John Beilein

Michigan opens Italy trip with comfortable victory

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With three of their five starters, reserve Jon Horford and injured center Mitch McGary all having moved on, the Michigan Wolverines have some questions to answer during their summer trip to Italy. Among the issues head coach John Beilein and his staff will look to address are the health of Caris LeVert, the progression of sophomores Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr., and how ready their freshman class is to contribute immediately.

Through one game the Wolverines received positive answers on all fronts, with Irvin leading the way with 27 points in Michigan’s 99-60 win over Perugia Select. Irvin also accounted for 11 rebounds and four assists, and with the departures of both Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III he’ll be asked to create more offense for himself in 2014-15. As a team Michigan shot 62.7% from the field and made 11 of their 21 three-point attempts, scoring 39 first-quarter points to remove any doubt with regards to the pending outcome.

“We came out shooting the ball really well,” Irvin said according to the school release. “That just speaks volumes for our team. We are all looking for each other and playing unselfish basketball.”

LeVert and Walton will also be key factors for the Wolverines, with LeVert making his return after offseason foot surgery. LeVert returned to the court last week, and despite still going through the process of getting back into game shape he finished the exhibition with 11 points, seven rebounds, six assists and five steals. As a sophomore LeVert emerged as one of the Big Ten’s most improved players, using the increased playing time to raise his scoring average by more than ten points per game (12.9 ppg).

Another jump in production for LeVert would go a long way towards helping Michigan account for the perimeter production lost at the end of last season.

As for the freshmen, of the six newcomers (not counting redshirt Mark Donnal) three scored in double figures with Kameron Chatman and Ricky Doyle scoring 12 points and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rakhman accounting for 11. If a couple of those options can step forward for Michigan when the regular season begins, they’ll be in the mix of teams looking to challenge early favorite Wisconsin at the top of the Big Ten standings.

Michigan has four more games to play while on this trip, and by the end of the experience even more will be known about this team that has just three upperclassmen. And while there’s likely to be a few special moments to be had, it will be hard to top freshman Austin Hatch’s appearance on the court Sunday. In two separate plane crashes Hatch lost his parents and siblings, so the mere fact that he’s in a Michigan uniform is something to celebrate.

“It was a special moment,” Beilein said of Hatch’s appearance on the court. “Austin even led us in the fight song after the game was over. It’s something he has worked very hard for. It was a great moment for our team; however, it was truly special for Austin and his grandfather, Jim, who was here in the stands.”

Marcus Paige, Joel Berry lead No. 9 North Carolina past No. 2 Maryland

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — He’s back.

For the first time this season — and for the first time in more than a year that he hasn’t been hampered with some kind of foot or ankle injury — Marcus Paige donned a North Carolina jersey, and it didn’t take him long to find the form that made him the Preseason National Player of the Year.

On the first Tar Heel possession, Paige came off of a ball-screen, drove the lane and found Kennedy Meeks at the rim for a layup. Not 30 seconds later, he came off of a down screen and buried a three. Paige would finish with 20 points and five assists as No. 9 North Carolina put together a fairly resounding win over No. 2 Maryland in the Dean Dome on Tuesday night, winning 89-81.

Paige finished 7-for-12 from the floor and 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, hitting a number of threes in the second half that helped hold off a Maryland push sparked by their own all-american point guard, Melo Trimble.

Trimble was erratic early on, committing three turnovers in the first six minutes and eight on the night, but it was his play at the end of the first half and early second half that kept North Carolina from blowing their doors. At one point, Maryland was down 32-19 and in danger of getting run out of Tobacco Road.

In total, Trimble finished with 23 points and 12 assists, hitting four big threes during that stretch. He either scored or assisted on 11 of Maryland’s first 12 second half field goals.

As good as Paige was, the bigger story may actually be Joel Berry II. He took two dumb threes in the first half — which played a role in Maryland being able to make this a game — and he missed a few free throws late, but overall he was terrific. He finished with 14 points and five assists, making 3-of-5 threes and turning the ball over just twice. He’s clearly beat Nate Britt out at the point guard spot, and his ability to take pressure off of Paige as a secondary ball-handler and playmaker is huge.

(More to come from Chapel Hill…)

VIDEO: Melo Trimble drops Nate Britt with a crossover

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North Carolina is hosting No. 2 Maryland in a heated contest in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Terps sophomore guard Melo Trimble is playing very well and part of his performance was dropping North Carolina’s Nate Britt with a crossover in the second half.

(H/T: The Cauldron)