The Monday TSX Files: Michigan Monday

With 11 underclassmen on the roster, no seniors, no redshirt juniors, and just four juniors, Michigan was clearly the Big Ten's youngest team, and fielded the 19th youngest collection of players in the country entering this season. The Wolverines were going to get roughed up on a regular basis


The way most of the experts saw it, this season was going to be a tough slog for the Wolverines, and that might have been underselling the difficulties they would encounter both in the pre-conference portion of the schedule, and in the brutally unforgiving Big Ten.

With 11 underclassmen on the roster, no seniors, no redshirt juniors, and just four juniors, Michigan was clearly the Big Ten's youngest team, and fielded the 19th youngest collection of players in the country entering this season. The Wolverines were going to get roughed up on a regular basis.

What we find at the midway point in January is that the Wolverines might surprise us. They are yet to post that block-buster win, but the Wolverines have flirted with it on several occasions, and demonstrated toughness and a resiliency that does not seem consistent with their collective years.

The first sign of this phenomenon might have come very early, in just the fourth game of the season, when Michigan gave still unbeaten and highly-ranked Syracuse all it could handle before falling 53-50 in a tournament in Atlantic City. A few nights later, the Wolverines bounced Clemson on the road, raising a few more eyebrows of the previously skeptical.

The evidence continues to mount, making the case that this youthful Michigan team is possibly a lot better than originally advertised. Three of Michigan's seven losses in its first 18 games came against teams ranked in the top five nationally.

The Wolverines extended No. 3 Kansas to overtime before falling, and in their next outing lost to then No. 2 Ohio State by just four. Michigan also lost to then No. 12-ranked Purdue in its Big Ten opener.

At this point in the season, Michigan lacks a real showcase kind of win, but the Wolverines have certainly done enough to convince most that they are likely a darned sight better than expected. There's no getting around the preponderance of youth on this team, but Michigan seems to be avoiding the long, deep swoons often associated with such young groups. The future has gotten a whole lot brighter, thanks to the present accomplishments of the Wolverines.


--In a recent road loss to Indiana, the Wolverines had just six turnovers, with only one coming in the second half. Michigan is one of the leaders nationally in ball security, with just 11 turnovers per game as of Jan. 16.

--In Big Ten play, Michigan was on a tear through games played Jan. 15, shooting an impressive 89 percent from the foul line (33-of-37, and is at 73 percent overall on the season).

--Michigan's lack of a potent post presence was very evident in the Big Ten loss at Indiana as the Wolverines had a season-low of just 18 rebounds, and did not block a single shot. It marked the second Big Ten game this season where the Wolverines went without a block.

--Michigan has started a lineup of three freshmen, one sophomore and one junior in the majority of its games this season.

BY THE NUMBERS: 73 -- With 11 freshmen and sophomores, Michigan has 73 percent of its roster made up of underclassmen. The Wolverines have four juniors and no seniors.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It is part of playing on the road. It's a tough game on the road. When you get in to these situations and things don't go your way, it can just roll on you so quick and get you down by eight, 10, 12. I feel, we'll go in, we'll practice, and we have another road game on Tuesday. We will be as ready as we can be, given the travel, etc." -- Michigan coach John Beilein on the rigors of playing on the road in the Big Ten



--at Northwestern, Jan. 18
KEY MATCHUPS: The Wildcats go behind the savvy court management of senior G Michael Thompson, who became Northwestern's all-time leader in assists recently. Michigan sophomore G Darius Morris will have his hands full as he tries to maintain his leadership role with the Wolverines, and at the same time defend the clever and creative Morris.

--vs. Minnesota, Jan. 22
KEY MATCHUPS: Minnesota has the size, strength and athleticism to go head-to-head with many of the Big Ten's best, but when senior G Blake Hoffarber lights it up, the scales tip significantly in the Golden Gophers' favor. Hoffarber scored 26 points in a recent win over No. 8 Purdue, hitting 10-of-15 from the field. Michigan's junior G/F Zack Novak will likely be matched up with Hoffarber for periods of this game, and the Wolverines will need every bit of defense they can get from Novak to keep Hoffarber from deciding the outcome.


--Junior G/F Zack Novak had 16 points in the narrow loss to No. 2 Ohio State, hitting double figures for the ninth time this season. Novak went 4-of-5 from outside the 3-point arc.

--Junior G Stu Douglass has played in every game in his Michigan career (85), and set a personal-best with 10 rebounds in the recent loss to Kansas.

--Sophomore PG Darius Morris is tied for the Big Ten lead with 7.3 assists per game, and is fourth nationally in assists. He had seven assists in the overtime loss to No. 3 Kansas, playing 43 minutes.

FUTURES MARKET: The growing pains would be many on this, the Big Ten's youngest team, but Michigan has been surprisingly mature in some aspects of the game, thanks in large part to the steady hand of sophomore PG Darius Morris. The Los Angeles product has been one of the Big Ten's leaders in assists, and has helped Michigan to be one of the leaders nationally in protecting the ball. The Wolverines average just 11 turnovers per game through Jan. 16. With Morris running the show for the next two-and-a-half seasons, things are looking much brighter, and sooner than expected, for Michigan.

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