Wolverines compiling tournament-worthy evidence
It wasn't all that long ago that Michigan had lost six straight games and been all but given up for dead. The Wolverines were 11-9 overall, and a miserable 1-6 in the Big Ten Conference.
But just before the burial, Michigan's painfully young lineup suddenly came of age. After their 75-66 win over Northwestern, the Wolverines have gone through a five-game stretch of Big Ten games with four wins, losing only to top-ranked and unbeaten Ohio State.
Michigan, hoping to make its case for a place in the NCAA Tournament, is starting to compile some pretty convincing evidence. Road wins against then-ranked Michigan State and Penn State have been part of that recent string of success.
The Wolverines have six conference games remaining, and an opportunity to further enhance that resume and solidify their case for the post-season. Remaining games with Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan State will provide the best opportunity to gain style points while fattening that conference record.
It is fair to assume that not many expected Michigan to be competitive with the Big Ten's upper echelon this season. With no seniors on the roster and three freshmen in the regular starting lineup, the Wolverines were going to flounder before they would feast.
As Michigan's recent hot streak has come together, the Wolverines are getting more attention in the Big Ten, and living with the weight of increased expectations. The next month will be crucial for Michigan in terms of demonstrating how much this young team has grown up, and done so in a hurry.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: The Wolverines took the lead for good with about seven minutes left in the first half against Northwestern, but they were in a battle throughout the night before prevailing 75-66. Freshman F Jordan Morgan scored 27 points to lead the way for the Wolverines, hitting 11-of-13 from the field and 5-of-8 from the line. Michigan (15-10, 5-7) also got 17 points and 10 rebounds from freshman G Tim Hardaway Jr., who registered his first double-double. The Wolverines led 34-19 at the half, but the advantage was whittled to just a point with two minutes left before Michigan put the game away. Michigan hit 27-of-52 from the field, for 51.9 percent. The Wolverines enjoyed a huge advantage at the foul line, hitting 15-of-21 while Northwestern hit just 3-of-7 from the line.
--Freshman G Tim Hardaway Jr. had the first double-double of his career in the win over Northwestern, scoring 17 points and picking up a career-high 10 rebounds. Hardaway scored in double-figures in 10 of the last 11 games for the Wolverines.
--In its 75-66 win over Northwestern, Michigan had the upper hand in the rebounding battle, 38-25. That marked Michigan's biggest rebounding advantage in Big Ten play.
--Sophomore PG Darius Morris had 11 points and seven assists in the recent win over Northwestern. Morris also had seven rebounds in Michigan's victory.
--Michigan had just six 3-pointers in its recent loss at Ohio State on Feb. 3, which is below its average of 8.45 per game, second best in the Big Ten through Feb. 6.
--When the Wolverines dropped a 62-53 decision at top-ranked Ohio State, it marked the 22nd loss in the 23 times in program history that Michigan has faced No. 1.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've played so many of those good teams so far that I don't know if it matters if you're playing number 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5. It depends on the kids. I know I don't look at it any differently." -- Michigan coach John Beilein, after facing so many ranked teams in Big Ten play, plus Kansas.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--vs. Indiana, Feb. 12
-- KEY MATCHUPS: Indiana suffered blow recently when it lost 6-foot-8 sophomore F Christian Watford for the season with a broken hand. In the first meeting between the two teams this season, Watford had 17 points, and Indiana was an 80-61 winner.
-- FUTURES MARKET: The Wolverines went deep behind enemy lines to land PG Trey Burke, a standout for Columbus Northland, the same school that produced Ohio State's sensational freshman F Jared Sullinger. Burke gave the Wolverines an early indication that he is fearless by showing up for the Michigan-Ohio State game dressed all in Michigan blue. Burke is expected to take some of the minutes load off Michigan sophomore PG Darius Morris, who has been playing almost 35 minutes per game this season.
--Sophomore PG Darius Morris moved into ninth place on Michigan's single-season assists list, passing Rumeal Robinson. Morris led Michigan in the Feb. 6 win at Penn State with 23 points, four rebounds and three assists.
--Sophomore G Matt Vogrich missed the recent Ohio State game with the flu. Vogrich tried to warm up but quickly retreated to the Michigan bench. He was healthy three days later at Penn State and played 23 minutes.
--Sophomore PG Darius Morris had the first triple-double against a Big Ten opponent in school history when he went for 12 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds in the Jan. 30 win over Iowa.
--Freshman G Tim Hardaway Jr. was one of the bright spots in the Wolverines' nine-point loss at Ohio State. Hardaway led Michigan in scoring with 15 points, and he had a couple of highlight-reel attacks on the basket.
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