Coaches say Michigan basketball team is one of this season's surprises
Indiana coach Tom Crean hasn’t seen a lot Big Ten basketball this season, but from what he has seen, one thing stands out.
The Michigan basketball team is surprisingly good.
The Wolverines, without a senior on their squad, are 7-2 entering their game Tuesday against North Carolina Central (7 p.m., Big Ten Network) including a win on the road at Clemson.
“If I was going to pick a team, I would probably go with Michigan,” Crean said. “I think they are playing well. Even when they’ve struggled a little bit, they’ve been creating an identity.
“ Just seeing them briefly, I think they’re the team right now that is surprising people.”
Much of that has to do with Michigan’s defense.
Michigan has held opponents to 57 points a game and limited them to 38.8 percent shooting. The Wolverines also haven’t let an opponent score more than 65 points in a game this season.
“Our defense has really improved as the year has gone on,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “Obviously it’ll be challenged much more in the next month as we continue to play a challenging schedule. We are really competing at a high level in games, and some of our guys are really getting to feel the game much better.”
Much of that has to do with sophomore point guard Darius Morris, who has had four games of 10 assists or better this year. He’s also leading Michigan in scoring (14.9 ppg.) and has played more under control than a year ago.
“Michigan has got some kids that have jumped up,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “The point guard (Morris) last year was feeling his way through the system and really made some strides.”
Michigan wasn’t the only team the Big Ten coaches noted as a surprise in the league - Minnesota and its hot start led by forward Trevor Mbakwe - was also brought up.
So, too, was the play of Ohio State freshman forward Jared Sullinger, who was named the Big Ten’s Rookie and Player of the Week this past week.
But much of that conversation ended up coming back to Michigan.
“Those guys have won some games,” Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said. “That I didn’t know if they’d be capable of winning early.”