Back from buried, Wolverines show finishing kick
Now they can smell it. Three straight Big Ten wins and victories in five of six recent conference outings have the Wolverines on more than a roll -- they can detect the aroma of the NCAA Tournament.
Six straight losses preceded this recent run of success, and no one was foolish enough to even hint at postseason expectations. Michigan had to stave off a total collapse first, and get about the business of salvaging something from the season before anyone could express any talk about being part of the Big Dance.
So the Wolverines restrained themselves, gathered themselves, and figured things out. Their turnaround has been one of the best-kept secrets in a Big Ten conference where Michigan was considered a long-term, back-of-the-pack dweller by most.
Michigan was floundering at 1-6 in the Big Ten about three weeks before this recent run. Six straight losses dropped the Wolverines so far off the NCAA radar that they were not earning even a blip.
But then Michigan State, Iowa, Penn State, Northwestern and most recently Indiana have been victims of the revitalized Wolverines. The only time Michigan got sidetracked in this streak of success was in a hotly-contested 62-53 loss to then-No. 1 Ohio State in Columbus.
The victory over Indiana gave the Wolverines 16 wins, which put this season's total ahead of last year. The much more important benefit of that win and the trend it continued is what it likely does for the courtship efforts with the NCAA selection committee.
"I think what we've done the past couple of weeks has put us back in the discussion," Michigan junior forward Zack Novak said. "We're working hard to build a resume."
Their poor start in conference play quickly removed the Wolverines from any chance of contention for a Big Ten regular season title, but their recent surge has made them a player once again. If Michigan continues trending upward, the Wolverines will be the team nobody wants to face in the Big Ten tournament, and one of the more unexpected entries in the NCAA field.
--In its recent home win over Indiana, Michigan had 13 assists and just 12 turnovers. Michigan is 12-5 this season when its assist/turnover ratio is a positive one.
--Michigan held Northwestern's John Shurna, the fourth-leading scorer in the Big Ten, to just four points in the Wolverines' recent home win over the Wildcats. Shurna had scored 24 points in the first meeting this season between the two teams.
--With their recent run of success, the Wolverines need to remind everyone they are the youngest team in the Big Ten, with no seniors, just four juniors, and 11 underclassmen.
BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- Michigan had 10 losses after dropping a nine-point decision at then No. 1 Ohio State, but five of those losses had come against four of the top-ranked teams in the country. Michigan lost to then No. 9 Syracuse, then No. 3 Kansas, then No. 15 Minnesota, and twice to the Buckeyes -- at No. 2 and then at No. 1.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was a good win, especially coming up on the postseason. It puts us in the mix." -- Michigan freshman G Tim Hardaway Jr. on what his team's win over Indiana did to enhance its chances of making the NCAA tournament
--at Illinois, Feb. 16
KEY MATCHUPS: The Wolverines face a stiff test of their recent string of success against a veteran Illini group led by senior PG Demetri McCamey. He presents a difficult physical challenge for Michigan's PG Darius Morris, who might have a slight advantage in athleticism, but likely will struggle with McCamey's strength and power game. McCamey's 158 assists are a testament to how important he is to the Illinois operation, so slowing him will be crucial to Michigan winning on the road.
--at Iowa, Feb. 19
KEY MATCHUPS: The Wolverines encounter an Iowa team that has been gaining its footing recently, and one of the more interesting matchups involves Iowa freshman F Melsahn Basabe tangling inside with Michigan's freshman F Jordan Morgan. Basabe had 13 points and 11 rebounds in the Hawkeyes' recent overtime loss to Wisconsin. Morgan has been on a bit of a run himself, so the winner of this individual bout should help his team prevail in the overall battle.
FUTURES MARKET: There likely is not a team in the Big Ten more anxious than the Wolverines to see what the coming seasons will hold. Michigan has recently put together wins in five of six conference games, and done so with a lineup that includes three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior. As the youngest team in the Big Ten and one of the youngest in the nation, Michigan was expected to take considerable lumps throughout 2010-11, but recent results appear to have the Wolverines demonstrating an ability to play wise beyond their years. Experience will only make this team better, and the Wolverines will enter the coming seasons as one of the richest teams in the Big Ten in that resource.
--In the recent win over Northwestern, Michigan was led by freshman F Jordan Morgan and his career-high 27 points.
--Junior F Zack Novak has recorded four double-doubles this season through games played Feb. 12.
--Michigan freshman G Tim Hardaway Jr. scored a career-high 26 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field as the Wolverines held off Indiana and won for the fifth time in a recent stretch of six Big Ten games.
--Junior F Zack Novak equaled his career high with six assists in the win over Indiana. He also contributed 10 points and seven rebounds.
--Freshman G Tim Hardaway Jr. had all 13 of his points in the final seven and a half minutes of the game to lead Michigan to a 65-62 road win over Penn State.
The TSX Files: Wolverines show finishing kick
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