Facing the scary specter of competing in the rugged, veteran-laden Big Ten without a senior on its roster and with the conference's youngest team overall, the Wolverines sought out any potential avenue to accumulate experience.
That included traversing the ocean and seeking out competition in Europe last summer. The team got to see a little bit of the world, and at the same time found out how difficult it is to match wits with players who have a lot more whiskers and a lot more trips up and down the court under their belts.
Through the course of four games in Belgium, the Wolverines got to face off with some of the top professional teams in the European nation. On most nights, it was clearly men against boys, but the hope was that the youngsters would come away from the experience more seasoned and prepared for the rigors of the Big Ten.
Michigan eased into the 2010-11 season with a schedule front-loaded with softies, in the hope that the young Wolverines would build some confidence before they waded into the thick of things. A back-to-back home combo against No. 3 Kansas and No. 2 Ohio State resulted in a pair of losses, but also demonstrated that the young Wolverines have some mettle about them.
An overtime loss to the Jayhawks was followed by another tight contest with the Buckeyes. Michigan came out on the short end of a 68-64 final against Ohio State, but the Wolverines had to come away from the defeat with a touch more confidence since they were able to push the highly regarded Buckeyes to the limit.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: The Wolverines engaged the No. 2-ranked Buckeyes throughout their first meeting of the Big Ten season, and the youthful Michigan team was within a possession of stunning Ohio State in the game's waning moments. But Michigan kept sending the Buckeyes to the foul line, and Ohio State converted four free throws in the final 22 seconds to hang on for the win. Michigan flirted with the upset several times and had the game tied at 41 shortly after halftime, but a few ill-advised shots by the Wolverines were quickly converted at the other end by the Buckeyes. A 12-0 Ohio State run gave the Buckeyes the breathing room they needed to withstand Michigan's frantic finish. For the youngest team in the Big Ten to take the No. 2 team in the country to the final moments with the outcome still up in the air has to encourage the Wolverines' faithful. This season might not turn out to be as rough as first anticipated.
--In their four-point loss to second-ranked Ohio State, the Wolverines shot 52 percent from the field and hit 11 3-pointers, but Michigan was just 5-for-7 from the foul line, while the Buckeyes were 17-for-25 at the line.
--Michigan has faced four ranked opponents this season, and four of the Wolverines' six losses have come in those games against ranked teams.
--The Wolverines went a perfect 8-of-8 from the foul line in their loss to Wisconsin, and continued a string of success at the line. Michigan had made 24 straight free throws dating back to the Purdue game, going a perfect 14-of-14 against Penn State in between.
--In a rugged back-to-back stretch, the Wolverines hosted No. 3 Kansas on Jan. 9, and three days later host No. 2-ranked Ohio State. When the Jayhawks visited Ann Arbor and bumped off the Wolverines in overtime, they were the highest ranked team to play in Crisler Arena since top-ranked Ohio State in March of 2007.
--It's no mystery that good shooting wins games. In a recent win over Penn State, Michigan shot a season-best 27-of-47 (57.4 percent) from the field, and was a perfect 14-of-14 from the free throw line.
BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- The Wolverines went through the first two months of the schedule -- 17 games -- playing only two true road games. They won at Clemson in late November, and then lost on the road to Wisconsin in the Big Ten opener Jan. 5.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have a lot of work to do. I think they realize that we're on the right path, but we have some things we have to shore up." -- Michigan coach John Beilein on what lies ahead for his team in conference play.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--at Indiana, Jan. 15
KEY MATCHUPS: The Hoosier have a budding Big Ten star in sophomore F Christian Watford, who will come into the game sitting eighth in the conference in scoring at 16.4 points per game. Michigan will likely use 6-8 freshman F Jordan Morgan to counter Watford, and the key will be to defend without fouling, since Watford entered the week having made a league-high 82 free throws in 95 attempts.
FUTURES MARKET: On a roster with no seniors, the Wolverines have placed a premium on the contributions they get from the most experienced members of the team. Junior G/F Zack Novak is at the top of that list of reliable incumbents. The Indiana native has played an increasingly vital role for Michigan as Big Ten play starts. In the win over Penn State, Novak went 5-of-6 from the field and scored all 15 of his points in the second half. He followed that up with a 5-of-7 shooting performance from behind the arc in the loss at Wisconsin, and then posted a double-double in the overtime loss to undefeated Kansas, with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
--The foul line is the place where many games are won or lost, and Michigan has to like its chances when the Wolverines are sent to the stripe, especially if freshman G Tim Hardaway Jr. steps to the line. Michigan ranked second in the Big Ten in free-throw percentage with a 72.4 percent rating through Jan. 9, and Hardaway was eighth in the Big Ten with his 80.4 percent accuracy from the line.
--Sophomore G Jordan Dumars transferred to Michigan from South Florida in the middle of last season, and became eligible to play for the Wolverines as of the Dec. 28 game against Purdue, although he had yet to take the court through Jan. 9. He played in just six games at South Florida before deciding to transfer much closer to his Detroit area home.
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