Posts Tagged ‘Wolverines’

Trey Burke, a candidate for Big Ten freshman of the year, has a been a big reason why Michigan has a chance to win its first Big Ten title in 26 years. The freshman is averaging a team-leading 15.3 points during Big Ten play for Michigan, which is a game behind league leader MSU with four to play. (AP)

Two weeks remain in the regular season and the Michigan basketball team is firmly in the hunt for its first Big Ten title since 1986.

With four games remaining, three of them which are on the road including an 8 p.m. game against Northwestern tonight, the No. 11-ranked Wolverines are a game behind rival Michigan State and tied with Ohio State for second.

Saturday’s home win over the Buckeyes set the stage for the furious finish to the Big Ten season. With the most favorable of schedules of the Big Ten contenders, Michigan will likely need to win out to end a 26-year league title drought.

The fact that Michigan is in the mix for a title has been impressive. Despite the fact that key players Tim Hardaway Jr. and Evan Smotrycz have been in shooting slumps the vast majority of the Big Ten season, the Wolverines have found ways to pull out games and have protected their home court this season. They grinded out one-point wins at home against MSU and on the road against Purdue and outlasted Northwestern in overtime last month.

Freshman Trey Burke has also been a big boost, making up for the loss of Darius Morris to the NBA. The point guard has been the Big Ten’s freshman of the week five times and has been clutch in helping Michigan having a chance to play for a title. Burke is U-M’s leading scorer in Big Ten play at 15.3 points per game and also averaging 4.5 assists.

Over the past two games, Tim Hardaway Jr. has made 9 of 14 shots for the Wolverines.

With their only conference road wins coming at Purdue and at Nebraska, U-M will have to find a way to win away from the Crisler Center in order to capture the title. The margin for error is small and they likely will need to win out to have any chance at a possible crown. While the closing schedule is favorable, it features teams still playing for postseason position. Northwestern still has a chance at a NCAA bid as does Purdue, who the Wolverines host on Saturday. Michigan closes the season with road games at Illinois and Penn State.

What could be the most encouraging sign for Michigan’s chances is that Hardaway Jr. is starting to heat up. The sophomore, who is shooting 38.4 percent in conference play, was 4 of 5 from the field and 2 of 2 from 3-point range in Saturday’s win over Ohio State. In his last two games, he’s averaging 14 points and shooting 64 percent from the field (9 of 14) and 80 percent on 3s (4 of 5). The Wolverines have often gone as Hardaway goes and a strong close to the season by their star could vault Michigan to its first championship in nearly three decades.

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MSU had chance to claim what it deserved but faltered in closing minutes of Big Ten title game

Denard Robinson and the hungry Wolverines are back in the BCS of the first time since 2006 - earning a date with Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. (AP photo)

Before they even played a down in the Big Ten Football Championship Game on Saturday, the Michigan State football team knew what was at risk.

Win and they didn’t have to be at mercy of having to rely on others to determine their fate. Lose and likely get jumped by hated rival Michigan in the BCS rankings.

The Spartans didn’t take care of business on their end and now must deal with those consequences. Sure it can be considered unfair since the Spartans did win the Legends Division and beat Michigan head to head. But MSU had its shot on the big stage to stake its claim and what it deserved and came up short.

Their loss was Michigan’s gain in a spot in the BCS and a Sugar Bowl berth. It does no good for the Spartans to complain given how the BCS works.

The Wolverines were eligible, compiling the exact same record as the Spartans during the regular season. Michigan is a national brand and has more appeal nationally than an MSU program that is having one of its most successful stretches in program history. The fact is Michigan football sells and MSU doesn’t and the BCS comes down to money. When Michigan is eligible, the BCS is usually going to choose them.

This isn’t to say that Michigan was more deserving than MSU, but the Wolverines certainly did earn the right to be considered for a spot in a BCS game for the first time since 2006 after putting together the season they did. Michigan did go 10-2 in a schedule that included 10 teams that will be playing in bowl games (Wolverines were 8-2 against teams that will play in bowls). If you factor in their win over Eastern Michigan, which finished 6-6 but wasn’t bowl eligible due to two wins coming over FCS schools, U-M went 9-2 teams that finished .500 or better.

Michigan State players like quarterback Kirk Cousins complained about Michigan benefiting from sitting on the couch and doing nothing. Alabama got into the national title game by doing the exact same thing.

MSU was really in the best case scenario because it could control its destiny and didn’t capitalize. Michigan had to wait for the games to play out and have things go their way – which they did.

And that is why the Wolverines have a sweet feeling and are preparing to face Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 3.

The Michigan football program was reeling after three seasons under Rich Rodriguez.

College football’s all-time winningest program had averaged just five wins a season over a three-year period and had gone from being an annual Big Ten contender to the bottom of the league.

Brady Hoke guided the Wolverines to a 10-2 overall record and 6-2 mark in the Big Ten in his first season in Ann Arbor. (AP)

In his first season leading the Wolverines, Brady Hoke has changed the program’s outlook, and his accomplishments made him a deserving recipient of the Big Ten’s Coach of the Year award on Wednesday.

