Improving Wolverines' goals are higher now
The Wolverines are churning forward, locked in on a rematch with Ohio State tonight that could push Michigan back into a tie for the lead in the Big Ten standings.
After their 70-61 win over Illinois on Feb. 12, the Wolverines stand at 19-7 overall, and 9-4 in the Big Ten, just a game back of co-leaders Ohio State and Michigan State. With just five conference games left on the schedule before the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan coach John Beilein and his troops might be adjusting their original targeted goals.
When the season started, the Buckeyes and the Spartans were the clear-cut favorites to battle it out for the Big Ten regular season title, while Michigan was believed to be focused on just making the NCAA Tournament with a strong showing in the conference season.
Now, Beilein and the Wolverines might be hedging their bets a bit.
"I think we're still playing to get in," Beilein said about making the NCAA field. "Fortunately, at this stage of the game, we're still in the hunt for the Big Ten championship."
He stressed the obvious, that this season's edition of the Wolverines has upped the ante and worked its way into contention for more hardware and glory than last year's Michigan team.
"Obviously, every team in the country is still in the hunt for a tournament championship, as long as they're in a league, and we're in the hunt to get in the NCAA Tournament and then maybe go after a national championship," Beilein said.
"Last year at this time, we were only hunting two of those -- the league tourney championship, and then get in the NCAAs. I think we're still hunting all of them. Any of you all would think we have something locked up, but we still have to keep winning."
That makes the rematch with the Buckeyes even more important. Ohio State dominated the Wolverines 64-49 a couple of weeks ago in Columbus, but the Buckeyes look more vulnerable after their recent loss to Michigan State, and Michigan certainly has to feel confident, given the wins in three of its last four Big Ten games.
Wolverines remain perfect at home
--With their 70-61 win over Illinois on Feb. 12, the Wolverines remain undefeated at Crisler Center this season, at 14-0.
--In their Feb. 12 Big Ten win over Illinois, the Wolverines shot 50 percent from the field, and 44 percent outside the 3-point line.
--F Evan Smotrycz, mired in a deep slump as of late, played 29 minutes in the Feb. 12 win over Illinois, scoring 13 points with three rebounds, two assists and four steals.
--Things should be heating up for the upcoming rematch with the Buckeyes. In a recent reference to Ohio State, Michigan coach John Beilein used just the word "Ohio", adopting the manner employed by Michigan football coach Brady Hoke last fall. Beilein claimed his "Ohio" references were not part of some department-wide dictate. "I just adopted it myself," Beilein said.
BY THE NUMBERS: 10 -- In its Big Ten win over Illinois, Michigan forced the Illini into 10 turnovers. The Wolverines scored 19 points off those turnovers.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's nice to see that, except for a couple hundred people shy at the Northwestern game, every one of our Big Ten games has been a virtual sellout. Then we've had really good crowds for the Iowa State game and the other non-conference games earlier in the year. To see it grow like that, it's a good feeling, and I know the accountants are probably happy about it as well." -- Michigan coach John Beilein on how the fan support for the program has grown.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
--vs. Ohio State, Feb. 18
KEY MATCHUPS: The Wolverines plan to form a crowd around Ohio State All-American C/F Jared Sullinger, and force the rest of the Buckeyes to beat them. F Jordan Morgan will not likely be able to handle Sullinger on his own, so help has to come from the wings whenever the Buckeyes dump the ball inside to Sullinger. Ohio State senior G William Buford is the next scoring option, and Michigan sophomore G Tim Hardaway Jr. matches up best with Buford. If Michigan gets the early advantage, the crowd at Crisler will become a very potent sixth man.
FUTURES MARKET: It might have looked like the Wolverines were taking a big gamble when they handed true freshman PG Trey Burke the ball this season and gave him the keys to the offense. That was three months ago, when the rest of the Big Ten had not had a good look at Burke. Nobody questions the decision now, or the fact that Michigan should be set at the point for several years to come with Burke in the fold. When Burke scored 14 points in the Feb. 12 Big Ten win over Illinois, it was his fifth straight game in double figures.
--F Zack Novak had 12 points and nine rebounds in the win over Illinois, leaving him one rebound shy of the sixth double-double in his career.
--F Jon Horford has played in only nine games for the Wolverines this season. Horford last appeared Dec. 10 against Oakland, but has been sidelined since with a stress fracture in his foot. He is a likely candidate for a medical redshirt.
--G Eso Akunne is likely lost for the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot.
--G Carlton Brundidge has not played since the Feb. 1 game against Indiana as he continues to be evaluated for complications due to an asthma condition.
The TSX Files: U-M's goals are higher now
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