Wolverines hope to ride momentum of upset win over Spartans
It is possible for one game to count for a whole lot more than a simple notch in the left-hand or right-hand column. It can provide the start of a wave of positive energy, or signal the beginning of a nasty downward spiral.
When the Wolverines earned just their second Big Ten Conference win in their first eight attempts by stunning rival Michigan State on Jan. 27, some in the Ann Arbor camp were calling it the arrival of a new era in Michigan basketball. It was the signal they had been waiting for while the young team floundered against superior competition.
The 61-57 victory over the Spartans, a team that had been ranked in the top three in the nation at the start of the season, was huge since it occurred on the road, and it came against a team that has owned the Wolverines for so long.
Many will argue where the win over Michigan State ranks among the biggest Michigan victories in recent years. They will cite wins over Duke in 2008, and one over Clemson in the 2009 NCAA Tournament, but those were probably stronger Michigan teams, and more experienced ones.
Michigan garnered a huge spike in confidence from the road victory, and the Wolverines will need all the gusto they can muster since they must face top-ranked and unbeaten Ohio State on the road on Feb. 3.
The real long-term value of the stunning win over Michigan State won't be known until the season's end. One of the gospels according to head coaches starts with the lesson that a win is only a good win if you build on it. Michigan will have to demonstrate that it has a full grasp of that mantra before its win over Michigan State can pay multiple benefits.
--Construction continues on Michigan's new player development center, a $23.2 million facility on the east side of Crisler Arena. The center will have two practice courts, offices and meeting rooms, along with weight rooms, training rooms and locker rooms. It is expected to open in October.
--Michigan coach John Beilein beat Michigan State for the first time in five tries when his Wolverines stunned the Spartans 61-57 on Jan. 27.
--After getting outrebounded 38-13 in a loss to Minnesota, the Wolverines battled Michigan State even 29-29 on the boards on their way to a win over the Spartans.
BY THE NUMBERS: 9 -- Nine times in Michigan's first 20 games, sophomore PG Darius Morris had eight or more assists.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This could be a turnaround not only for our season but our program. So we've just got to keep going hard, and that's all we got to do, just play hard." -- Michigan freshman F Jon Horford, on the Wolverines' win at Michigan State.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--at Ohio State, Feb. 3
KEY MATCHUPS: Like most teams in the country, Michigan will struggle to contain Ohio State's sensational freshman C/F Jared Sullinger. His size and strength make Sullinger a very difficult combatant down low, and Michigan's redshirt freshman F Jordan Morgan will give up close to 40 pounds when he confronts Sullinger. The Wolverines will have to arrange a help-defense approach and hope that the rest of the Buckeyes don't burn them elsewhere on the floor.
--at Penn State, Feb. 6
KEY MATCHUPS: The Wolverines face a veteran Penn State team that is led by senior G Talor Battle, and as Ohio State demonstrated in a recent win over the Nittany Lions, the secret to controlling Penn State starts with limiting the impact of Battle. Through Jan. 30, he had posted 41 career games of 20 or more points, so the track record is there. Michigan's Darius Morris will expect to get the primary defensive assignment on Battle, and if Morris is able to keep Battle from igniting any runs or dropping any timely shots that hit home like daggers, the Wolverines have to like their chances against Penn State.
FUTURES MARKET: The Wolverines knew that freshman G Tim Hardaway Jr. came from good, solid stock. They have to be encouraged by the speed with which Hardaway has adjusted to the college game and become a regular contributor for Michigan. After leading the team in scoring on the four-game European tour this summer, Hardaway has progressed, and he was the second-leading scorer in the Big Ten among freshmen through Jan. 30. He also had demonstrated his versatility, leading Michigan in rebounding in three straight games recently.
--Sophomore PG Darius Morris was on the floor for all 40 minutes of the win over Michigan State. Morris played 43 minutes in the recent overtime loss to Kansas.
--Junior F Zack Novak tied a career high with six made 3-pointers in Michigan's win over Michigan State. Novak was 6-for-8 from beyond the arc and had 18 of his 19 points from long distance. Novak has moved past former Michigan star Glen Rice for the eighth spot on Michigan's career 3-pointers made list.
--Freshman G Tim Hardaway Jr. grabbed eight rebounds to lead Michigan in that category in its win at Michigan State. He scored a team-high 19 points in the Jan. 30 win over Iowa.
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