Michigan coach John Beilein might not have finished in first place, but he still enjoyed the recruiting race.
Beilein’s consolation prize? A date with familiar face and Texas freshman sensation Mohamed Bamba, the coveted center who picked the Longhorns over Duke, Kentucky and Michigan back in May.
For the Wolverines, they’ll get an up close and personal look of what they missed out on Tuesday night. But for Beilein, the reunion serves as a reminder of what attracted him to Bamba during Michigan’s long pursuit of the uber-talented and intelligent prospect.
“He’s a young man who in conversation is extremely engaging and looking at a bigger picture of life than many really talented young men his age,” Beilein said. “He’s a really impressive kid. We wouldn’t have recruited him if we felt he was just a guy that was going to come rent a spot here for a year and not be interested in education at all.
“I think (he had) a 30 on his ACT. He’s more than just a basketball player.”
And he’s not bad one at that. Bamba, who is projected to be a top-five pick in the 2018 NBA draft, is averaging 10.7 points and 10.1 rebounds and shooting 50.9 percent from the field through seven games for Texas.
Entering Tuesday’s game in Austin, Texas, Bamba has recorded at least eight rebounds in every contest and has scored at least 13 points three times. His stats could be even better, but he missed a nonconference game against New Hampshire earlier this season after suffering a concussion in practice.
While Bamba (6-foot-11) is considered a raw product on the offensive end, he is known for his shot-altering presence on defense that makes opponents think twice before trying to score when he’s in the area.
He ranks fourth in the nation with 4.0 blocks per game, and helps anchor a Texas defense that ranks 22nd in the nation in field-goal percentage defense (37.8 percent) and 35th in scoring defense (63.8 points).
“I think Mo Bamba is a tremendous player,” Beilein said. “It’s an impressive team and of course their defensive field-goal percentage is very good, but when Mo is blocking (four) shots a game, that changes things. We could’ve been at 39 (percent shooting) the other day just with three misses. It’s a good defensive team and we’ll have to really work hard to score.”
The Wolverines found that out firsthand last season during a drag-it-out 53-50 victory over Texas that went down to the wire. They shot 41.7 percent from the field and finished with their second-lowest scoring output of the season in a game that junior center Moritz Wagner could only describe as “nasty, ugly and disgusting to watch.”
And with the addition of Bamba, points could be even harder to come by as Michigan attempts to sweep the home-and-home series.
“Their whole team is very long,” Wagner said. “Mo Bamba is obviously a great rim protector, can stretch the floor a little bit, a good finisher around the basket. He’s just a very talented kid.
“That’s what I love about basketball, love about playing at Michigan is you play against the best. It’s going to be fun.”
Holding out hope
Entering Tuesday’s game, forward Duncan Robinson is shooting 5-for-30 from the field, including 4-for-24 on 3-pointers, over the last four contests.
While Beilein would like to get freshman Isaiah Livers more minutes at the four, he said Livers is “making steps” and has to start playing at a speed that will take his play to a different level instead of reverting back to one that’s comfortable.
Until that time comes, Beilein is adamant Robinson will return to form, and added he’s finding other ways to make an impact when his shot is faltering.
“(Robinson) graded out pretty well on defense the other day (against UCLA),” Beilein said. “He made a couple really nice passes that were big for us. He probably is judged too much for how he shoots the ball.
“There’s all these plays within the plays, and he’s talking to people that make us flow. Somebody like Isaiah may be shooting the same percentage he would but doesn’t understand the other things that are going on out there. Whether he’s making them or not, he still adds some things to the team.”
Texas will be without sophomore guard and leading scorer Andrew Jones for the first time this season. Jones, who is averaging 15.3 points and a team-best 43 percent on 3-pointers, is out indefinitely with a wrist fracture.
“He’s a great player,” Beilein said. “I saw him last year, we saw him at an NBA camp, as well.
“Hate to see that happen to anybody. They have enough good players, however, and we’re going to have to play our best game of the year to get a win.”
… Entering Tuesday’s game, former Saginaw Arthur Hill standout Eric Davis Jr. is averaging six points, 1.5 rebounds and 17.8 minutes in eight games off the bench for Texas.