January a very busy month for Wolverines
By now the members of the young Michigan team have heard all the talk about the rigors of the Big Ten schedule, and how the grind and the pace of the games simply wears some teams out prior to the conference tournament.
If they were skeptical or non-believers before, a couple weeks of conference games might have convinced them otherwise. The separating of the men from the boys is taking place in earnest.
During January, the Wolverines play nine games in a 29-day stretch. Locked inside that tough segment of the schedule in one period where six games are lined up over just 17 days.
Just to add some spice to the already tangy layout in front of the Wolverines, a road trip to face explosive and dangerous Arkansas is tucked in the middle of the month.
"It's not an NBA schedule, especially the one they have right now, but this probably gets as close as it can be to it during the middle of January," Michigan coach John Beilein said."We're full go."
The veteran coach hopes the difficult stretch will toughen his team as opposed to breaking it down. If the Wolverines can weather the challenges of such an arduous period, they will emerge as a much better team going forward in the final month of Big Ten play, and into the challenges that lie beyond.
"It's a great prep for us for if we are going to make a run in the Big Ten Tournament," Beilein said.
"You have to be able to be resilient through both victory and defeat. Same thing goes if you were ever in a situation in the NCAA Tournament, where you're traveling all over the place. So hopefully this is good prep if we're going to get to that point in March."
Beilein knows the Big Ten can be an especially unforgiving place when you play on the road, and with three sophomores and a freshman in his starting lineup, he expects the challenges to be many. Beilein sees winning on the road in the Big Ten as a true gauge of where his team stands moving forward.
"You have to win one and just find a way, and then it can get to be contagious," he said about conference road games. "But the fact is that it's a hard thing to do and we have to look at ourselves and say we have to be special. If you're going to win on the road in conference play, you have to play your top game. If you're having an off night, it's probably not going to happen."
Novak shines in Iowa loss
--G Zack Novak had 14 points in the recent loss at Iowa, reaching double figures for the seventh time this season. Novak also led the Wolverines in rebounds with eight. He hit 4-of-8 from 3-point range in the game.
--Sophomore F Evan Smotrycz, who had been a consistent contributor and legitimate 3-point threat for the Wolverines through the first two months of the season, went scoreless in the loss at Iowa. Smotrycz missed all six of his shots from the field, including a 0-of-4 performance from outside the arc. He played 22 minutes and was part of the reason the Wolverines went a dreadful 8-of-31 from long range in the loss.
--In the Big Ten road matchup with Iowa, Michigan went with the same lineup for a 16th straight game. PG Trey Burke, G Zack Novak, G Tim Hardaway Jr., F Evan Smotrycz and F Jordan Morgan have been on the floor to start every game since the Wolverines opened play in the Maui Invitational.
BY THE NUMBERS: 33 -- In a 66-64 overtime win against Northwestern in Big Ten play, the Wolverines shot a dismal 33 percent from the field -- a season-low -- but managed to escape with the victory. Michigan made just 9-of-32 shots in the first half against the Wildcats.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Today you're in Spanish, tomorrow you're in French, then you're back to Portuguese because it looks like Spanish, but it's not quite Spanish." -- Michigan coach John Beilein describing what it's like for his backup players that form the scout team, preparing the Michigan starters for a variety of looks from the opposition.
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Michigan State, Jan. 17
KEY MATCHUPS: The Wolverines start down a gauntlet of difficult opponents by hosting the Spartans, and do-it-all senior F Draymond Green. His physical play creates problems inside for Michigan F Jordan Morgan, but Green's ability to step out and hit the 3-pointer complicates the matter. If he draws Morgan away from the basket, Michigan's rebounding will likely suffer.
--at Arkansas, Jan. 21
KEY MATCHUPS: The Razorbacks are explosive offensively, averaging around 80 points per game, and one of the primary concerns for the Wolverines will be reining in sophomore G Mardracus Wade and junior G Julysses Nobles. The two are the ignition men for the scoring spurts that have powered Arkansas to recent wins over LSU and Mississippi State. Michigan's backcourt duo of PG Trey Burke and G Zack Novak will likely match up with Wade and Nobles, while sophomore G Tim Hardaway Jr. should also figure in the picture.
FUTURES MARKET: The Wolverines are feeling more confident every day that their offensive operation will be in good hands for years to come, since freshman PG Trey Burke has been so consistent in his first season in Ann Arbor. Burke scored 19 points and went a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line in the recent overtime win against Wisconsin, and then led Michigan with 19 points on 7-of-13 (54 percent) shooting in a road loss to Iowa. Burke had scored in double figures in all but two Michigan games this season.
--F Jon Horford, who has missed nine straight games with a stress fracture in his foot, received encouraging news from the team doctors and could return to the playing rotation in the near future. Horford is expected to begin shooting drills, continue intensive therapy, and then have his progress checked before he rejoins a full practice regimen.
--Senior G Stu Douglass had a pair of steals against Northwestern to give him 100 for his career and make him the 19th player in Michigan history to reach 100 career steals.
--F Max Bielfeldt is still targeted for a redshirt this season and has not played for the Wolverines more than midway through the season.
--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.
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