Wolverines steam into Big Ten play with lessons learned

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — The easy days are over.

Now, Michigan basketball turns its attention to the Big Ten — which certainly will provide more of a challenge than, say, Delaware State and Bryant.

The Wolverines had their share of fun in their last four games, all nonconference cupcakes, a stretch that saw two UM players, Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr., post triple-doubles, and UM set the program record for 3s in a game.

There were fastbreak dunks, alley-oop highlights and all sorts of entertainment for the funs.

But what does that all mean?

Not much if Michigan can't carry that over to Big Ten play, starting Dec. 30 at Illinois.

"It's always good to go out and try to measure where you're at," Walton said. "I think guys are ready.

"We're just ready to go."

UM makes record 17 3-pointers in lopsided win

Michigan's  Caris LeVert  increased his practice time on Wednesday.

The early part of Michigan's nonconference season was much more stacked, with games against big-and-tall Xavier, Connecticut and SMU.

Michigan lost all three of those games, and badly.

Just so happens those are the kind of physical teams Michigan (10-3) will be seeing almost every game in the Big Ten.

That's not to say UM isn't ready. Coach John Beilein used the four home nonconference games against Delaware State, Northern Kentucky, Youngstown State and Bryant to make some changes — some wholesale, some not so much.

Duncan Robinson, the sharpshooter from long range whose assist game has picked up, too, moved into the starting lineup, and Aubrey Dawkins became the sixth man, a role he seems to embrace so far. Zak Irvin, still working his way back from back surgery, put hours in the gym working on his shot, and the dividends appear to be coming.

Michgan also used the games to see what it can be without Spike Albrecht, who's likely done for the season following two offseason hip surgeries. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, for starters, has thrived in his place, especially on defense.

The passing game, especially from Levert and Walton, has greatly improved, too. Michigan's turning into a very unselfish team, a good sign, given all the 3-point threats that are on the roster.

About the only thing Michigan hasn't figured out is its big-man rotation. Ricky Doyle and Moritz Wagner have their moments, good and bad, and Mark Donnal has had his good moments in recent games, too. But there's definitely a lack of consistency and physicality.

"These games have been big for us, just in terms of connection on the court, being more comfortable playing with each other on both ends of the floor," said Robinson, in his first year playing for Michigan after sitting out last season following a transfer.

"That's been good and that's something that will definitely carry over into Big Ten play."

Off the mark

Irvin was in a slump. A bad slump.

But it might be coming to an end, after he made two of four 3-pointers in Wednesday's 96-60 win over Bryant.

Teammates have been super supportive during his struggles, telling him that everybody goes through it.

Even you, Duncan?

"I've gone through some slumps in my life for sure," Robinson said, laughing.

What's that for you? Thirty-five percent from 3s?

"Something like that," he said, smiling. "I'm not sure."

Robinson finished nonconference play shooting 59.5 percent from 3s, or 47 of 79.

Irvin, such a good 3-point shooter two years ago as a freshman, was on the opposite end, though he's starting to turn it around.

"Everyone goes through slumps like that, whatever the sport is," Robinson said. "To get that slump-buster or whatever you want to call it, it's certainly a relief. It's perfect timing, Big Ten season right around the corner."