Michigan will have its fair share of challenges when it heads to New York to face Marquette Thursday and either SMU or Pittsburgh Friday in the 2K Classic tournament at Madison Square Garden.
And it’s not just dealing with the heightened competition. Michigan coach John Beilein will face his own test trying to figure out the best rotation and keeping his players fresh on the back-to-back.
Sophomore Moritz Wagner succeeded redshirt junior Mark Donnal for the starting center spot and both have produced at a nearly identical clip through two games. Wagner is averaging 10.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in 17 minutes and Donnal is averaging 10 points and 4.5 rebounds in 21 minutes.
But according to Beilein, he’s still mulling the decision whether to keep redshirt junior forward Duncan Robinson in the starting lineup or replace him with redshirt sophomore forward D.J. Wilson.
Wilson has provided a jolt off the bench in both of Michigan’s wins with eight points, 11 rebounds and three blocks per game. Meanwhile, Robinson has struggled to get into a rhythm on offense, shooting 33.3 percent (4-for-12) from the field.
“We're going to look at it one more time. There could be a change, we'll see,” Beilein said. “Duncan is really improved in some areas. D.J. has really improved in a lot of areas as well, so sometimes that may be matchup driven or just who do we want to come off the bench with some swag. We'll figure that out."
Beilein also has to figure out how to get seniors Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin, who are averaging 35.5 and 30.5 minutes, respectively, some rest.
"That's going to be interesting. We got to play to win first of all and worry about the next day, but you will see (freshmen Xavier Simpson) and Ibi (Watson) in there in the first half,” Beilein said. “We're hoping that we're 100 percent healthy. There's nothing but little nicks and things like that, but you never know.
“We'll try to reduce minutes the best that we can and still win that game. Two games in two nights, we do get to rest on Saturday and Sunday a little bit before we make our next trip, but I'd love to be able to have our prime minute guys be at 30 minutes in these games and I don't know if that's going to happen."
Walton is shooting 50 percent on 3-pointers (7-for-14) and is leading the team in scoring (16.5 points), but did so playing the second half against Howard and entire game against IUPUI with a sore ankle.
Yet, Beilein said he doesn’t want to have Walton log heavy minutes and has had Simpson cut into Walton’s court time in practice to lessen the workload.
“The goal is to get (the minutes) down and we got to find a way to do that,” Beilein said. “I think Xavier right now is growing everyday defensively, understanding our offense is a process.
“I do not want 36 minutes a game, but if we got to win and hang on and try to get him rest later on, that's what we're going to have to do."
3-pointers for good cause
Michigan is teaming with the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches for the Coaches vs. Cancer 3-point challenge. The season-long campaign aims to help raise funds in the fight against cancer for research, programs and services.
Fans can pledge a donation for every 3-pointer made by Michigan. The team who raises the most money will be crowned the champ, with all proceeds benefiting the ACS.
Michigan has already hit 16 3-pointers in wins over Howard and IUPUI.
Michigan vs. Marquette
Tip-off: 9:30 p.m. Thursday, Madison Square Garden, New York
Outlook: This is the fifth straight season Michigan will play in New York…Marquette (2-0) is led by senior G Jajuan Johnson (17.5 points) and sophomore G Haanif Cheatham (13.5 points). It returns four starters with the exception of F Henry Ellenson, who was drafted by the Pistons with the 18th pick in 2016 NBA draft.