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Posted on Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

4 things to watch for when the Michigan basketball team takes on Alabama A&M

By Nick Baumgardner


Finding time to rest freshman point guard Trey Burke early in the season would pay off for the Michigan basketball team.

Angela J. Cesere |

No, regardless of what it may look like, the Michigan basketball program is not joining the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

Still very much a Big Ten team, the 20th-ranked Wolverines will welcome their second-straight SWAC opponent to town Saturday when Alabama A&M visits Crisler Arena (noon, Big Ten Network).

Unlike the opponent Tuesday, (Arkansas-Pine Bluff), Alabama A&M has actually played a home game this season.

In fact, it has played two.

Here are four things to watch for Saturday:

1. Finish the game

Michigan's gotten itself into a rather nasty habit. Against lesser competition, the Wolverines play 30 minutes of solid basketball before mentally and physically checking out the final 10.

In a 17-point win over Towson, Michigan began the game on a 21-0 run, but was outscored by seven points after halftime.

Against Iowa State, Michigan led by 22 points in the second half, but a sloppy final 10 minutes allowed the Cyclones to pull within six before the Wolverines settled for a 10-point victory.

And on Tuesday against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Michigan (8-2) was up as many as 25 points, but couldn't keep the margin there, finishing with a 13-point win.

If it happens once, no big deal. Twice? Maybe a coincidence.

But three times?

That's a problem.

The Big Ten appears to be very, very good this season. And 35-minute efforts won't likely be enough to seal a conference win (they also make it frustrating for those of us trying to write a game story, but that's neither here nor there).

Bottom line: Saturday is a golden opportunity for Michigan to prove it has learned its lesson when it comes to second-half sluggishness. Alabama A&M shouldn't be able to hang around with the Wolverines for 40 minutes.

2. How's Hardaway feeling?

Tim Hardaway Jr. took a pretty awkward tumble on his back during the win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Tuesday, resulting in what Michigan coach John Beilein called a "bruised tailbone."

Beilein said he didn't expect Hardaway to miss any practice or game time, and the 6-foot-6 sophomore did play six more minutes after his injury.

This could be something, it could be nothing.

If Hardaway isn't feeling any lingering issues of his tailbone bruise, then there's no problem.

But if he plays limited minutes and seems tentative, well, I don't think I have to tell you that would be a problem.

The same can be said for sophomore forward Jon Horford, who sat out Tuesday in a victory against UAPB with a right foot injury.

My guess would be that Horford doesn't see any action Saturday against Alabama A&M or Thursday against Bradley, as Beilein and company are hoping he's fully healed for the Big Ten opener against Penn State on Dec. 29.

3. Points off turnovers

Alabama A&M really doesn't value the basketball, so, if you're Michigan, you make the Bulldogs pay.

And pay often.

A&M is averaging 17.4 turnovers a game, tied for 22nd worst nationally, and an embarrassing amount for any college basketball team.

Michigan hasn't exactly excelled in the department of making folks pay for miscues of late. The Wolverines have forced 98 turnovers in their past eight games, but scored just 96 points off of them (0.98 points per turnover).

In this game, though, it should be easy. If Beilein wants to push the lead and get minutes from his bench, converting the Bulldogs' sloppy play into points is a simple way to do so.

4. Again: Rest Trey Burke

I highlighted this as something Michigan likely wanted to try prior to the Arkansas-Pine Bluff game. Obviously that didn't happen, as Burke played 37 minutes against the Golden Lions.

In Michigan's last two games, its freshman floor leader has played a combined 75 of 80 minutes.

So, I'll say it again: The guy needs rest.

Michigan's playing its second straight SWAC opponent, and there's no reason to play your only point guard 37 to 38 minutes.

It might not pay off today, or Thursday against Bradley or even during the early portion of the Big Ten schedule. But in February and the early stages of March, any minutes Beilein is able to steal for Burke will be remembered as beneficial.

In four years as a high school player, Burke's Columbus Northland club averaged 25.5 games per season.

Michigan will play its 25th game on Feb. 5, leaving seven more regular-season games on the schedule, the Big Ten Tournament and any potential NCAA tournament games to follow.

And, with no offense to the Ohio High School Athletic Association, the games Burke will be playing in this winter should be a bit more intense than the ones he ran through last year.

Put this one away early, and let the kid catch his breath.

Nick Baumgardner covers Michigan basketball for He can be reached at 734-623-2514, by email at and followed on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.

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