Hoke guided the Wolverines to a 10-2 record and 6-2 mark in his first season in Ann Arbor. The 10 wins were the most by a first-year U-M coach and the six Big Ten wins matched the total number of conference victories the Wolverines had in three seasons under Rodriguez. He also guided Michigan to its first win over rival Ohio State since 2003 and has them in contention to earn a spot in a BCS bowl.

The Wolverines had a three win improvement over 2010 and much of that is the credit to improvements on defense. Hoke lured Greg Mattison from the NFL to take over a unit that ranked 110th nationally in total defense (450.7 yards/game) and 108th in scoring defense (35.2 points/game). In their first year under Hoke and Mattison, U-M ranked 16th in total defense (317.5 yards/game) and ninth in scoring defense (17.1 points/game).

Most people didn’t expect Michigan to have the success it did this season and expectations weren’t high with the Wolverines being in their first season under a new regime with new offensive and defensive systems in place. The Wolverines overachieved this season.

An argument could be made for Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio to be named the coach of the year after guiding the Spartans to a 10-2 record and the Legends Division title. But MSU also won 11 games last season and returned many key players from a team that shared the Big Ten championship with Wisconsin and Ohio State in 2010. The same is the case with Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema.

Two years ago, the Michigan basketball program was precisely in the same position it finds itself today.

Then the Wolverines were coming off a season where they had ended a long NCAA Tournament drought and reached the round of 32 were they ultimately fell to No. 2 seed Oklahoma. Their key players – Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims – were each returning and Michigan entered the 2009-10 season with lofty expectations.The Wolverines stumbled under those expectations, finishing below .500 and not reaching the postseason.

Darius Morris, who missed the potential game-tying shot in Sunday's season-ending loss to Duke, is a part of a Michigan team that has its entire squad returning next season. Morris led the Wolverines in points and assists this year. (Associated Press)

Fast forward to now where Michigan fought hard before losing to top-seeded Duke 73-71 in the NCAA Tournament round of 32. With all the success the young team experienced this season, it is likely that preseason expectations will be high for the Wolverines. It will be just a matter of building on the success and taking that next step to become a relevant college basketball program.

This time around, the Wolverines seem better equipped and prepared to continue their upward progression.

Michigan, the youngest team in the Big Ten this year, isn’t expected to lose anyone from this year’s 21-14 team. That is an advantage next season’s team will have over that 2009-10 squad, which had to break in a new point guard.

It helps that Michigan will return its point guard and floor leader in Darius Morris and several freshmen – Tim Hardaway Jr., Evan Smotrycz and Jordan Morgan – that showed flashes of what the future of the program could be like.

Hardaway emerged as the team’s second leading scorer and was no doubt a  big key to Michigan’s run in the second half of the season. Smotrycz was big in the first half of the Duke game and also played well against Tennessee. Redshirt freshman Morgan had a few big games throughout the season and proved to be a force when he avoided foul trouble.

Others underclassmen also showed improvement. Sophomore reserve Matt Vogrich showed a knack for being a good rebounding guard, the ability to knock down a big 3 and had a big first half in the NCAA Tournament win over Tennessee.

With Morris, the team’s leading scorer and the Big Ten leader in assists, also back in the mix there it is no question the future looks bright in Ann Arbor.

It will all be a matter of taking the next step and meeting the expectations that will certainly be placed on the program heading into next season. If the team stays hungry and plays with the chemistry it displayed on the court this season, Michigan basketball can be a Top 25 program.

John Beilein, shown singing "The Victors" after Saturday's win over rival Michigan State, guided the Wolverines to a 19-12 mark and fourth-place finish in the Big Ten this season. (Associated Press photo)

In a season that began with not many expectations, the University of Michigan basketball team currently finds itself on the cusp of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the second time in the past three years under fourth-year coach John Beilein.

Having stumbled last season to a 15-17 record and losing its two leading scorers from that team (Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims), the Wolverines were projected to finish at or near the bottom of the Big Ten. Beilein has helped Michigan far exceed those early projections and done arguably one of the best coaching jobs in the nation this season.

Michigan – a team with no seniors and a vast majority of its main players being freshmen and sophomores – finished the regular season 19-12 and in fourth place in the Big Ten with a 9-9 mark. The 4th place finish is the highest for the program since 2004. Even more remarkable is how Michigan rebounded from a 1-6 start in the Big Ten to get to where it is at.

With many crushing losses this season, it could have been easy for a young team to dwell on missed opportunities. There was the buzzer beater loss to Wisconsin at home that could have sent Michigan into a tailspin in its final regular season games. Michigan bounced back from that with wins over Minnesota and Michigan State to close the year.

Add to that, Michigan swept rival Michigan State for the first time since 1997.

About the only think that Beilein and the Wolverines haven’t done is beat an upper echelon team like Kansas, Ohio State, Purdue or Wisconsin despite coming close on numerous occasions. That is the one thing Michigan will have to do in order to take that next step.

