GETTING INSIDE How important was Michigan's first signature win of the season, a 68-63 upset of UConn at Crisler Arena?
"I don't know," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "I'll tell you at the end of the year. We got to continue to win right now."
Though they remain a long shot to make the NCAA tournament, the Wolverines at least stayed relevant to the conversation by beating UConn.
The real test is whether they can keep that momentum going entering the most treacherous stretch of their schedule.
In the next week and a half, Michigan plays arguably the three best teams in the Big Ten -- at Purdue and Wisconsin and home against Michigan State.
Because of a poor November and December that included losses to Boston College, Indiana, Alabama and Marquette -- all major-conference programs but ones that might not make the tournament -- the Wolverines might need 11 wins and a top-four finish in the Big Ten to make their second straight tournament.
"Our back's been against the wall for a while now," guard Zack Novak said. "It's still against the wall, we know that. But hey, we're not even worried about that. We're just worried about playing as well as we can and just getting better, and I think we're doing that."
--DeShawn Sims' 3-point dry spell is now a month and counting. Sims has missed his last 11 3-point attempts and hasn't made a shot from behind the arc since a Dec. 13 win over Detroit. The 6-foot-8 forward has adjusted his game recently to play more to his strengths, taking bigger defenders off the dribble and posting up inside.
--Zack Novak continues to struggle with his 3-point stroke, making just 27 percent of his shots. But the sophomore guard, Michigan's scrappiest player, contributes in plenty of other ways. The 6-foot-5 often guards a post player because of Michigan's lack of size, and he's one of the Wolverines' best rebounders. Against UConn, he hit two big offensive putbacks and made the go-ahead 3-pointer in the final two minutes.
ON THE SPOT: Playing without a true point guard is finally starting to catch up with Michigan. The Wolverines committed 14 or more turnovers in each of their last three games and had a season-high 18 in a loss to Northwestern. Stu Douglass has done a fair job handling pressure, but Michigan needs freshman Darius Morris to settle into the point guard role to reach its potential.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Michigan needs that. Harris and Sims can't be the only stars in town." -- UConn coach Jim Calhoun after Michigan got solid offensive efforts from supporting cast members Zack Novak, Stu Douglass and Anthony Wright in a Jan. 17 win.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: Michigan began the year ranked in the top 15 but struggled through most of the season's first two months to find a dependable third scoring option and defend more athletic teams. The Wolverines have played better since the new year, however, winning four of their last five games to renew hope. Manny Harris continues to lead the team in scoring and rebounding and is a candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- G Manny Harris, G Laval Lucas-Perry, G Zach Novack, G Stu Douglas, F DeShawn Sims. Key Subs -- C Zack Gibson, G Darius Morris, F Anthony Wright.
Northwestern 68, Michigan 62
Michigan 69, Indiana 45
Michigan 68, UConn 63
at Wisconsin, Wednesday, Jan. 20
at Purdue, Saturday, Jan. 23
vs. Michigan State, Tuesday, Jan. 26
vs. Iowa, Saturday, Jan. 30
at Northwestern, Tuesday, Feb. 2
IN FOCUS: Michigan has lost six straight games to Wisconsin and hasn't won in Madison since 1999, before any of its current players were even in high school. There is reason for hope, however. The Wolverines' only single-digit losses during the streak have been at the Kohl Center, 60-55 last year, and 64-61 in 2008.
--Michigan coach John Beilein toyed with the idea of taking the redshirt off freshman big man Jordan Morgan when Ben Cronin was lost for the season to a hip injury. But Morgan hasn't played since undergoing offseason knee surgery and, barring a rash of injuries, won't get on the court this year.
--While Cronin's injury is far and away the most serious, two other Wolverines -- Darius Morris and Manny Harris
-- have battled nagging injuries all year. Harris is close to 100 percent after tweaking his leg in the preseason,
while Morris has dealt with tendinitis in his right elbow since high school. He's taken to wearing a sleeve on his arm recently.
--Since scoring nine points off the bench against Kansas, freshman point guard Darius Morris hasn't been much of a factor offensively. Morris has 10 total points in Michigan's last four games, though he did have seven assists in a loss to Northwestern.
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