Wolverines falling out of title contention
The Wolverines will remember Feb. 25 as a day where their pursuit of a Big Ten regular season championship unraveled.
With a loss to Purdue, Michigan dropped two games behind the first-place Spartans with just two to play. The loss also ruined its run at a perfect record at home for the first time in 35 years.
The loss to Purdue came in the final home game for Michigan senior guard Stu Douglass and senior guard-forward Zack Novak. While admitting that a huge opportunity had just been squandered, Novak's explanation seemed possibly a bit too pragmatic, and lacking the expected emotion.
"I don't think we needed a wakeup call, because it's not like we came out and didn't play hard or had a poor week leading up," Novak said. "Some nights you don't have it, some nights the other team is spot on. I think that's what happened."
Douglass seemed a bit more on target with his reaction to the defeat, and its implications. Michigan heads into two road games against Illinois and Penn State to close out the regular season, desperately needing to recapture some momentum with the Big Ten tournament coming up after that.
"There's an element of embarrassment from being honored like that on senior day, and then coming out and getting killed on your home court," Douglass said. "There's no sentimental emotions, I'm just more upset than anything."
What Michigan has to have now is a quick recovery and a display of the resolve necessary to win a couple of Big Ten games on the road. The fact that the Wolverines were in the Big Ten title race so late in the season created a lot of positive buzz, but now that Michigan has likely squandered that unexpected opportunity, it will be difficult to bounce back quickly.
Possible perfection at home ruined
--Michigan's loss to Purdue in its final home game of the season on Feb. 25 prevented the Wolverines from finishing off the third unbeaten home season in school history.
--PG Trey Burke and G Tim Hardaway Jr. both had four turnovers in the Wolverines' home defeat by Purdue on Feb. 25.
--In the loss to Purdue on Feb. 25 that likely destroyed Michigan's Big Ten title hopes, the Wolverines led for less than a minute and had to work from behind all night.
BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- In its stunning home loss to Purdue on Feb. 25, Michigan made just two free throws. The Wolverines shot only four free throws in the game, while Purdue went 14-of-16 at the line.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I just want to say that 15-1 is a pretty good season at home. We wanted the undefeated record, but we'll try for that again next year." -- Michigan coach John Beilein, trying to take some of the sting out of the home loss to Purdue that was Michigan's first defeat at the Crisler Center this season.
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--at Illinois, March 1
KEY MATCHUPS: The Wolverines will face an Illinois team led by G Brandon Paul, who averages 15 points per game, and C Meyers Leonard, who is a physical 7-1 and averages about 13 points and eight rebounds per game. The key for Michigan will be to not let Paul get into a comfortable rhythm, since he can explode when that happens. Michigan C/F Jordan Morgan gets a tough assignment with Leonard, who can really hurt Michigan on the inside if he is allowed to rebound on the offensive end. Another factor in this game is that a recent long losing streak has put the job of head coach Bruce Weber in serious jeopardy, and if the Illini are motivated to try and save Weber, they could come out charged up.
--at Penn State, March 4
KEY MATCHUPS: One of the Big Ten's worst teams has collected all of its conference wins at home, so don't expect the Nittany Lions to be a pushover. G Tim Frazier averages nearly 19 points per game and if he gets started early, the crowd could be a factor in this game. G Jermaine Marshall averages around 10 points per game and makes the Penn State backcourt the primary weapon for the Lions. Michigan's assignment here is to get off to a good start and never let Penn State get the sense it can win this one. Making shots has never been more critical for the Wolverines, if they are to move into the Big Ten tournament with any momentum.
FUTURES MARKET: The biggest difference for Michigan, looking ahead to the 2012-13 season, will be in the leadership area. Senior G Stu Douglass and senior G/F Zack Novak will leave and Michigan coach John Beilein will call on G Tim Hardaway Jr. and F Evan Smotrycz, along with C/F Jordan Morgan, to take the next step to guide this group. That trio, next year's junior class, will be expected to bring Michigan a Big Ten title before they are done, so that leadership role will come along with the pressure of increased expectations in the future.
--G Corey Person, who joined this team as a freshman walk-on four years ago, has played only seven minutes all of this season, but he managed four points and one rebound in his brief appearance against Purdue on Feb. 25 in the last home game of his Michigan career.
--F Jon Horford has been out since Dec. 10 with a stress fracture in his foot. He is a certain candidate for a medical redshirt.
--G Eso Akunne has been lost for the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot.
--G Carlton Brundidge, who had missed five straight games due to complications related to an asthma condition, played briefly at the end of the Purdue game on Feb. 25th.
TSX Files: UM falling out of title contention
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