Notebook: Beilein stresses patience at Michigan’s open practice

Alejandro Zúñiga

After the Michigan basketball team finished its hour-long open practice Wednesday evening, John Beilein addressed the more than 1,000 fans who had shown up to watch at Crisler Center.

“I want to let you know that this team has so much potential,” Beilein said. “These guys have been waiting for all those shots, all those minutes, all those defensive possessions.”

The coach promised that the Wolverines will be fun to watch this year. But he also stressed that with such a young roster, some of the excitement will come from witnessing the team’s growth throughout the season.

And the open practice showcased plenty of both aspects: Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton all looked improved and several of the freshmen impressed, but Beilein grew agitated with sloppy decisions from young players.

Freshman Mark Donnal struggled offensively and looked overpowered in the paint. After a sequence in which he missed layups in consecutive possessions, Beilein instructed the center to run the stairs. Aubrey Dawkins also suffered a similar punishment after attempting — and missing — a one-handed lob.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman started on Michigan’s second team alongside Dawkins during the scrimmage, and the guard looked comfortable attacking the basket and as a distributor. But he too drew an admonishment from Beilein for dribbling himself into trouble and committing a turnover, and the freshman continues to search for consistency with his jumper.

The scrimmage ended with a mock end-of-game situation that began with the score tied at 70. LeVert sank a three from the top of the key with 3.4 seconds remaining — Beilein bumped the clock back up to four seconds because “I can do what I want” — to secure a 81-78 win for his team.

Here are other takeaways from the open practice with just four days remaining until the Wolverines’ exhibition.

Kameron Chatman poised to be a starter

Unsurprisingly, Kameron Chatman played with the first team alongside Walton, LeVert, Irvin and Donnal during the scrimmage.

The freshman started during the team’s summer trip to Italy too, and Beilein said during Michigan Media Day last week that the forward graded out as a member of the Wolverines’ rotation the moment he stepped on campus.

He looked comfortable with the starters Wednesday, finishing a portion of the scrimmage with a one-handed putback lay-in on his own missed layup. Defensively, he helped force a turnover by trapping Max Bielfeldt into a three-second violation.

Even before the scrimmage had started, Chatman was earning fans’ appreciation. His spin move to get to the basket during a two-on-one drill drew an audible reaction from the crowd.

Also of note among the starters, Donnal, Ricky Doyle and DJ Wilson all saw time at the five, in that order. Though Donnal struggled, Doyle and Wilson couldn’t establish themselves as significantly better offensive threats.

Defensively, Wilson earned loud applause for an impressive block during the two-on-one drill before the scrimmage.

Three-heavy attack

Though the Wolverines scrimmaged for less than 30 minutes, it’s difficult not to feel at least some level of concern with the team’s centers. Beilein said last week they’re making “baby steps,” and, unless the scrimmage was a major aberration, they need to take major strides quickly.

Donnal had issues finishing in the paint, and he also lost a pair of defensive rebounds to Bielfeldt, who is two inches shorter at 6-foot-7. Doyle is by far the most physical of the bunch, but he didn’t produce anything from the post, which is supposed to be his biggest strength.

The lineup of Walton, LeVert, Irvin, Chatman and Wilson, while certainly the most athletic group Beilein sent to the court, lacks much of a physical inside presence. Though Wilson shower flashes, he needs to add muscle to his 6-foot-9, 220-pound frame to avoid becoming a defensive liability at the five against stronger centers.

Michigan’s offense Wednesday was very much reliant on the three, so much so that Beilein had to remind his players to wait for open looks rather than taking them early in the possession.

Some of that was a result of the lack of production from the centers, and it could also be attributed to LeVert, Irvin and Walton electing to distribute the ball rather than attacking the basket as much as their talent allows.

A three-point focused attack is nothing new for Michigan, which has ranked worse than 50th nationally in 3PA/FGA just once during Beilein’s tenure, but it could be even more important with such an inexperienced front court. The Wolverines have as many talented perimeter threats as anyone in the conference, but all eyes will be on the race to get the young big men up to speed.

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  • geoffclarke

    Thanks for the summary! I wasn’t able to make it.

  • Mattski

    Great analysis–appreciate it.

  • ijohnb

    I am really concerned with the interior game. Nobody else has seemed that concerned with it throughout the off-season so I have not wanted to that guy, but I really have my doubts at Michigan’s ability to be consistently competitive on an elite level with this roster composition. JB needs to recruit interior muscle, even if it has not been a major source of production for his offense in the past. I get the feeling that there will be no hiding from the measurables in that regard this season.

