The slow stretch of the schedule is nearly over for the Wolverines.
Easing into its third game in three weeks, No. 2 Michigan will look to put a bow on Binghamton in Sunday’s nonconference finale before Big Ten slate picks back up in 2019.
News & Views will take a look Michigan’s season to date and some topics surrounding the team as it prepares to dive back into conference play.
►News: Through 12 games, Michigan coach John Beilein has primarily stuck to a seven-man rotation.
►Views: Around this time, Beilein was still waiting for players to lock down roles while trying whittle down his rotation to eight players the past two seasons. But this year, Beilein has seemingly found his best rotation from the get-go, even with three new faces in the starting lineup.
Zavier Simpson (31 minutes), Charles Matthews (30.9 minutes), Jordan Poole (30.8 minutes), Ignas Brazdeikis (29.1 minutes) and Jon Teske (26 minutes) have all logged heavy minutes so far and that’s unlikely to change. Beilein has made it known he’s not worried about fatigue and believes each starter can play similar minutes during the Big Ten grind because of breaks TV and media timeouts provide.
Isaiah Livers (21 minutes) and Eli Brooks (16.7 minutes) have established themselves as the key bench cogs who can play multiple positions and can provide a needed spark. Behind them, though, is where the questions — and concerns — lie.
The hope was the Wolverines would have some opportunities to develop their bench against the likes of South Carolina, Western Michigan and Air Force. But with each game being too close for comfort, Beilein wasn’t going to experiment for experiment’s sake and put the outcome in jeopardy.
Neither Austin Davis or Brandon Johns Jr. has done much in his limited playing time to take control of the backup center spot, and it could end up being a matchup-based role moving forward, especially since Livers can also play the five. And with Simpson, Brooks and Poole all able to push the ball and get Michigan’s offense set, there hasn’t been much of a need for David DeJulius.
Still, that doesn’t mean the rotation won’t expand and players down the bench won’t be ready to step up in the event of injuries, foul trouble or slumps. But given the success the seven-man rotation has had, there doesn’t seem to be much of a reason to go away from it anytime soon.
►News: Michigan sold out its past five games and has announced nine total sellouts so far this season, the team’s most since it had 14 in 2013-14.
►Views: It’s one thing to sell out games against ranked foes like North Carolina and Purdue. But against teams like South Carolina, Western Michigan and Air Force? That’s saying something.
“When I walk out the tunnel, the first thing you could see is the second deck. You just look up. There’s been a few days, not many of them, that’s been empty,” Beilein said on his radio show this month. “When I see it full as soon as I go out and I see the corners, it’s great and you can feel it right at the beginning.”
Of course, coming off an appearance in the national title game and being a top-10 ranked team for six straight weeks helps. But even last season when the Wolverines were ranked for much of January and February, Crisler Center was half full and several sections in the upper bowl were either occupied by a few people or left completely empty.
Granted, there has been a smattering of seats throughout Crisler Center during the current sellout streak, but the crowd size and atmosphere have been noticeably different compared to the past couple seasons.
“At the rate we’ve been winning at it’s going to stay pretty strong,” Beilein said. “But fans have a lot of other options. We have to keep winning.”
►News: Michigan is off to a 12-0 start for the third time in program history and is four wins away from tying the program-best mark set in 1985-86 and 2012-13.
►Views: Beilein is closing in on another record after setting a single-season mark with 33 wins and winning back-to-back Big Ten tournament titles for the first time in school history last year.
The Wolverines will have a solid chance to at least tie the mark with their next three games — Binghamton, Penn State and Indiana — all being played at home before they hit the road for the first time in a month by traveling to Illinois, which lost its first two Big Ten games by double digits.
According to KenPom.com, Michigan’s lowest winning probability over its next four games is against Indiana at 77 percent.
If Michigan is able to make it through that stretch unscathed, it would get a chance to set the program record at home against Northwestern on Jan. 13.
Regardless of when the Wolverines lose their first game, though, they have already joined a short list of Michigan teams that have gone on to hang banners after starting 12-0, with the 1985-86 squad winning the Big Ten regular-season title and the 2012-13 team reaching the national title game.
Binghamton at Michigan
Tip-off: Noon Sunday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
Records: No. 2 Michigan 12-0, 2-0 Big Ten; Binghamton 4-9
Outlook: Binghamton used a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to snap a four-game skid and pick up its first road win in a 68-67 victory over LIU Brooklyn on Dec. 21…The Bearcats rank No. 2 in the nation in total blocks (85), trailing only Duke (96). … Michigan is 8-0 at home this season, with seven wins by at least 11 points.