... Former Pistons coach Larry Brown, now the coach at SMU, won't return from his NCAA suspension in time for the Michigan game Tuesday. He's scheduled to be out until Dec. 17.

Houston Baptist at Michigan

Tip-off: 2 p.m. Saturday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor

TV / radio: ESPNU / WWJ 950

Records: Houston Baptist 2-5; Michigan 5-2

Outlook: This is the first of five Michigan home games in December, all against smaller schools. The road games are much tougher, Tuesday at SMU and Dec. 30 at Illinois. ... Anthony Odunsi leads Houston Baptist, averaging 13.1 points.