Michigan coach John Beilein was a little nervous about starting three freshmen Saturday against Central Michigan.
He needn’t have worried.
Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert combined for 48 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists as the No. 2 Wolverines moved to 13-0 with a 88-73 victory. LeVert, who was still a redshirt a month ago, started in place of injured Tim Hardaway Jr.
”It’s been quite a rise for Caris — he’s gone from expecting to sit out the season to now moving into the starting lineup,” Beilein said. ”We didn’t have any other choice with Tim out, but he stepped up and did a very nice job.”
Hardaway missed the first game of his career with an ankle injury, and Beilein isn’t sure when he’ll get his junior shooting guard back.
”We’re not exactly sure what is going on, but we were being cautious with the Big Ten schedule coming up,” he said. ”We don’t play again until Thursday, so we’re going to give him as much rest as possible and then see where he is closer to game time.”
With Mitch McGary playing 15 minutes off the bench, the Wolverines often had four freshmen and sophomore Trey Burke on the floor, but Beilein didn’t mind. Burke finished with 22 points and 10 assists, while Robinson scored 20 and Stauskas had 19.
”Trey is the most veteran sophomore I’ve ever been around,” Beilein said. ”He has unbelievable poise for someone who is only a couple months into his sophomore season — you watch him out there, and it is like we’ve got an old veteran running the offense. That’s important, because he’s out there with a lot of freshman.”
Burke said that adding LeVert to the starting lineup wasn’t a problem because of the way the Wolverines practuce.
”Coach is always mixing things up, so we’re not always running with the same five guys out there,” he said. ”He’ll put the freshmen out there together, so we all know that Caris can play. I’m sure he was a little nervous at the start, but he did a great job.”
Michigan is off to the second-best start in school history. The 1985-86 Wolverines team, led by Gary Grant, Roy Tarpley and Glen Rice, started the season 16-0 on its way to a Big Ten championship.
”We’ll take 13-0 in the preseason every year, but now we know that things are going to change with conference play,” Beilein said. ”The intensity, the players, the coaching — the Big Ten is the best of the best every night. We’ve been telling the freshmen what to expect, but there’s no way we can prepare them for the Big Ten season until they actually get a chance to play those games.”
Central Michigan was hoping to match the success of its football team, which won the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on Wednesday, but never recovered from falling behind by seven points in the first three minutes. Olivier Mbaigoto led the Chippewas with 14 points.
”I think we were a little intimidated at the start of the game, and they must have hit 80 percent of their shots,” Central Michigan coach Keno Davis said. ”I’m just proud that we held them to 52 percent for the game, because I’ve never seen an offense like that. No matter what you take away from them, they have so many other ways to hurt you.”
The Chippewas (7-6) came into the game having won two of their last four meetings with the Wolverines — in 2002 and 2007 — but they were quickly overwhelmed by Michigan’s offense. Burke scored 14 points in the first nine minutes, and Michigan led 46-29 at the half.
”I wasn’t even sure what defense they were playing in the first half, because every time I came off a screen, I was wide open,” Burke said. ”In the second half, they went to a 1-3-1 zone, and that made things tougher for me, but then Nik started hitting shots.”
The Wolverines cruised through a second half that was highlighted by Stauskas hitting five straight 3-pointers and Robinson’s spectacular dunk in traffic. The only lowlight for Michigan was when McGary came up short on a dunk and fell down, and even that brought laughter from his teammates.
The Wolverines begin Big Ten play Thursday at Northwestern, while Central Michigan plays an exhibition game with Michigan-Dearborn before beginning Mid-American Conference play on Jan. 9 against Bowling Green.