While Beilein has done a remarkable job this season, he has been benefited by the improvement of Darius Morris, who arguably was the most improved player in the Big Ten this season. Morris was consistently U-M’s best player throughout the season and the team really started to take off once Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jordan Morgan began to blossom over the second half.

All season, Michigan has come close.

The Wolverines have nearly pulled off a few upset wins over ranked teams this season but has been unable to make the big plays down the stretch.

They fell short against a then top-10 ranked Syracuse squad in a neutral setting, were tight with then No. 2-ranked Ohio State before falling and took then No. 4 Kansas to overtime before losing. And there was even a close game last Saturday when they fell to a ranked Minnesota team.

Sophomore guard Darius Morris played all 40 minutes and had 17 points for Michigan in its 61-57 victory over No. 25 Michigan State at Breslin Center on Thursday night. (AP photo)

On the contrary, Michigan State has constantly seemed to pull out wins in those situations despite not playing at its best. In one week earlier this month, the Spartans overcame bad performances to earn home overtime wins over Wisconsin and Northwestern. MSU even survived scares from Oakland and Chaminade in neutral settings this season by coming away with wins.

Finally luck changed for both teams Thursday at Breslin Center in East Lansing.

Michigan finally was able to get over the hump and made the necessary plays to beat Michigan State at the Breslin Center for the first time since 1997. It also was the first time in 1,181 days that Michigan football or men’s basketball team beat the Spartans.

Michigan State was unable to overcome a deficit it put itself into and suffered a rare loss to its in-state rival. While the Spartans have taken their share of losses, this one has to hurt the most considering it was to a Michigan squad that is in the cellar of the Big Ten. All but one of MSU’s other losses have all been to currently Top 25 teams – Connecticut, Duke, Syracuse, Texas, Purdue and Illinois. Penn State is the other unranked team to beat MSU (12-8, 4-4 Big Ten).

This victory for the Wolverines (12-9, 2-6) is one of the biggest in 11 years and was badly needed since the team entered Thursday’s game on a six-game skid that included the close losses to Kansas, Ohio State and Minnesota and getting blown out on the road by Indiana and Northwestern. Granted it was a win against a MSU team that hasn’t lived up to the billings of being a preseason No. 2 ranked squad and one that has experienced turmoil this season, the win is still huge for Michigan.

It could be just the thing needed for a team without seniors to build off of for the rest of the season as it tries to earn an invite to some type of postseason tournament. With the Wolverines starting three freshmen and having all but two of its regulars being underclassmen, road wins over Top 25 teams are important. And it was fitting that the two upperclassmen made huge plays to aid Michigan to the win. Junior Zack Novak (19 points) nailed six 3-pointers and Stu Douglass hit the 3 that all but sealed the win.

Now that Michigan finally got over the hump and pulled out a close win against a good team, it can’t have a letdown at home against Iowa on Sunday. The victory provides proof that Michigan can not only compete but can knock off an elite level team and should serve as a confidence booster the remainder of the year.

Brady Hoke, shown being introduced to the crowd during Wednesday's basketball game at Crisler Arena, called Michigan his 'dream job' during his introductory press conference. (Associated Press photos)

Introductory press conferences mean little in terms of wins and losses on the football field, but if they did it would seem the Michigan football program is on it way to being a force in the Big Ten once again.

Brady Hoke absolutely left a strong opening impression during his introductory press conference on Wednesday and shows he clearly understands the important things and all the nuances that come with guiding the winningest program in college football.

Rich Rodriguez admitted not being fully aware of the magnitude of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry when he was hired and didn’t understand all the traditions and procedures of certain things within the football program like the No. 1 jersey. Hoke understands those things and reiterated his desire to restore Michigan to the way it was when he was an assistant from 1995-2002.

Hoke, who was a part of five Big Ten championships and was on the staff of the 1997 national championship team, has a strong desire and passion for Michigan football and clearly is living a dream not that he is in charge of the football program. He said all the right things during the press conference from using “the team” mantra that was often used by the late Bo Schembechler and not referring to bitter rival Ohio State as “that school down in Ohio”.

Being from Ohio and growing up a Michigan fan, Hoke firmly knows the rivalry and cited “The Game” as the ‘most important one on their schedule’

He also seems set on adapting to the talent that is in place and cited Denard Robinson as being special.

Hoke, who was a defensive line coach while at Michigan, likely wasn’t the sexy choice by fans for the job, but won many of those people over on Wednesday. He couldn’t have gotten his Wolverine head coaching career off to a better start.

Michigan AD Dave Brandon (left) poses for a picture with new football coach Brady Hoke.

 

But talk is just talk, and Hoke has plenty of work to do in the coming weeks to make sure Michigan becomes the powerhouse it once was. First and foremost he needs to make sure Denard stays. He also needs to quickly get a recruiting class put together prior to national signing day on Feb. 2  Lastly he needs to fix the defense. Hoke seems to be capable of doing these things.

While time will tell what the Hoke era holds for the Wolverines, it appears Michigan got its man and found the right person to lead the football program.