Wolverines now center of attention in Big Ten
Before the current season started, most of the talk surrounding the Big Ten conference and its anticipated power teams for 2011-12 was focused on Ohio State and Wisconsin.
The Wolverines and in-state rival Michigan State were assigned a tier below those two, but expected by most to not be in the chase for the title over the long haul due, in Michigan's case, to the uncertainty about the overall strength of the Wolverines' lineup.
As the Wolverines move into the next stretch of conference games already owning wins over Wisconsin, Minnesota and Penn State, the rest of the league is paying more than casual attention to Michigan.
Michigan started to change the perception of others in the first month of the season, due mostly to the play of freshman PG Trey Burke and sophomore F Evan Smotrycz. While the buzz has mostly surround Burke, the hammer in some cases has been carried by Smotrycz.
Last season as a freshman, Smotrycz played in all 35 games, starting 24 times, but his production was very modest. He averaged just 6.3 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, hitting double figures in scoring just nine times.
The Smotrycz the rest of the Big Ten is getting a bitter dose of in the current season had a recent string of three straight double-doubles.
He went for 17 points and a career-best 11 rebounds against Alabama A&M, then hit for 20 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Bradley. In Michigan's Big Ten opener against Penn State, Smotrycz had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Suddenly, opposing teams had to adjust their defensive arrangement to account for the 3-point shooting accuracy of the 6-foot-9 Smotrycz. As an added bonus, the way Smotrycz elevated his level of play allowed Michigan to return him to his natural two-guard position
Smotrycz gives Michigan an inside/outside versatility that complicates the picture considerably for the rest of the Big Ten. No longer can they focus on locking down sophomore G Tim Hardaway Jr. and playing straight-up on the rest of the Wolverines.
Burke creates plenty of concern on his own, but with the way that Smotrycz is playing, the Wolverines are a much more difficult puzzle for Big Ten teams to solve. As soon as they forget about Smotrycz, a double-double is possibly the punishment the Michigan sophomore will administer.
Wolverines off to their best start under Beilein
--The Wolverines are starting to collect some significant landmarks for the John Beilein era in Ann Arbor. Beilein, in his fifth season as head coach of Michigan, got his team off to a 12-2 start, the best in his tenure. Michigan's win over then No. 8-ranked Memphis in the Maui Invitational was Beilein's first over a top-10 ranked team since the 2008-09 season. Michigan's only losses in its first 14 games came against teams that were ranked at the time -- No. 5 Duke and No. 21 Virginia.
--Freshman PG Trey Burke has been a potent part of the Michigan attack this season, and his 27-point explosion in an early Big Ten win over Minnesota certainly got the attention of the rest of the league. Burke went 8-of-11 from the field in that Michigan victory, hit both shots from long range, and nailed 9-of-10 from the foul line. Burke went through a recent three-game stretch with 18 assists and just three turnovers. Burke scored 14 points in Michigan's rout of Wisconsin, outplaying the Badgers' Jordan Taylor.
--G Matt Vogrich, one of Michigan's top three-point threats last season, had a dreadful start to the 2011-12 season. Vogrich had just one made 3-pointer nine games into the season. He eventually work out of the sustained funk in a win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff, hitting three triples in a row after starting the season 1-of-14. By the time Michigan got through the first week of the Big Ten schedule, Vogrich had raised his long-range shooting percentage to 25 percent.
BY THE NUMBERS: 7 -- About 10 games into the current season, Michigan G Matt Vogrich was shooting a miserable 7 percent from 3-point range after leading the team in long-distance shooting last year with 39 percent accuracy.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's going to see great defenses all the time. He's a great scorer and a great shooter. The only thing that would disappoint me is if he backed off at all." -- Michigan coach John Beilein on sophomore G Tim Hardaway Jr. recovering from a dreadful 2-of-14 shooting performance against Minnesota.
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Northwestern, Jan. 11
KEY MATCHUPS: The Wildcats lean heavily on the combination of G/F Drew Crawford and F John Shurna so the Wolverines center their defensive attention on those two. Shurna creates special issues since he is a long 6-foot-9 with a solid shooting touch outside the arc. Michigan could use the combination of G Tim Hardaway and/or F Evan Smotrycz on Shurna, while Crawford likely gets tracked by senior G Zack Novak. Northwestern's ability to slow the impact of Michigan PG Trey Burke will have a lot to do with how this game turns out.
--at Iowa, Jan. 14
KEY MATCHUPS: The Hawkeyes are brimming with confidence after notching two Big Ten road wins in the first three conference games of the season. Senior G Matt Gatens presents a physical backcourt presence and will likely square off with Michigan senior G Zack Novak. Gatens threw in 19 points in Iowa's recent road win over Minnesota. Iowa freshman F Aaron White is an emerging force inside for the Hawkeyes, and when White is on the floor, Michigan will likely counter with F Jordan Morgan guarding White.
--F Jon Horford has missed eight straight games with a foot injury that has been diagnosed as a stress fracture. If he does not return to the lineup and takes the rest of the season to heal, Horford would be eligible for a medical redshirt. The 6-foot-10, 250-pounder has played in nine games as a backup post player, averaging 2.7 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.
--Senior G Stu Douglass has not missed a game in his four-year Michigan career. Douglass goes into the next contests against Northwestern and Iowa with 118 consecutive appearances for the Wolverines. He is chasing Michigan's all-time record of 135 games played, held by F Loy Vaught (1986-90).
--F Max Bielfeldt is a big, strong inside force that is learning the Michigan system in his first year in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines have adequate depth inside at this point in the season and will likely consider redshirting Bielfeldt.
--G Jordan Dumars left the program before the start of the season after being hampered by persistent knee injuries. Dumars did not play in any games while at Michigan.
FUTURES MARKET: The Wolverines got to work early on 6-foot-9 high school F Mark Donnal from Ohio, and Donnal ended the recruiting efforts of Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Indiana, Butler and Purdue by announcing he was heading to Michigan in the fall of 2013. Donnal, who is expected to reach 6-11 before he stops growing, was all-conference last season as a sophomore when he averaged 14.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Donnal, who plays in the off-season for an AAU team based in Indiana and coached by former Hoosier player and coach Dan Dakich, has a nice shooting touch and exceptional scoring skills around the basket.
The TSX Files: Michigan Monday
The Michigan Insider Top Stories
Peoples-Jones' Electrifying Touchdown GrabWatch Donovan Peoples-Jones blow by his defender for the 55-yard touchdown grab to give Detroit (Mich.) Cass Tech an early 7-0 lead over Detroit King in the PSL championship game.
The Michigan InsiderYesterday at 5:48 PM
WATCH: Stronger Mo Wagner Excites U-M StaffMichigan sophomore big man Moritz Wagner worked hard on his body and his game during the off-season, and new Wolverine assistant Saddi Washington says the result of all of that…
The Michigan InsiderYesterday at 10:49 AM
Preview: Michigan vs. IllinoisPreviewing Michigan's upcoming game against Illinois.
The Michigan InsiderYesterday at 7:23 AM
Tory Carter says Harbaugh “a Great Coach”Leesburg (Ga.) Lee County fullback prospect Tory Carter may be committed to LSU, but Jim Harbaugh and Michigan are working hard to change that.
The Michigan InsiderThursday at 4:35 PM
Michigan Still #1 with Otis ReeseThe Michigan Insider made it to the Peach State last Friday where we saw Leesburg (Ga.) Lee County and 2018 Wolverine commit Otis Reese suffer their first loss of the season.…
The Michigan InsiderThursday at 3:40 PM