Max Bielfeldt shines in career night, but uncertainty remains in frontcourt

Alejandro Zúñiga

Max Bielfeldt didn’t just top his previous career-high scoring mark. He absolutely shattered it.

Entering as the first big man off the bench just three minutes into Monday night’s game against Bucknell, the senior made his presence felt immediately, knocking down an open three-pointer from the top of the key.

Less than three minutes later, he did it again, from the same spot on the floor.

By the time the first half had ended, Bielfeldt had tallied 13 points, more than tripling his previous game-high of four. He would finish the night with 18 points in 16 minutes.

“The last couple of days of practice, he has virtually been a man-child playing with our guys,” explained coach John Beilein. “He has just been very, very good.”

Bielfeldt’s surprising night was a welcome addition to the Wolverines’ offense. He scored more points Monday than he did in all of 2013-14 and also made as many three-pointers as he did last year.

“(Beilein) has seen what I’ve done in practice and stuff, and to finally be able to carry that over to a game situation is really exciting,” Bielfeldt said.

via ShotAnalytics/Click to Enlarge

But as Michigan enters a more difficult part of its schedule, it’s clear there is still plenty of uncertainty regarding the team’s frontcourt.

There are question marks about Kameron Chatman, who struggled throughout his second start. The freshman forward is now a combined 2-for-12 from the floor in a pair of regular-season games.

There are concerns about DJ Wilson, who played just eight minutes Monday and still looks very raw offensively.

There are a few more positives for Mark Donnal, who been solid as the starter at the five. But he could be a stronger defender in the paint and hasn’t established his jumper.

Freshman big man Ricky Doyle also showed some flashes with a nice hook shot and pick-and-roll finish, but he’s also still working to keep up with the pace of the college game.

And we saw almost nothing from Aubrey Dawkins on Monday. He played just five minutes.

“Maybe they miss the shot, or the ball slips out of their hands or they get a bad bounce,” Beilein said of the freshmen. “There’s other times that they’re just on tape delay, (as) I’ve said for years. There’s that one or two seconds that, ‘Oh, what’s happening next?’”

Then, of course, there’s Bielfeldt.  Bielfeldt is a 6-foot-7 senior and he’s probably not Michigan’s long-term solution at the five position. Besides, Beilein admitted that the senior wasn’t fit enough to play until “maybe 10 days ago,” since he had spent much of the offseason recovering from hip surgery, but he would get a chance to prove himself.

“I’d like to see this consistently in practice over and over again. We know that that’s been the issue,” Beilein said. “I think he had great confidence today. Sometimes, as a senior, that just happens. We’ll wait and see how it plays out. I won’t make be making any knee-jerk (reactions), but I assume he’ll be in the game with Detroit.”

Of course, it’s early, and there’s no use making knee-jerk reactions about Chatman, Wilson, Doyle or Dawkins after they’ve only played two collegiate games. And while there’s some time for experimentation in the early season, Michigan needs to find lineups that can win games now.

Right now, Beilein is clearly more comfortable with the experienced players on his roster. Junior captain Spike Albrecht, who played 29 minutes on Monday, is still his most trusted bench player. No freshman other than Chatman played more than 11 minutes in the game.

Even Michigan’s experienced players are still trying to figure out their roles. Albrecht, Derrick Walton and Caris LeVert have all shared various duties of the point guard position with Albrecht zipping passes across the floor, Walton pushing the tempo and LeVert executing pick-and-rolls.

Essentially the only role that is entirely defined is Irvin on the wing. The sophomore scored 23 points Monday, just one away from his career-high. It also marked the first time that he has tallied 20-plus points in consecutive games.

He just needs to keep shooting.

“He’s going to get a lot of looks,” Beilein said. “He has a Hardaway ability to get his shot off. And now we’ll continue to work to get him those shots.”

If Bielfeldt can reproduce Monday’s showing, the Wolverines might continue to find him looks, too.

  • ijohnb

    Let’s just say. Max “Three”-feldt just went Pitsnoggle on them.

    • BlueRev

      I just want to say thanks for not calling him Maximus! I can’t take it anymore! Thanks!!!

  • Bigrange

    I feel that in these early season games, when you are playing a team you are likely to beat, they need to establish the young big men and build their confidence. Our veterans are taking control, but wouldn’t it help the team to work the ball inside and let Donnal, Doyle, and Wilson play their game?

  • Leslie Hoerwinkle

    Yep, the freshmen have a long ways to go. I can see Michigan hitting some bumps in the road for at least half the season until the young ‘uns get some experience.

  • Fab 5 Legends

    glad Max is finally get a chance to perform, his a senior and needs to play like one, considering we have a bunch of freshmen that are raw and are taking his minutes….give it your all Max

  • French Wolverine

    What about re-visiting the decision to not keep Max next year? Probably difficult given our scholarship position… However if somehow there are more departures, is a 5th year Max better than a last minute MAAR level player? Thoughs?