Less than two weeks into 2014, the Michigan Wolverines have carefully remained unbeaten in Big Ten play, perched at a perfect 3-0 heading into the heart of conference play. An overall record of 11-4 has excluded Michigan from the Top 25, but with rapid improvements evidenced in victories against Northwestern and Nebraska, the Wolverines are poised to springboard back into ranked territory moving into the second half of the season.
The Week That Was:
As conference play begins to consume college basketball, Michigan has done exactly what needs to be done in order to continue to climb in the rankings: win. The Big 10 is about as fragile of a conference as can be, with only three conference undefeateds remaining (Michigan St., Wisconsin and Michigan). After dropping a heartbreaker to MSU, early title contender Ohio State collapsed versus Iowa and now sits at .500 in conference play, bracing for the impending rankings slide. The Wolverines boasted an impressive pounding of Northwestern 74-51, followed by a narrow last-second 71-70 win at Nebraska. A noteworthy but growingly uncommon catalyst in Michigan’s success, especially against Nebraska, was Glenn Robinson III. The swingman took control of Michigan’s offensive effort and has finally begun to emerge into the superstar Michigan fans have been waiting for.
Most importantly, in a frontcourt that will have to manage without Mitch McGary indefinitely, established big men Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford put forth extraordinary performances to bolster a team eager to deter any notions of implosion. However the inconvenient truth remains, even with a healthy McGary, Michigan lacks reliable frontcourt depth. Horford and Morgan did their best this week to debunk any rumors surrounding their possible ineffectiveness as full-time Big Ten post threats.
The skies remain clear for Michigan throughout the week, as the Wolverines face Big Ten bottom-feeder Penn State Tuesday night. Michigan could use a convincing victory to maximize momentum going forward into the uncharted forest of Big Ten play. This week’s real challenge will come Saturday as Michigan travels to Madison to face the undefeated Badgers. A strong showing against Wisconsin could further sway potential non-believers of the Wolverines’ legitimacy, a much-needed asset considering the assortment of elite opponents on Michigan’s docket in the coming weeks. The play of Horford and Morgan will be an aspect to monitor, especially against Wisconsin frontcourt force Frank Kaminsky.
The Big Ten is a crazy circus of funhouse mirrors and deception. In one week we’ve seen Ohio State come back from down almost 20 only to fall in overtime at Michigan State, then proceed to be completely dismantled by a scrappy Iowa team en route to a 2-2 start in Big Ten play. Moreover, in true Big Ten style, the teams situated in the middle of the pack (i.e. Northwestern, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois) are consistently but unpredictably beating one another, and upsetting the powerhouses, helping the Wolverines stay afloat as long as possible.
No timetable for Mitch McGary’s return just yet. All reports indicate a successful surgery on his lower back to now be followed by an undetermined recovery period.
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