Road win enhances Wolverines' resume
The Wolverines might get accused of having a flair for the dramatic after they went to overtime Tuesday to defeat Northwestern 67-55 -- a rare road win that allowed them to stay just a half-game behind Big Ten leader Michigan State.
A home date with Purdue on Saturday will present Michigan with its next opportunity to prove it belongs in the Big Ten championship race, right to the end.
"You have to win on the road if you're going to win a Big Ten championship," Michigan coach John Beilein said in a frank assessment of the challenge his team faces over the final two weeks of the season.
After their overtime win against Northwestern, the Wolverines host the Boilermakers in Ann Arbor before closing out the Big Ten schedule and the regular season with road games against Illinois and Penn State.
Playing on the road had been the problem for this team. Michigan is 15-0 at the Crisler Center this season, but before the dramatic win at Northwestern, the Wolverines had just one true road victory this season -- their 62-46 win at Nebraska on Feb. 8.
Neutral-site wins over Memphis, UCLA and Oakland certainly enhance the Wolverines' NCAA resume, but Beilein knows the only test that really matters from this point on is the road test, and his team has two crucial ones remaining.
"Now we just have to move on. When you go on the road to play, it's always difficult," he said. "We have to play better than we have."
TRENDING: Forward Jordan Morgan might have had his best performance of the season in the Feb. 18 win over Ohio State. Morgan posted the first double-double of his career with 11 points and 11 rebounds, and he did a superb defensive job on Ohio State All-American Jared Sullinger. "He should play with confidence," Michigan coach John Beilein said about Morgan, a sophomore from Detroit. "He was playing against a guy like Jared Sullinger, and whenever we went with one-on-one coverage, he was outstanding. If you can guard somebody of the likes of Sullinger, you can play against a lot of people."
Surprising Wolverines take aim at Big Ten title
--Had anyone mentioned the Wolverines as serious Big Ten title contenders back in November, the notion likely would have been brushed off as the musings of an over-zealous fan and not those of a rational, thinking basketball mind.
Michigan was coming into 2011-12 minus gifted point guard Darius Morris, who had jumped to the NBA following a superior sophomore season. That left a huge void, especially since none of the players in residence seemed prepared to take the controls out front.
The Wolverines were also undersized and apparently lacked enough muscle and balance on their roster to get mentioned in the championship conversation. Three and a half months into the season, however, Michigan is still flirting with the Big Ten's top spot.
Freshman point guard Trey Burke has been outstanding taking over for Morris, while the rest of the Wolverines' top rotation has meshed well and produced under intense scrutiny.
When the Wolverines hosted Big Ten preseason favorite and defending champion Ohio State on Feb. 18, they were one of just four teams in the conference still holding onto a chance to win the league title. The Buckeyes, Michigan State and Wisconsin joined Michigan in a cluster of four teams separated in the standings by just one game.
The Wolverines entered the evening trailing Big Ten co-leaders Ohio State and Michigan State by one game in the standings, but following their 56-51 win over the Buckeyes, the picture changed and things got even tighter.
Now, Michigan, which has not won a Big Ten regular season championship since the 1985-86 season, likely has the easiest path to a title since it will not face one of the other contenders in its final four games. If the Wolverines can win on the road against the Big Ten's middle and lower tier, the championship could land in Ann Arbor.
"Every game is more important as you get to this time of the season," Michigan coach John Beilein said, while refusing to put too much weight on any one outing.
"There's a lot of basketball to be played before you say this is a must-win. At this time of the year, it's important, but you'll probably never get me to say the words 'must win' ever, unless it was the NCAA Tournament where you must win this game or we don't get to play tomorrow."
--PG Trey Burke is threatening to run away with the Big Ten freshman of the year honors. Burke has played in all 27 Michigan games to date, averaging more than 35 minutes per game. He is averaging 14 points, 3.5 rebounds and nearly five assists per game.
--Michigan was just 3-for-13 on in its shots outside the arc against rival Ohio State, marking its fewest made 3s and the fewest attempts this season, but the Wolverines still prevailed 56-51 over the Buckeyes.
--The five-point win over Ohio State on Feb. 18 pushed Michigan's record at home in the Crisler Center to 15-0 this season.
--In their recent Big Ten win over Illinois, the Wolverines got the kind of balance they need to be successful over the long haul in the Big Ten. Michigan had four players score in double-figures in the 70-61 win -- G Tim Hardaway Jr. (15), G Zack Novak (12), F Evan Smotrycz (13) and PG Trey Burke (14).
BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- Five of Michigan's seven losses this season have come against teams ranked in the Top 25 in the country.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Rivalries in basketball are certainly big, but they're not like they are in football where you add to the rivalry that every game determines who the champion is going to be. Michigan State and Ohio State, those are rivalry games that really mean the championship in football. They're all important, but any one game doesn't determine as much as it does in football, where it takes a year to get back at them." -- Michigan coach John Beilein on the importance of not over-emphasizing any one game on the schedule
THIS WEEK'S GAMES --vs. Purdue, Feb. 25
KEY MATCHUPS: Michigan will meet a Purdue team beset with turmoil over the recent actions of a couple Boilermakers. Talented G Kelsey Barlow was kicked off the team and 3-point shooting specialist D.J. Byrd was suspended for a game for their involvement in an early morning incident at a bar near the Purdue campus. With Barlow gone and Byrd in the doghouse, the Wolverines will be able to focus more of their defensive efforts on senior F Robbie Hummel, one of the top players in the conference. With Byrd's playing time in question, Purdue senior G Ryne Smith becomes the top outside threat, and someone Michigan will shadow around the arc.
FUTURES MARKET: With a second Big Ten meeting with Purdue on the schedule for Feb. 25, the name of former Purdue All-American and NBA All Star Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson comes up. It gives Michigan a chance to gloat a little over landing the son of Robinson in its 2012 recruiting class. The 6-foot-6 forward Glenn "Tre" Robinson III from Indiana turned down the offers from his father's school and signed with Michigan. The younger Robinson is a versatile swing man with an obviously dynamite pedigree who is destined to star for Michigan in the coming years.
--Freshman PG Trey Burke scored in double figures for the 25th time this season when he had 19 points Tuesday in Michigan's 67-55 overtime win against Northwestern. Burke is second in the Big Ten in assists, averaging 4.8 assists per game. His 17 points, five assists and two rebounds were crucial in the Wolverines' win over Ohio State on Feb. 18.
--Sophomore G Tim Hardaway Jr. started his 63rd straight game when the Wolverines earned an overtime win against Northwestern. Hardaway has been in the starting lineup for every game in his college career. He leads the Wolverines' balanced scoring with 14.3 points per game. Hardaway, who has led Michigan in scoring 23 times in his career, had 14 points and six rebounds against Northwestern.
The TSX Files: Road win enhances U-M Resume
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