HOOPS: Wolverines riding high after wins over MSU and; Iowa, #1 Ranked Buckeyes Up Next

Boy, have things changed since the last time I posted? Since we’re playing catch-up, I’ll try to not drag this out too long, but the results of the past two contests have been very enjoyable to say the least.

The win over MSU last week was a fresh breath since the Wolverines hadn’t won in East Lansing since 1997. The win came at a crucial moment since the team had previously dropped it’s last six contests after starting the season 11-3. Many expected the Wolverines to be ran out of the building (I even suggested it before the game), but shocked the Big Ten with an array of phenomenal shooting and limited mistakes.

Read more to find out how this young Wolverine team was able to pull off the upset, how they fared over Iowa and what Top 10 team is on-deck for the Michigan Basketball team

Easily the biggest reason for the Wolverines success vs. the Spartans was the hot shooting of junior forward Zack Novak. Novak was 6 of 8 from the three point line and finished the game with team high of 19 points and 6 rebounds. What may have been Novak’s biggest impact on the game may have been his fierce blow-up during a timeout as it looked like he was rallying the team to finish the final few minutes of the game. It must have worked as the Wolverines played tough basketball down the stretch despite MSU’s Kalin Lucas putting the Spartans in a position to possibly steal the game. Despite Lucas having a great game and finishing with a game-high with 27 points, the only other Spartan to reach double figures was Durrell Summers with 13 points. I’m not sure whether to credit that to the Wolverines defense or just the fact the Spartans looked miserable during stretches. We’ll chalk it up to both at this point.

The Spartans have fallen far since their preseason ranking of number 2 in the nation, but no question that this win has put the Wolverines “over the hump” in regards to finally beating the Spartans in over 1,100 days or whatever it was. It’s clearly given the Wolverines confidence moving forward and gives the team and it’s fans a chance to enjoy 147 days since the Spartans have beaten the Wolverines in both football and basketball. Granted, only Spartans keep track of such trivial things. =)

Going into Sunday’s match-up though, you had to wonder if the Wolverines were set-up for a “trap game” with the last place Hawkeyes visiting Crisler Arena. Obviously that wasn't in the cards as the Wolverines simply shot the lights out and ran away with the victory very quickly. The Hawkeyes battled back late in the game to leave us holding our breaths for a few moments, but the Wolverines pulled out the 87-73 victory in the end.

I didn’t mention Darius Morris’s stat line from the Michigan State game, but it was nearly as perfect as Novak’s game. The sophomore finished with 17 points, 8 assists, and 4 rebounds. One would assume you couldn’t have better game the next time around, but Morris proved one could with the first triple double of his young career and only the third in team history (Gary Grant and Manny Harris are the others). What makes Morris’s that just more special is that it’s the first ever in Big Ten play. I would have assumed that Morris would have achieved this goal at some point in his career with his size, skills, and vision, but I would haven’t thought this would happen halfway through his sophomore season. It’s truly amazing how much of a different player he has become since last season. Morris has a chance to go down as one of the best Wolverines in the last 10 years (which may not be a lot to some), but I I’m willing to put him in the same breath as Jalen Rose, Rumeal Robinson, Gary Grant, Daniel Horton, and the other great point guards that have been a part of Michigan’s history. I always thought Horton would go down as one of the best in the last 10 years, but Morris might have a chance to take that away from by the time his career is over in my opinion.

As far as the game goes? If you love offense, then you had to love this scoring affair from the Wolverines. The team shot 50% (14-28) from the three point line. It’s been stated in other places and I’m going to piggy back on this thinking, but any time this team makes 10 or 11 three pointers in a game, there’s a VERY good chance that this team will win. Of course, that’s easier said than done as we’ve seen at points during this season. We’ll hope that’s because of the young core of this team.

The other story of the day beyond Morris’s triple double was the play of the freshman; Tim Hardaway Jr., Evan Smotrycz, and Jordan Morgan. All three of these freshmen did a fine job all day long whether it was the fine shooting from both Hardaway and Smotrycz (combined 8 three pointers, 19 and 14 pts) or Jordan Morgan’s nearly flawless day from the field (8 of 9 FG’s, 17pts, 6 rebounds). I don’t think we’ve seen a better day shooting from these three freshman in one game. What seems to be a reoccurring theme for these freshman though, and especially Smotrycz and Hardaway, is getting off to a good start early. It seems like every time one of them starts cold, it’s likely to finish that way. Granted they’re only freshmen and there’s plenty of room to overcome that, but it’s clear that starting strong and getting the confidence early on is very important for each of them.

While it’s fun reminiscing about the latest success of the Wolverines, a HUGE test lies ahead on Thursday when the Wolverines travel to that state down south to face the Buckeyes. Of course, the Buckeyes are ranked #1 in the nation and are clearly looking like a team that is well on their way to a deep NCAA Tournament run come March. The match-up in Ann Arbor earlier this month was very close and looked like the Wolverines could pull of the upset at one point, but eventually fell short and lost 68-64. The Wolverines look to make-up for the loss on the road, but it won’t be easy as the Buckeyes seem to be hitting their stride and is finding ways of winning against every team thus far.

The game is set for a 7PM tip on ESPN and ESPN3.com. Be sure to check back here for results and updates regarding this game and future games.

Go Blue!

Jeff Wickman - Jeffw@thevictorsvoice.com

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