By GEOFF MEHL, Staff Reporter
Are we half-way through the college basketball season already?
It seems like just yesterday the Michigan Wolverines basketball team was preparing for the Big Ten-ACC challenge and was working out early-season kinks.
Now, the Wolverines are 13-4 and starting to hit their stride as they roll into the Big Ten schedule. Michigan has had its fair share of growing pains so far. From losing star sophomore Mitch McGary due to a season-ending back surgery to starting 8-4 in the non-conference schedule, they are finally starting to get into a rhythm.
Since tournament play ended, Michigan has won six straight games, including four against the conference. The team’s biggest win came against Nebraska on the road; a tight 71-70 victory.
The biggest improvement for the Wolverines has been their ability to adapt without McGary and incorporate bench players Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan at the forward positions.
Horford and Morgan haven’t lit the world on fire offensively, only averaging 5.3 and 6.4 points per game, but have been influential elsewhere. They’ve become a presence on the defensive end and under the basket with eight rebounds per game combined.
The emergence of freshman guards Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin has come at the right time. Walton seems to have finally grasped the offense and is becoming more of leader on the court. Irvin is being looked upon to be a spark off the bench and has hit some big time three pointers in the last couple of games. Look for their roles to increase as the season goes on.
Though the young guys have come into their roles, the guy who deserves most of the credit for the team’s success is sophomore Nick Stauskas. He leads the team in minutes, points and assists and has been the go-to guy in big situations late in games. Stauskas has shown much improvement from a year ago and is a rising star in the Big Ten.
Head coach John Beilein is doing a masterful job of developing youth and overcoming adversity at the same time this season. He is getting the most out of his players, and it shows in their 4-0 Big Ten record.
Now that it’s time for the toughest part of the schedule, the Wolverines will need to show some strides as they push to make the NCAA tournament.
Their first test was Saturday when they defeated No. 3 Wisconsin, 77-70, on the road. It marked the Wolverines first road win against a top-5 team since 1996.
If Michigan can compete with some of the most highly ranked teams in the country, then fans can be hopeful for another exciting run in the tournament.