Spike Albrecht, veteran core leads Wolverines over Detroit

Alejandro Zúñiga

When Michigan needed a spark against Detroit on Thursday night, it didn’t turn to Kameron Chatman or Aubrey Dawkins, its two most athletic freshmen. The Wolverines didn’t look to Mark Donnal or Ricky Doyle, either.

In fact, they didn’t rely on any of the freshmen. Instead, they put the game in the hands of their veterans: the reliable core of Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton, the improvisation of Spike Albrecht and the disciplined understanding of Max Bielfeldt.

And when the Titans took a four-point lead early in the second half, that group got to work. Albrecht assisted on a Bielfeldt layup, then LeVert got a steal for an easy bucket, then Albrecht dished to LeVert for a three-pointer — and then again for a layup.

After going down 34-30, the Wolverines went on a 13-0 run, holding the Titans scoreless for more than five minutes of game time.

“Coach Beilein just went with the veteran group. We’re a little more comfortable. These guys know the system a little bit more, the defensive concepts, things like that,” Albrecht said. “I like playing with those guys. We all have the chemistry.”

Though Albrecht and Bielfeldt began the game on the bench, both played more than their starting counterparts — especially in the second half. The junior guard got 32 minutes while Chatman had just 10, and Bielfeldt earned 20 minutes to Donnal’s 15.

“I didn’t like the way the second half started,” John Beilein said. “I just felt that they were going to come out of halftime and just go after us, and we needed to withstand it.

“We thought we were poised, but we weren’t. We just got sped up.”

While Bielfeldt was solid in the post, seemingly having a much better grasp of offensive sets and rotations than his freshmen counterparts, Albrecht impressed the most of the bench players. Part of that came from his confidence; this week, as he has all season, Beilein stressed that Albrecht must shoot open looks from beyond the arc.

And with 10:28 to go in the game, the guard snapped out of his 0-for-5 slump from three-point range to start the season by nailing one, holding his follow-through a little longer than usual as if in celebration.

“I would say that was relief,” Albrecht said. “One of the things I’ve been working on with my shot — I haven’t been holding my follow-through as long. … I think it was a little bit of a relief when I finally made one.”

But Albrecht wasn’t done, and neither were the veterans. With five minutes left, when Detroit’s Juwan Howard Jr. — son of Fab Five star Juwan Howard — tied the game at 52, the Wolverines proceeded to score the next 11 points, courtesy of buckets by LeVert, Irvin and Walton.

Then, with 1:27 remaining, Albrecht drilled a three-pointer over Howard to finally put the game out of reach.

“That’s the one things coaches always say: ‘If you’re open, shoot it. Have confidence in yourself,’ ” Albrecht said.

While yes, it was troublesome to see the freshmen struggle so mightily Thursday facing a team of Detroit’s caliber, it gave some of Michigan’s bigger names a chance to show why they’re stars. LeVert finished with 21 points and Irvin had 18. And Albrecht made the most of his increased playing time, combining his six points with four rebounds, four assists and a steal.

It wasn’t so much the numbers but the way in which he got them. Albrecht impressed with plays such as his perfectly weighted pass to Bielfeldt for a layup, or the time he dove to the court to save a loose ball, or when he pulled out the backyard moves with a nifty behind-the-back pass to Donnal in transition.

And if he can start getting hot from three, the tradeoff in size by running him alongside Walton might seem minor in exchange for the wealth of offensive possibilities he presents.

  • Jon Sohn

    We are spoiled in expecting freshman to just come in and dominate every season. Pretty clear its going to take some time for Chatman, Donnal, Doyle and Wilson to emerge. Wilson seems lost. the five vets are the five best players right now.

    • Quick Darshan

      Yes, the progress from the freshman will be more like Levert’s than Hardaway, Burke, GR3 or Walton’s.

  • polisci

    Nice post. I think too many people misremember the production of our freshman. McGary didn’t show up until the last month of the season as a freshman. Stauskas and Robinson were great complimentary players as freshman, not dominating forces. Burke took much of the season to develop as a freshman. THJR was a standout, I’ll give you that. But there weren’t a bunch of future lottery picks on the team at the time. I think sometimes we confuse the domination of their second years in the program with how they were as freshman.

    Our new guys are going to be just fine.

  • Dr_ZC

    Juwan Howard jr did not only inherit his dad’s ability to score. He inherited his ability to talk smack. I was noticing that every time he scored, he let the M players know about it. But what I liked the most is that the veterans remained poised and did not resort in the same tactics until the final nail in Detroit’s coffin was nailed along with Spike’s trey. Spike proceeded to let Juwan jr know that proper smack is done at the end when it hurts the most. Aside all that, Jr is a superb player, and I would be happy for him if he manages to play pro hoops. His playing style is totally different than his dad’s.

  • Champswest

    Catch-22. The best way to get the freshmen up to speed is by getting them playing time, but in close games there is the risk of losing the game. Win the game.

  • MBloGlue

    What kind of adjustments can UM make with Walton, Albrecht and Bielfeldt in there to mitigate the size disadvantage on defense? What about running more full court or half court press or perhaps 1-3-1 zone to clog up passing lanes?

  • Fab 5 Legends

    starting to miss Jordan Morgan downlow lol hopefully by mid- end of december some of these freshmen can develop & contribute

    i expect kam chatman to step up soon, i dont know what to expect from the rest

    • NorthernBlue

      Really, the what could have beens hurt this year in regards to Horford and Mitch. Horford would definitely help on defense and on the glass.