Notebook: All hands on deck for Michigan against Syracuse

Alejandro Zúñiga

The Michigan basketball team might be without guard Derrick Walton in Tuesday’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge game against Syracuse, but the Wolverines won’t be without a lack of experience against the Orange.

If Walton — who is nursing a toe injury and will be a game-time decision — can’t play, point guard duties will rest primarily on junior Spike Albrecht, a key contributor in Michigan’s Final Four win over Syracuse in 2013. Even if Walton dresses, coach John Beilein warned he might only get a handful of minutes in relief of Albrecht.

“We’re not going to push him one bit,” Beilein said of Walton.

That would leave Albrecht alongside junior Caris LeVert as the lone veteran options in the backcourt as the Wolverines try to pick apart Syracuse’s stingy 2-3 zone.

“Just making sure you’re not getting complacent,” Albrecht said. “I know they want you to just pass the ball around and chuck up a bunch of threes, but we have to make sure we find ways get into the paint. The biggest thing is getting stops where you can get out in transition before they set up, because they do a really good job with that zone.”

The three-pointer might not be such a bad option, though. The Wolverines are shooting 44.5% from long range. Albrecht, Walton, LeVert and sophomore Zak Irvin are all hitting better than 40% of their attempts from deep.

“We don’t want to fall in love with the three,” Albrecht said. “We like to shoot them, but we want to take good shots and good threes. We don’t want to be jacking just because we’re settling. We still have to try to get the ball to the paint, get the ball into the post. We have to try to get easy baskets.”

Against the Orange in 2013, three-pointers were Albrecht’s specialty. He was a perfect 2-for-2 from long range that night, helping Michigan to an 11-point halftime lead. His second attempt of the night came with the shot clock winding down, as the then-freshman fired with his heel inches away from the Final Four logo at midcourt.

But Albrecht isn’t that type of role player anymore. This season, he has 23 assists to just five turnovers and has added seven steals in averaging 28.5 minutes. And the Wolverines will need that complete package from Albrecht to score a win over Syracuse.

“My role is a little bit different knowing that I’ll be in there for long stretches,” he said. “Usually, I go in there and try to bring energy for short periods of time, like little bursts. Now, just try to maintain that and translate my role to more a leader and kind of calm my style out there.”

Freshmen in the spotlight

Saturday’s easy win over Nicholls State afforded Michigan the opportunity to give freshmen Ricky Doyle, Kameron Chatman, Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman extended playing time despite some rough patches.

Chatman responded by recording a career-highs in points (11) and rebounds (8); Dawkins knocked down a three and got to the basket with a eurostep for a bucket; and Abdur-Rahkman got some experience at point guard during his 12 minutes. Doyle is averaging 20.7 minutes, 9.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game over the Michigan’s three games, doubling his averages over Michigan’s first three games of 6.7 minutes, 4.7 points and 1.7 rebounds

But Syracuse will present a far greater challenge. Besides facing a Syracuse’s length and legendary 2-3 zone, Michigan’s freshmen will also be tasked with managing their emotions during their first marquee game at Crisler Center.

“The challenges are unique,” Beilein said. “All right, what are you going to be like at home in a big time game with a sellout? You could really play well, you can get too pumped up. It’s one thing going on the road, which we’ll do at Arizona soon. But being home, that’s always a big challenge for everybody.”

Beilein said center Ricky Doyle and Chatman have grown “right in front of our eyes.” Chatman buried the first two three-pointers of his college career against Nicholls State, while Doyle has commanded the majority of minutes at the five.

Part of tomorrow’s focus with all the freshmen, Albrecht said, is making sure they stay smart offensively.

“Have a little bit more patience, try and work the ball around, things like that,” the guard said. “Try and find some open shots instead of taking the first decent or good look. Make the extra pass.”

LeVert said it took time to adjust to the 2-3 zone at game speed when Michigan faced Syracuse in 2013, and the guard said he’ll take an active role in smoothing the learning process for the freshmen.

“You definitely want to talk to them and tell them to be kind of cautious, because the zone is definitely longer and quicker than you might expect,” he said. “At the same time, just still be aggressive, and just take your shots when you feel that you have them.”

Wolverines prepared to be physical, could play two bigs

In Michigan’s only loss this year, a 60-55 defeat to Villanova last Tuesday, the Wolverines had a difficult day in the paint.

Though they rebounded 75% of Villanova’s misses, Michigan got into foul trouble early in the second half, a significant factor in the Wildcats’ late-game push. Facing another long, athletic team in Syracuse, the Wolverines know to be prepared for a battle.

“The Oregon, Villanova games were tremendous for us,” Beilein said. “When you’re really battling against higher-level athletes, it really sends the message home about some of the details of the game. We promised them, when they came in, that college basketball was going to be a more physical sport than any basketball they’d ever played. It sort of brings it all home. Villanova was very — and legally — very physical with us, and that was a great reminder for us.”

Michigan may counter the Orange’s size with some of their own. Beilein said playing two bigs is a possibility, though it’ll be “difficult” since that’s where the Wolverines are most inexperienced.

“That could happen,” he said. “In some situations, we could do that. With Syracuse playing 100% zone, that’s more of a possibility than normal.

“They’re going to learn a lot about playing low-post defense at a very young age.”

  • Leslie Hoerwinkle

    Don’t know much about the Syracuse team this year, but without Walton and the freshmen still getting their feet wet, a U-M victory doesn’t seem likely. But, we’ll see.

  • David

    Ever sInce Spike played a major roll in running, and sometimes even reviving, the offense in the Detroit and Oregon games, I just couldn’t stop thinking (as crazy as it sounded) that he just might be the most important player on our roster. Especially early in the season.

    Derek is amazing; plays super-quick and tough defense, can take a guy on the dribble and has a solid stroke, but in terms of the pick and roll / assist game were used to, I think Spike has always been great at breaking down a defense for the assist.

    If Derek and Spike are on the court at the same time, I like Spike at 1 and Derek at 2.

    • David

      Obviously I hope Derek gets well ASAP and want him on the floor playing maximum minutes, just think Spike will be integral to this team getting big wins this year.

  • DingoBlue

    Rutgers starts off the ACC/B1G challenge by beating Clemson 69-64. Former Michigan recruit Donte Grantham had 10 points and 4 rebounds.

  • Corperryale

    Well, we have two more chances for a statement non-conference win: this home game against The Zone and the other one in ‘Zona. This one would appear to be the more winnable of the two. Syracuse lost to California and Michigan is better than California.

    SMU meanwhile is looking more like a trap game than a resume game.

  • rlcBlue

    I’m interested to see who gets to flash to the foul line and direct the attack on the 2-3 zone. LeVert will certainly get some of the duty, as his size and triple-threat ability work well there. However, it would be nice to have him spotting up for threes some of the time, especially if Walton’s not going to be on the court. Chatman is a possibility, too – he can hit the foul line jumper and is a good passer and ball-handler. It’s a lot of responsibility for a guy just six games out of high school, though. I wonder if Donnal can pull off a McGary imitation. He’s shown he can knock down that jumper with no problem, but I don’t know if his passing and decision making are there, and I have no idea about his ball-handling.