    • Frontcourt is obviously the biggest question mark facing this team and I think the answer will change game-by-game.

      I’m not sure it’s a philosophical shift because I think Doyle is a different kind of big than he’s brought here. Donnal more be more traditional, but then you have a guy like Teske that should provide a good anchor.

      Recruiting bigs is hard and getting stuck with all freshmen bigs is a tricky situation… Last time Michigan was in that situation Jordan Morgan was built up — quickly — on the fly.

      Crazy that it was four years ago that Concordia’s Rocko Holmes lit Morgan up for 29 points.

      • John

        Thinking of Morgan as a RS Freshman does kind of ease my mind a little bit, he was a major contributor by the end of the year, but he had an elite distributor getting him the ball. It is not so much the offensive end that concerns me, I just look at the BIG and have visions of us getting absolutely destroyed on the glass.

        • eddieben

          I totally understand everyone’s concern with the 5 slot. HOWEVER, let’s take a step back and look at the rest of the conference’s 5s.

          Kaminsky: limited post-ups, his damage won’t be done against us because we have soft/undeveloped big men that can’t protect the paint
          Hammons: will he ever live up to his potential?
          Nigel Hayes: a legitimate concern on the boards and in the paint
          Amir Williams: will he ever live up to his hype?
          Adam Woodbury: a legitimate concern on the boards and in the paint
          Alex Olah: I’m willing to let this guy score 30 on us and still feel like we’ll hold NW to 55 points for the game

          Those are the top 6 bigs in the conference right there. While we are young in the middle, I’m not sure it’s the end of the world if that’s our biggest weakness in conference play.

          Hopefully, one of the three puts it all together come March.

          • Mattski

            I’m fascinated, as always, but revising expectations down a little. Bigs take longer to develop, so being stuck with three freshmen 5s is potentially a problem. And I say this is the year that Hammons starts destroying people.

    • jkuofm27

      I understand the concerns with the low post game. However, Beilein teams have never been low post dependent. Also, they have never been that great at defense. I think the Beilein system of perimeter oriented offense and a slightly better than Loyola Marymount defense play well into this not being that big of a problem. The strengths of Beilein’s team are perimeter scoring and positions 1-3. UM has superior 3 pt shooting with Irvin, Walton, Levert, Albrecht and even Donnal and Wilson have some 3 pt ability. As far as 1-3 goes, I think UM has the best 1-3 in the conference and maybe the nation depending on development. So the team is built for its strengths, it is just really weak where it is normally weak anyways. My one hope as far as the bigs is that Donnal and Wilson will be able to draw their man out and open the lane for our 1-4s to rebound. I also think Kam will be a better rebounder than GRIII. He is a more natural fit for that position based on play style and is a little bigger. He is no Dawson, but I think he likes contact a little more than GRIII.

    • geoffclarke

      Like Dylan said, recruiting bigs is hard, especially when Kentucky gets at least 2/3 of all the difference makers every year. It’s no surprise that we were at our best at that position when we had McGary.

  • Leslie Hoerwinkle

    It was just one practice, but the news on Donnal is very disappointing. He was supposedly quite promising in last year’s practices.

    • Morgan on Donnal near the end of last season: “He’s becoming a force. He’s hard to guard down there in the post, and he’s definitely come a long way.

      “Over the past couple months, he’s just become really good. Really dominates, shoots the ball well.”

      • MChem83

        If I’ve learned anything from the football team, it’s that teammate hype is meaningless. As is all practice hype. There is a universe of difference between real competition and banging against your friends and teammates. NOTHING takes the place of a hostile opponent.

        • David DeMember

          Isn’t there an unofficial gag order on the word football on this site? ;)

  • zeroskie

    Hope our frontcourt can improve before the season kicks into gear. We just need them to be consistent and reliable to get started.

  • Rich74

    I attended the practice last night and came away with the feeling that we will have growing pains the first half of the year. With the big men unexperienced, except for Bielfeldt, we will get beat up inside by a team that has experience down low. I was more impressed with Doyle than I thought I would be. For a freshman he has a big strong body and should be able to defend the basket with some experience under his belt. I hope the coaches do not redshirt Wilson as, IMO, can contribute this year.
    I really like Dawkins and Ali reminds me of Demetrious Calip from years ago. We need to give this team some time to work together so I am ready to patient. Also, the PA system, for some reason, was terrible. You literally could not understand a thing that was said on the court. Crisler Center staff dropped that ball on that one.