The TSX Files: Michigan pre-MSU

As they push on at 17-6 overall and 7-3 in the Big Ten and prepare for a huge showdown with bitter rival Michigan State next, the on-going saga of sophomore forward Jon Horford and his tender right foot has become a significant concern for the Wolverines.

GETTING INSIDE
Horford's foot still concern for Michigan


As they push on at 17-6 overall and 7-3 in the Big Ten and prepare for a huge showdown with bitter rival Michigan State next, the on-going saga of sophomore forward Jon Horford and his tender right foot has become a significant concern, and a classic double-edged sword for the Wolverines.

The bad side of the blade sees this as a depth issue for Michigan, a team not blessed with a lot of size and muscle inside. The 6-10 Horford was the first player off the bench when center/forward Jordan Morgan needed to be spelled, or when foul trouble forced the hand of Michigan coach John Beilein. For the past two weeks, Beilein has hinted that Horford could be ready to play, but Horford remains in street clothes at game time.

Minus that physical backup, the Wolverines are too thin up front to weather any crisis against top competition, and they are more likely to play Morgan a maximum amount of minutes. That will diminish his effectiveness, especially as the games come one after another in the conference tournament and the NCAA tournament.

In Horford's absence, Michigan has also been forced to play forward Evan Smotrycz at center to relieve Morgan, and Smotrycz is much more comfortable at the "four" position than trying to push around the likes of Ohio State center/forward Jared Sullinger around the basket.

The good edge on the sword sees this as the perfect opportunity to bank a year of eligibility with Horford. Given the number of games he played before the injury, Horford is right at the limit. He can still gain a medical redshirt, but only if he never plays another minute the rest of this season.

A redshirt year for Horford would spread out Michigan's core players a bit, since five of them are now listed as sophomores eligibility-wise. Gaining a redshirt year would also mean the big chunk of games he missed wound not make this season a wasted exercise.

Beilein has mentioned numerous times about the "big decision" he had to make concerning Horford, who is believed to have injured his foot in the Dec. 3 win over Iowa State, and then played on the stress fracture a week later in a win over Oakland at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Until the coach makes a definitive call, the Horford distraction remains.

NOTES, QUOTES

Morgan continuing to be on target
--Michigan sophomore F Jordan Morgan continued to be one of the more efficient inside players in the Big Ten Conference. Morgan led the Wolverines and was second in the league with his 64.7 field-goal percentage, through Wednesday. Last season, he was the Big Ten's field-goal percentage leader at 62.7 percent. Morgan was his usual blue-collar laborer self in the Feb. 1 win over Indiana in Ann Arbor, scoring eight points on 3-of-5 shooting, and adding five rebounds. Over his last six games, through Wednesday, Morgan shot 65.5 percent from the field (22-for-34), while averaging around nine points and five rebounds per game.

--F Evan Smotrycz lost his starting job 18 games into the season, but has not let the apparent demotion negatively impact his performance for the Wolverines. Smotrycz continued to lead Michigan in three-point accuracy, shooting 42.6 percent from long range, through Wednesday. He was second on the team in rebounding with 5.5 rebounds per game at that point. Smotrycz, who had double-doubles in three straight games earlier this season, had a modest four points and two rebounds in the Feb. 1 Big Ten win over Indiana.

BY THE NUMBERS: 0 -- Michigan senior G/F Zack Novak played 33 minutes in the recent Big Ten road loss to Ohio State, and failed to score for the first time all season, missing all four shots he took from the field. Novak averages around 10 points per game.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Defensively I thought we had a great start, but the things we could control a little bit we didn't do. We got 10 offensive rounds but didn't get to the line. They just got fouled more than we did. If you let this Ohio State team get comfortable, they have too many bullets in that gun." -- Michigan coach John Beilein on his team's loss at Ohio State.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME:
--at Michigan State, Feb. 5
KEY MATCHUPS: The Spartans are led in scoring and rebounding by senior F Draymond Green, who has surprising quickness at 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds. Michigan will switch off as it tries to wear Green down and limit his effectiveness, and the Wolverines expect to use both G/F Zack Novak and F Jordan Morgan against Green. The more important matchup might come out front where Michigan freshman PG Trey Burke goes head-to-head with Michigan State sophomore PG Keith Appling. Burke should have the edge, with his ability to punish defenders with the drive, then utilize a deadly step-back jump shot.

TRENDING: Michigan PG Trey Burke has out-played the opposition and made the skeptics who doubted his ability look silly on a number of nights this season. In the 68-56 Big Ten win over Indiana on Feb. 1, the true freshman led the Wolverines with 18 points, and added four rebounds and four assists. Burke has not faded once Big Ten competition started, but rather has seemed to increase his impact. He had a career-high 27 points in the Jan. 1 win against Minnesota, going 8-of-11 from the field. Burke is second in the Big Ten in scoring among all freshmen with his 14.1 points per game. He was tied for second in the conference in assists among all players, averaging five per game, through Wednesday.

FUTURES MARKET: The Wolverines are paying very close attention to the rapid development of committed recruit F Mark Donnal from the Toledo, Ohio, area. Already about 6-foot-9 at just 16 years old, the high school junior is expected to grow another two inches or so before he arrives in Ann Arbor for the 2013-14 season. His game is evolving as well, with Donnal expanding his shooting range and playing strong against constant double-teams. His spring and summer ball is played with Indiana Elite South, an AAU team coached by ESPN college basketball analyst and former Hoosier Dan Dakich.

PLAYER NOTES

--G Eso Akunne had surgery on his injured left foot and was expected to miss six to eight weeks. With Akunne out, G Matt Vogrich moved up in the playing rotation, along with G Carlton Brundidge.

--F Jon Horford remained in limbo while his recovery from a stress fracture in his foot was assessed on a daily basis. Horford was practicing with the team for several days, but had yet to dress for a game, through Wednesday, since missing about six weeks with the injury. If he returns to the court this season, a medical redshirt is no longer an option.


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