Reality check for young Wolverines

Michigan’s freshmen finally got a taste of what Big Ten life is really like on the road.

It was a rude introduction.

For 14 minutes Sunday, the young Wolverines looked utterly helpless in front of a wild crowd in Columbus, and although they got themselves together for the final 27 minutes, it was too late to save their undefeated season and their No. 2 ranking. The 16-1 Wolverines dropped to fifth in the AP poll this week, and things won’t get any easier with a visit to No. 9 Minnesota on Thursday.

The Wolverines have two freshmen — Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III — in the starting lineup, and use Mitch McGary, Caris LeVert and Spike Albrect in significant roles on the bench. Stauskas, one of the nation’s top 3-point shooters, missed his only three attempts of the game, and spent the last possessions alone in the corner, unable to do anything to get himself open.

LeVert also went scoreless in his nine minutes off the bench, while Robinson was held to eight points and only one rebound. Albrecht and McGary had nice games off the bench — Albrecht even played significant minutes alongside Trey Burke for the first time — but it certainly wasn’t a banner night for the kids.

Given Michigan’s furious comeback from 20 down early to lose just 56-53, it wouldn’t taken much more. One Stauskas 3-pointer could have changed the game, or a couple more rebounds from Robinson or McGary. John Beilein talked after the game about how proud he was of the team’s comeback, and the improved play of the freshmen in particular, but the Wolverines can’t afford another slow start against the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis.

LAST WEEK

Wednesday: MICHIGAN 62, Nebraska 47. The big news on campus Wednesday was Taylor Lewan’s stunning decision to return for a senior season with the football team, even after the NFL advisiory board had told him that he would be a high first-round draft pick. After the dust settled, the Wolverines were left to pick up Nebraska’s low-tempo, low-performance attack. The Cornhuskers spent most of the game passing the ball around for 33 seconds before Ray Gallegos took yet another 3-pointer – he jacked up 16 on the night. Gallegos was the only Nebraska player to score in the final 12 minutes, and Michigan didn’t have much trouble tying the school record with a 16-0 start.

Sunday: OHIO STATE 56, Michigan 53. With Duke having lost Saturday to North Carolina State, the Wolverines came into this game knowing that a victory would move them to No. 1 in the country. Burke started the game with a 3-point, but the Buckeyes scored the next 16 points. It was 29-8 with six minutes left in the first half, but Michigan finally started to play. They got all the way back to even when Tim Hardaway Jr’s 3-pointer made it 46-46 with 5:59 to play, but Ohio State scored the next six points and hung on to win.

WHO’S HOT

Trey Burke: Burke led Michigan in scoring in both games, totalling 33 points and keeping himself in the race for National Player of the Year. He did struggle a bit in his home town of Columbus, though. His four turnovers against Ohio State are as many as he makes in two weeks when he is at his best.

Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway was the only other Wolverine to reach double figures in both games, and also finished with 16 rebounds. His nine points in the second half against Ohio State were a key to Michigan’s late rally.

WHO’S NOT

Nik Stauskas: For the first two months of the season, Stauskas was deadly from behind the 3-point line, and had also showed some ability to drive to the basket. Last week, he made just two of nine 3-pointers and was invisible down the stretch against Ohio State.

Jordan Morgan: Morgan led Michigan with 17 rebounds in the games against Nebraska and Ohio State, but only scored five points. Earlier in the season, he had begun to provide the Wolverines with their first serious post scoring threat in the Beilein era, but he has now begun to fade out of the offense.

THIS WEEK

Thursday: No. 5 Michigan at No. 9 Minnesota. This is Michigan’s only game of the week, but it won’t be an easy one. Minnesota is unbeaten at home, and their only losses were to Duke and Indiana. They posted a nice road win at Illinois and easily handled Michigan State and Northwestern at home. Morgan and McGary will have to keep Trevor Mbakwe off the boards, and the guards will have to get the Gophers to turn the ball over — Minnesota’s biggest offensive weakness.